Eureka! Tent Company
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Eureka! Tent Company is an American company that sells Eureka! brand products to the outdoor recreation, rental, special events and military markets by Johnson Outdoors Inc., a global outdoor recreation company. The brand, part of Johnson Outdoors’ Outdoor Equipment group, is headquartered in Binghamton, New York. Johnson Outdoors is based in Racine, Wisconsin. Products marketed under the Eureka! brand include tents, canopies, sleeping bags, camp mats, camp furniture and outdoor living shelters.
The Eureka Tent & Awning Company was founded sometime before 1895 in Binghamton, New York. The company’s first workshop on Binghamton’s Commercial Avenue originally produced custom tents, awnings, wagon covers, horse blankets, and flags. The company employed early manufacturing processes, such as using dies to cut stars and sewing together strips of red and white bunting to make American flags. Eureka fashioned its first awnings out of unfinished natural white cotton duck and designed them to maximize the amount of light allowed into the storefront while still providing adequate shade to passers-by. Eureka’s earliest tents, assembled from untreated white army duck, were so sturdy that one completely usable early Eureka tent still hung in the company’s headquarters nearly one hundred years later.
In 1910, pioneering businessmen, Arthur D. Legg and E.W. Dickerman, purchased the burgeoning company from its original owners. Legg’s son, Arthur Carl Legg, bought out Dickerman’s interest in 1925 and the company continued under the Legg family’s direct leadership for the next fifty-six years.
In 1930, the Leggs purchased the former Chenango Canal mule barn in Binghamton, which they converted into Eureka’s first factory. By World War II, the Leggs had expanded Eureka to include five New York factories. In the 1940s, Eureka began to manufacture party tents for special occasions, fairs, and college commencements. The company supplied the design and production for what became known as “tent cities,” such as when approximately one thousand IBM salesmen met with IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr. in 1946. Eureka tents for this meeting included sleeping tents with wooden floors, mess tents, product display tents, portrait-taking tents, and tents for shoe-shining, all of which spanned 7 acres (28,000 m2) of land at the Hundred Percent Club in Endicott, New York.
During World War II, Eureka manufactured primarily all-purpose tents for the armed forces, which were used as hospital tents, barracks, and mess halls. After the war, the company consolidated its factories to one expanded factory and became a wholesale manufacturer of canvas products and a supplier of industrial canvas and other textiles. In the 1950s, Eureka’s trailer awnings experienced increased demand when the soldiers’ return led to the subsequent housing shortage. Due to this demand, Eureka began distributing its products through sporting good stores, Army and Navy stores, and department stores throughout the United States and in several foreign countries.
In 1959, Arthur C. Legg stepped down to become chairman of Eureka’s board and the board elected Legg’s son-in-law Robert B. DeMartine to the position of company president. DeMartine, then president of the Canvas Goods Association, had at that time been with the company for eight years.
During the 1960s, Eureka progressed beyond manufacturing sturdy but heavy canvas to market to the burgeoning family camping industry. Lightweight cotton cloth tents accounted for 90% of the company's sales, which were strongly supported by news of Eureka’s role in the first all-American Mount Everest expedition and the development of the first free-standing, quick-to-set-up tent, the Draw-Tite. Towards the end of the decade, Eureka experimented with making lightweight tents that did a better job than the cotton tents of holding up to the elements and produced the Mt. Katahdin, Eureka’s first high-volume double-wall construction nylon tent coated with waterproof urethane.
The company experienced two devastating fires to its headquarters and to one of its warehouses in 1965 and 1971 respectively, with the damage incurred to structures and products estimated at more than $500,000 for the first and $100,000 for the second. After the first fire, Eureka bounced back by modernizing and expanding its plant.
