L.L. Bean, Inc

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L.L. Bean, Inc.

The history of L.L. Bean, Inc., founded in 1912, really begins with the quintessential rags-to-riches story of the company's founder, Leon Leonwood Bean. Born in 1872 to Benjamin and Sarah Bean, L.L. was the fourth of six children. Orphaned at the age of 12, he wastaken in variously by friends and family, although he mainly fended for himself, eventually becoming an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. In an effort to create a hunting boot that would allow his feet to remain dry while walking through the woods, Bean stitched a leather shaft to rubber bottoms, creating what he called at the time "Bean Boots." Convinced that other woodsmen would appreciate his footwear, Bean began selling his boots through the mail with a money-back guarantee. As the story goes, however, of the 100 pairs he sold, Bean made good on his guarantee for 90 of them when their stitching gave way.

Undaunted, Bean made improvements to his design and continued selling the boots along with other outdoor equipment and sporting goods, establishing his mail-order business in Freeport, Maine, where it remained headquartered in the late 1990s. In 1917 Bean opened a retail store, located next door to the mail-order offices, to accommodate those customers who invariably stopped by his workshop to make purchases. Over the years, a reputation for quality products and good customer service helped the business prosper; it was announced in 1951 that the retail store would stay open around the clock, 365 days-a-year; the product line was expanded in 1954 and women's items began to be sold.

After L.L. Bean's death in 1967 at the age of 94, his grandson Leon Gorman took over leadership of the company. Leon was at the helm in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the "preppie" fad helped to fuel demand for L.L. Bean products. Preppies were characterized by their style, which incorporated well-tailored and conservative-yet-casual clothing, including their "uniform" of polo shirt, khaki pants, and leather and rubber footwear—all staples in the L.L. Bean catalog.

Although the preppie craze faded, L.L. Bean did not. The trend toward healthier lifestyles that began in the 1980s and lasted into the 1990s boosted sales of the company's outdoor and sporting equipment. By the late 1990s sales had topped $1 billion; and with 3.5 million visitors each year, the retail store was one of Maine's most popular tourist attractions. Staying true to the values of its founder as it moved ahead into the new millennium, L.L. Bean, Inc. seemed assured of remaining a fixture in its industry, certain to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

—Mia Consalvo

Further Reading:

Bean, L. L. My Story: The Autobiography of a Down-East Merchant. Freeport, Maine, L. L. Bean, Inc., 1960.

Gorman, Leon A. L. L. Bean, Inc.: Outdoor Specialties by Mail from Maine. New York, The Newcomen Society in North America, 1981.

Montgomery, M. R. In Search of L. L. Bean. Boston, Little Brown, 1984.