The Dutchess Manufacturing Company and The Indestructible Trousers
Have you ever heard the saying, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to?” It feels as if we use this phrase when it comes to just about everything these days. Whether it’s appliances or clothing, everything seems to fall apart a lot easier than it used to do. Either we are being harsher on our material things, or they really just aren’t being made that well anymore. Now imagine having a pair of pants that comes with a guarantee that if they fall apart, you’ll get your money back. What? Indestructible trousers, you say? Well, they were made right here in Poughkeepsie and sold all over the country.
A manufacturing company known as Lasher & Hull began in Poughkeepsie in 1875, overseen by Warren P. Lasher and J. Frank Hull. Sadly, Lasher died young in 1890 from Bright’s disease, and Hull changed the name the following year to The Dutchess Manufacturing Company. At first, the company focused their work on ladies skirts and woolen dresses, which were sold locally. In 1879, they switched their production to the men’s trousers that would make them famous. At the turn of the 20th century, they began their famous advertising campaign that included the guarantee that if you had the pants for two months and you had lost a button they would give you ten cents, and if your pants had managed to rip you, would get back one dollar or a new pair of pants.
The factory which produced these famous pants had originally been located in what we know today to be the Underwear Factory. By 1893, they had expanded and needed a larger facility, so Hull purchased a large plot of land on Crannell Street that extended to Hamilton Street, and the factory – nearly the size of an entire city block – was built by 1894. The Hull family purchased a lovely house at #112 Academy Street, which suffered a large fire in 1897. Hull had lit a cigar and tossed the match into a wastepaper basket. He left the room to head to his factory and “within ten minutes the costly furnishings of his library were in flames and the fire had spread to the parlor and other rooms.” Thankfully, an unnamed maid spotted the fire and neighbors fought the blaze until the fire department came to the rescue. The house was saved, but the entire lower floor was gutted and had to be redone. Hull was considered an excellent businessman, so much so that he was voted in as Mayor of Poughkeepsie on the Republican ticket for one term in 1897. In 1907, he died suddenly following an operation for appendicitis.
After Hull’s death, William J. Leahey became the new president of the company. However, it appears that the company was really run by its new Vice President: Hull’s second wife, Mrs. Carrie Gibson Hull. She officially took over the operations at the factory in 1912, after Leahey’s sudden death, and she took the job very seriously. Mrs. Hull was known for her charity work and for giving jobs to women in need, with 75% of her 800 employees being women. She regularly entertained her employees and gave them Christmas gifts. Under her leadership, the company did well until the stock market crash of 1929.
After Mrs. Hull’s death in 1933, the company managed to continue in operation at least until WWII. In 1941, the factory produced olive drab dress trousers for soldiers, and this appears to have been the last major operation of the Dutchess Manufacturing Company. The factory was demolished in 1958 and is currently the site of a parking lot. Looks like we’ll no longer get reimbursed for our ripped trousers.
Poughkeepsie City Directory 1881
Poughkeepsie Journal – 1 Jun 1893, 19 Dec 1908, 27 Jul 1912, 1 Feb 1933, 26 Jul 1941
J.FrankHull – Vail Brothers photograph of J. Frank Hull in 1878.
MuncieEveningPress-May1921 – Newspaper photo of Mrs. Carrie Hull in 1921.
Dutchesstrousers – An advertisement for Dutchess Trousers.
1913sanbornmap – View of the Dutchess Manufacturing Company factory on a 1913 Sanborn Map.