Repository Spotlight: Pendleton Woolen Mills Archives

Repository Spotlight: Pendleton Woolen Mills Archives 

 By Richard Hobbs, Archivist & Historian, Winthrop Group

“Insight to our past gives us foresight to the future of how we can bring historical distinction to life and give relevancy to new ideas for the marketplace.”

“Our Archives is the keeper of our treasured history.  It is a constant source of design and marketing inspiration, it embodies our corporate culture, enabling us to remain who we are yet step forward with exciting innovations.”

-- C.M.(Mort) Bishop III, President, retired June 2017






Pendleton's classic label.  The "warranted to be..." has been the company's guarantee of excellent quality since the since the beginning.

The Company

Pendleton Woolen Mills (PWM) is an iconic American brand headquartered in Portland, Oregon.  The company is a privately held, fifth generation family-owned business.  The current president is John Bishop.  His brother, Peter, is Vice President.

Pendleton traces its history to 1863, when Thomas Kay, a young English weaver, began making woolen products soon after his arrival in Oregon.  Kay's eldest daughter, Fannie, learned the mill business and assisted her father in mill operation and management.  In 1876, when she married retail merchant C.P. Bishop, a complementary combination of merchandising and manufacturing expertise emerged—a solid foundation for what was to become Pendleton Woolen Mills.  This dual textile-retail heritage was passed on to the three Bishop sons, Clarence, Roy and Chauncey.  In 1909, with family and town backing, the Bishop sons started up an idle mill in Pendleton, Oregon.


Postcard of the original mill built in Pendleton, Oregon in 1909. 

Over the last century, Pendleton Woolen Mills has thrived under the direction of the Bishop family. Today, the company owns and operates 5 facilities, manages 50 Pendleton retail and outlet stores, and publishes apparel and home direct mail catalogs.  Pendleton products are available at and are also sold in Japan, China, and Canada.

The uniqueness and foundation of Pendleton Woolen Mills is its "vertical" manufacturing, that is, controlling wool manufacturing from purchasing of wool from private wool ranches and producers to the selling of the finished garment or blanket/home product (the company calls it “Fleece to Fashion”).  In some cases, the company has purchased wool from American ranches for more than 80 years. In most seasons, approximately 40% of wool is purchased from America. Wool weaving is done in Pendleton-owned mills and much of the manufacturing in Pendleton facilities. 

This 1913 program reflects the close ties between the company, local Native American tribes, and the Pendleton community since the Round-Up began in 1910.

PWM Archives

The PWM Archives was established in 1989 in consultation with the Winthrop Group.  This year we celebrate 28 years of service to the company.

This is a private corporate archives.  All information in the PWM Archives is proprietary; access by non-employees is available only by permission of the company President.

The purpose of the PWM Archives is to (1) preserve and (2) make accessible the various materials of historical and enduring value of a business, organization, agency, family or other entity.  The Archives collections document the products and business functions of the company since its founding, as well as the activities and lives of the Bishop and Kay families dating back to the 1860’s. 

Archives holdings total roughly 1,100 cubic feet, spanning from the 1860s to the present.  The volume has doubled over the last ten years.  Formats of records include hardcopy documents, fabric items (including the Historical Garment Collection, blankets, and a wide variety of other products), and digital assets (including images, audio cassettes, DVDs, CDs, and more).

Policies and procedures are in place for enabling access to the collection when the Archivist/Historian is not on-site.  The Archives is organized in Record Groups and by Records Series.  The primary access tools are the hard copy and digital (Excel) versions of the Archives Guide, which provides indexing to the collection.  At present, there are more than 7,600 Guide entries, with descriptive information on some 9,000 images, more than 1,000 garments and blankets, administrative records from the time of the company’s founding, and a wide variety of marketing and promotional materials.

The Archives space is climate controlled with steel shelving.  Access to the collection is mainly by PWM corporate staff and family members, by approval of President.  Outside (non-family) research requests must be approved by the President.

The company Archivist/Historian provides management and leadership for access to the Archives; research and reference service; maintains the Guide and other finding aids; manages the Oral History Program; supports exhibits; manages the archives facilities, and prepares historical articles for the newsletter, the website, and other narrative documentation and topical research papers as requested by the President and CEO.


Heritage Hallway at PWM headquarters in Portland, a public showcase for many of the historic images, blankets, and garments from the company Archives.

The Archives’ uses are many.   Most frequent use is design inspiration, communications, marketing, and branding.  Other uses include support for litigation, employee recognition, products research, philanthropy, and community involvement.

The Pendleton Archives provided a host of materials for the company’s primary historical exhibit, “Heritage Hallway,” near the corporate public reception area.  More than a century of collecting history is represented in the exhibit, celebrating the living history of Pendleton.


Blanket finishing at the mill, ca. 1915.

For the last three decades, the 108-year-old wool company brand associated with the Beach Boys’ plaid shirts, Native American blankets, and outdoor wear, has energetically mined its company Archives for new designs that are riding high on the current wave of heritage chic and avant-garde clothing.  In the process, Pendleton is attracting a new and younger generation of customers and beginning to transform the traditional image of their iconic American brand.  Numerous other companies seek out Pendleton to capitalize on the American heritage trend.  The company has successfully partnered with dozens of major U.S. clothing companies and boutique design clothiers.  Just a few examples include:  Nike, Levis, Vans, Hurley, Adidas, Opening Ceremony, and Gap.  All these initiatives have drawn upon legacy designs held in the Pendleton Archives for inspiration. 

All images courtesy Pendleton Woolen Mills Archives.





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