In 1973, Johnson Wax Associates (later Johnson Worldwide Associates and Johnson Outdoors, Inc.), a subsidiary of the then-titled Johnson Wax (now S.C. Johnson, Inc.) of Racine, Wisconsin, purchased Eureka and all of its facilities. The company continued operation in Binghamton under DeMartine, posting record sales that year. Eureka’s highlight in the 1970s was the development of the Timberline model, the first free-standing lightweight backpacking tent in the industry. As the backpacking and “back to nature” camping boom of the 1970s progressed, the company saw further growth.
In 1980, Johnson Wax Associates consolidated three of its holdings, Eureka Tent & Awning Company (now just Eureka! Tent, Inc.); Camp Trails Company of Phoenix, Arizona, a backpack and sleeping bag manufacturer; and Silva of LaPorte, Indiana, a compass and cross-country ski manufacturer, into Johnson Camping, Inc., which was then headquartered in Eureka’s head office in Binghamton. Johnson Wax Associates named Eureka’s DeMartine president of the new conglomerate and through Johnson Camping, Eureka expanded from 300 to 500 employees and from three to five plants in New York, Arizona, Indiana, and Canada.
In 1981, DeMartine resigned as president but continued for several years as a consultant. James R. Reyen, a Eureka! employee since 1964 and then-vice-president of Johnson Camping, became the new president.
During the 1980s, Eureka! worked with Future Tents, Ltd., to create “future tent” designs such as the Genesis (Commercial) and Crescent (Camping) tents; three of these designs won Outstanding Achievement Awards from the Industrial Fabrics Association. Eureka! halted its popular direct-to-consumer tent rental business to focus on expanding its camping tent business and made its party and event tents available only through rental services. Mountaineering was in full stride in North America during the 1980s and Eureka! StormShield tents continued to be carried to the highest mountains on the globe, including during these American and Canadian-led expeditions: Dhaulagiri I (1980), Yalungkang (known as Kangchenjunga now) (1981), Canadian Everest (1982), American Women’s Himalyan Expedition to Ama Dablam (1982), Makalu (1983), and American Men & Women on Everest (1983). In 1987, Johnson Worldwide Associates took its holdings public and put around two million shares on the over-the-counter market.
During the 1990s, Eureka! expanded its military tent business into multi-million-dollar figures. In 1993, Johnson Worldwide Associates moved marketing, sales, research and development, and customer service functions for all of its divisions to Racine, as part of a broader centralization plan. During this period, the commercial tent and military tent divisions continued to operate and be managed in Binghamton by Reyen in his capacity as Vice President of Operations while the consumer group was managed in Racine by the Group Vice President, Gene Grant, who was later succeeded by Terry Snyder. In 1999, as the various business units were de-centralizing, the newly renamed Johnson Outdoors moved the Outdoor Equipment Group back to Binghamton under Reyen’s leadership as Group Vice President. Johnson Outdoors named William S. Kelly Group Vice President of the Outdoor Equipment Group in 2001 after Reyen’s retirement.
In 2006, production ceased at Johnson Outdoors’ Outdoor Equipment Group headquarters in Binghamton for nearly two months after heavy rains caused flooding that resulted in $5 million in damage.
Eureka!'s current line includes camping tents, military tents, and direct-to-rental-service party and event tents. Among the company’s innovations in the past decade is the Eureka! N!ergy tent, the first wired tent and winner of the “best of year” honors from Reserve America. As part of Johnson Outdoors’ Outdoor Equipment Group, Eureka! contributes to a company that posted net sales of $121.8 million for the second quarter of 2008.
Organizations and individuals known to have used Eureka! tents over the years include Sir Edmund Hillary on a Himalayan Expedition to Nepal; the nineteen-man team on the first all-American expedition to Mt. Everest; the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition to Annapurna I; Eric Simonson on two research expeditions to Mt. Everest; then-President George H. W. Bush, whom Bass Pro Employees in Springfield, Missouri spotted purchasing a Eureka! tent in 1991; the Girl Scouts of the USA; the Boy Scouts of America; the Arctic Institute of North America; the United States Department of the Interior; the Geological Survey; the Peace Corps; Lee African Safaris; and the U.S. Navy Operation Deep Freeze. Eureka! tents have also made appearances in the movie The Blair Witch Project (1999), on the television program Two and a Half Men, and in a Verizon phone company commercial.
Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Expedition
Sir Edmund Hillary, who in 1954 was among one of the first explorers in the world to reach the 29,029-foot (8,848 m) high summit of Mt. Everest, made international news along with fellow explorer Dr.Griffith Pugh during their 1960-1961 Himalayan Scientific Mountaineering Expedition to Nepal, a.k.a. “The Silver Hut Expedition.” During this expedition, the goal of which was to combine the “wintering over” concept of living in Antarctica with the typical mountain exploration concept of setting up a series of camps along the path to the summit, Hillary and his team were the first famous explorers to use Eureka Draw-Tite tents. Although the team did not reach the summit of Mt. Makalu on this expedition due to illness, the weather, and a minor accident, the team spent more than six months living and performing laboratory experiments in the Eureka Draw-Tite tents on the Himalayan mountains. These four-man and two-man Eureka Draw-Tite tents, proven before the expedition during the U.S. Navy’s Operation Deep Freeze to endure temperatures of up to -102˚ Fahrenheit, withstood the expedition and remained in “excellent” and entirely usable condition even two years later.
James W. “Big Jim” Whittaker and the First All-American Everest Expedition
Hillary’s experience with the Eureka Draw-Tite tents influenced Jim Whittaker aka James W. “Big Jim” Whittaker and Barry C. Bishop, two of nineteen American explorers headed for the first all-American Everest Expedition in 1963, to turn to Eureka to design custom Draw-Tite tents. Working closely with Bishop’s and Whittaker’s instructions, such as installing heavy-duty brass hooks for attaching the tent to the frame and utilizing “zipper-type vents” to prevent condensation, Eureka improved on the Draw-Tite design to create a total of over 60 lightweight “Mt. Everest Assault Tents” for the expedition, many of which were tested at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) at Mount Rainier the year before. The tents kept the explorers safe from temperatures reaching -20˚ Fahrenheit and from 60 mph+ winds during the three-month trek to the summit. Norman G. Dyhrenfurth, the expedition’s leader, stated that much of the expedition’s success was due to “our fine new equipment... [such as our] vastly improved tents, with outside frames, that can be set up in a high wind.”
Eric Simonson and the Mallory & Irvine Research Expeditions
When Eric Simonson led a team of nine explorers near the 29,902 ft (9,114 m) summit of Mt. Everest in 1999 to uncover the truth about the 1924 expedition of British explorers George Leigh Mallory and Andrew Irvine, the team used Eureka! tents to shelter themselves at the base camp. Simonson’s team found Mallory’s preserved body but was unable to determine whether he had died before or after reaching the Everest summit. After the first expedition, Simonson told Kurt Heisler, then-senior tent designer for Eureka!, that the Eureka! tents had been “great” and that he and his team of explorers “could have used these tents much higher on the mountain.” Heisler offered to design tents for Simonson’s next exhibition in 2001, the goal of which was to find Irvine’s body and to determine whether Mallory had been the first man to reach the Everest summit, nearly three decades prior to Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic expedition. Eureka! donated sixty tents to the expedition, from their largest style of military tents to their lightest and smallest backpacking tents, and designed several custom tents, working closely with the explorers to balance stability and strength. Said one explorer, Andy Politz, “Eureka! generously offered to build us the tent of our dreams.” Simonson stated that companies like Eureka! that donated to the expedition “took a risk, believed, and saved lives doing it. [They] essentially... are directly responsible for our strength on the mountain and our ability to work miracles.” Eureka! later produced a consumer version of the Fifth Season tent, a tent originally designed for this expedition.
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- Blanchard, Robert L. to Mr. W. Whittaker, Redmond, WA. (1962-06-05).
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