The Enterprising Mr. Bean, 1941

“More heady than love, ladies or liquor is the sporting-goods catalog of L. L. Bean, outfitter extraordinary to men who live so they may hunt and fish,” read Life magazine’s encomium to the entrepreneurial outdoorsman in October of 1941. From modest beginnings in 1911, sales at Leon Leonwood Bean’s Freeport mail order business had surpassed the $1 million mark by 1937. Life showcased a number of innovative items from the Bean catalog, beginning with the famous Maine Hunting Shoe, created when Bean had a seamstress sew elk hide leggings onto a pair of old rubbers to keep his feet warm and dry while duck hunting.

In 1941 the boots, still with elk hide uppers, cost from $3.15 for the 6 1/2″ high version to $9 for the 18″. Other practical and stylish items included a fly fishing jacket with a special pocket for keeping your Luckys dry (above); a cold-proof ducking hunting outfit with a moleskin coat; zippered lambskin Canoe Shoes; a deer hunting outfit in red and black checkered wool; a double-visored bird shooting cap; an oilskin coat with a sheepskin collar and cuffs; and an array of 21 different knives for “every sportsman’s whim”. Mr. Bean himself tested the decoys.

Jared Paul Stern is the editor of DRIVEN.

Comments on “The Enterprising Mr. Bean, 1941

    Ryan on October 7, 2011 7:12 AM:

    Anyone know where to get a set of those boot hooks?

    Ramalhoni on October 7, 2011 9:11 AM:

    I’de never seen the canoe shoe!.. they look great

    Larry Felitto on October 7, 2011 11:00 AM:

    What’s Nucky Thompson doing all “Hunter Glammed” out in that picture above the boot hooks?

    @Ryan, take a wire hanger… bend like the picture and voila!

    Jonathan on October 7, 2011 12:05 PM:

    I bought a pair of Maine hunting boots 20 years ago when I moved to Seattle. I live in Pa. now and I still have them. Rainy citys or boggy country, they’re unkillable.

    Chris Adamiak on October 7, 2011 12:15 PM:

    The canoe shoes look so much like bowling shoe. I’m digging the full out plaid! and love his socks, I wish I could find knee high wool sock, but being 6’4″, I’m luck if they come to mid shin!

    Great pics!

    Peter on October 7, 2011 12:55 PM:

    As a kid, I remember stopping at the original LL Bean store in Freeport around midnight on the way home from trips to Maine. It was open 24 hours and stuffed full of weird and wonderful things.

    I know it’s hackneyed to say things were better back then, but in LLBean’s case it’s absolutely true. I have some Hudson’s Bay point blankets, a wool houndstooth overshirt, a chamois robe and a few other Bean items that have held up since the 1970s.

    The current stuff, including “signature”, is Wal-Mart grade at best.

    George S. on October 7, 2011 1:31 PM:

    I am a real convert of LL Bean signature stuff….and at least some of their outerwear….and a few of their shoes. I can’t stand those hunting boots, but the line they have made by Chippewas Boots is fantastic.

    The gortex and down warden parka I have is an absolutely awesome substitute for all that North Face dreck invading cities everywhere with giant logos and much larger price tags.

    Signature stuff is hit and miss, but I have two sweaters and a shirt that I believe could easily last decades if my elbows cooperate (no shirt survives my elbows according to my wife)

    Their regular clothes…well that is pretty much non-stylish garbage in my opinion, but hey its Maine. People have other things to worry about.

    Andrew Scharf on October 7, 2011 1:41 PM:

    Nice article and interesting photo of LL Bean. He was a great representative of the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit representative of the American spirit where design and practicality meet.

    It is a shame that the inheritors of his business have (in my view) betrayed the beauty of the original store and dream. Everything is made elsewhere (i.e. not Maine and definitely not in the USA). What would be nice would be if LL Bean returned to its roots and reclaim its heritage. Many Americans I know who once bought their products feel likewise.

    Rhon on October 7, 2011 3:28 PM:

    Love the write-up. Classic Freeport. Basis of my entire blog.

    Rick Rusch on October 7, 2011 3:41 PM:

    Great images. During my early days at Lands’ End in 1983 we used to buy LL Bean products, knock-em off, make ’em better and/or more current and retail them for less. Just to piss off Leon Gorman, LL Bean’s grandson and CEO at the time.

    The retail world is different. Even brands like Woolrich, at 180 years old. are a shadow of their former stature.

    Ray Hull on October 7, 2011 3:47 PM:

    No mention of the 24-hour store hours. Not until the 80s did I ever see the place in the daylight and not in a fog (coastal or alcohol-induced). Those midnight road trips from either Great East Lake or from Seal Harbor were always great fun, if not clearly remembered. Great institution but their rubber-footed boots were always way too clammy.

    jiheison on October 7, 2011 3:52 PM:

    @Chris Adamiak

    Over-the-calf (OTC) wool socks are hard to find, but not impossible. Skiing gear retailers are a good bet – I have a pair made by SmartWool. I also have an OTC acrylic sock that I found at a Western wear store — made to go under cowboy boots. There might be wool versions available.

    The plaid get-up is no-doubt related to British “shooting suits” and related country
    wear. Its easy to find “shooting stockings” for sale from UK retailers that cater to that crowd, though I have never tried to have them delivered to the US. I found several listed in the “Brands & Stockists” side-bar on Archival Clothing (which I found on ACL).

    chad saville on October 7, 2011 4:32 PM:

    what beautiful products.

    I love your blog. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Rich on October 7, 2011 5:56 PM:

    LL Bean needs to look at those photos. Those boots in the first pic, the coat in the second, and gloves in the third should all be available today.

    Fluffy on October 7, 2011 7:36 PM:

    The Sartorialist had a bag snap recently that I have and I realized it is thity years old! Using it this weekend!

    Smith & Ratliff on October 7, 2011 9:37 PM:

    I’ve had my eye on their “Vacation” bag ever since I saw it at the first pop-up flea.

    Alex Frankel on October 8, 2011 1:07 AM:

    Love the shots of the Bean Boots as well as the one of the Freeport P. O.

    a.d. on October 8, 2011 2:02 AM:

    I don’t know. There’s something quite frightening about these images. However, I love those plaid pants. They sure are keen!

    Joy on October 9, 2011 3:18 AM:

    So fab. Looking forward to wearing mine very soon.

    Andrea on October 9, 2011 12:40 PM:

    Well, now I know I’m ancient. I remember visiting the old store when I was a kid. This is before merchandizing had been invented; my recollection is that most items were just set out in stacks on counters.

    Tim on October 10, 2011 4:47 PM:

    I wonder if Don Draper had something to do with that first ad..

    REP96st on October 10, 2011 6:37 PM:

    The Gloves are just TOO Sick.

    EJ in Philadelphia on October 11, 2011 7:33 PM:

    A great L.L. Bean piece! Thanks for sharing the classic photos. Thursday, October 13th, is Leon Leonwood Bean’s birthday, born in 1872. If you find yourself passing through Freeport, make an appointment to see more such photos and those great old catalogues and ads at the L. L. Bean archives housed in Leon’s old house (by appointment.)

    trip on October 14, 2011 11:42 AM:

    That cigarette pocket would make me want to take up smoking just to use it.

    Allen on November 3, 2011 4:20 PM:

    “Anyone know where to get a set of those boot hooks?”

    Just spoke with the collections specialist at the company’s archives. LL Bean did carry those hooks back then, though not now; she has a couple in the collection. I suggested that might be something for the product development folks to consider carrying again, and she said she might pass it on. (Thanks, Deb!)

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