The C.F Hathaway Company was founded in Waterville, Maine in 1837. The company made shirts for Union soldiers during the Civil War. The company built the ready to wear shirt business in the United States.
For over 100 years, the company succeeded without advertising. In 1951, Ellerton Jette President and Owner decided it was time to expand Hathaway and build it into a national brand. Like other small business owners, he didn’t have much money. However, that did not prevent him from thinking big. He had heard about the advertising talents of David Ogilvy. So he scheduled a meeting with Ogilvy. Hathaway’s ad budget was only $30,000 so his account was not that attractive to major advertising agencies. He knew he had only one chance to forge a relationship with one of advertising’s most creative thinkers. To convince David Ogilvy to handle the account, Jette promised that he would never alter his copy or fire him. The agreement stood for over 20 years. Jette was smart enough to think beyond his own goals and understand the problems that advertising agencies face, clients that change copy and fire them at a moment’s notice.
While working on the ad campaign, Ogilvy became inspired by photos of politician Lewis Douglas sporting an eye patch and as a last-minute decision at the photo shoot decided to photograph a distinguished looking man wearing a white button-down Hathaway shirt and a black eye patch. The eye patch was a great story and created an emotional connection with consumers. Consumers wondered how the man had lost his eye. The story of the “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt” advertising was very successful. When the ads ran in The New Yorker, Hathaway’s entire stock sold out. The company’s sales doubled in less than five years. The “Hathaway Man” campaign was selected by Advertising Age as #22 on its list of the greatest ad campaigns of the 20th century.
I have owned several Hathaway white button-dress shirts over the years and appreciated their quality. It’s hard to find a Hathaway shirt today.
The Hathaway Brand has struggled in recent years and has faded from most retail shelves. The brand has been sold several times. Its decline has been blamed on competition and the rise in the trend to casual wear. In 2002, Hathaway closed its manufacturing facility in Waterville, Maine. It was one of the last companies to manufacture shirts in the United States.
From my perspective, Hathaway is an iconic American Brand with a great story. It seems time for a re-launch.
Did you ever own a Hathaway Shirt?