Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
Now, back when we posted it, it really was an unexpected thing to find. Who were these men? And why were they playing tug-of-war with a pair of pants? Unfortunately the photograph didn’t come with any identifying information, so we still don’t know the answer to that first question.
But, I might finally be able to answer the second.
We recently came across this advertisement in the John Martin Smith Collection. The ad, which was distributed by Patterson Bros. & Olds of St. Joe, features “the famous Orr Pantaloon Overall,” which was manufactured by Sweet, Orr, and Company.
The company was founded in 1871 in Wappingers Falls, New York, by Irish immigrant James A. Orr and his nephews, Clayton and Clinton Sweet. They produced a variety of work clothes, including pants that began to get quite a reputation for their durability. Supposedly, customers kept sending letters to the company about how their Sweet-Orr pants (or coat) had saved them from fires, drowning, falling from great heights, and more.
Naturally, Sweet-Orr began to use these customer testimonies in their advertising, complete with dramatic copy and illustrations. There was only one problem—no one believed the advertisements. The stories sounded just too amazing to be true.
Not to be deterred, the company thought up a new plan: the dramatic advertising was pared down, and a new campaign was developed to demonstrate the durability of Sweet-Orr pants and overalls.
Company representatives began visiting factories and work yards, promising Sweet-Orr pants to any six men who could pull a pair apart in a game of tug-of-war. No one ever managed to do it, and the demonstration became iconic, eventually becoming the company’s logo in 1880.
Back to the photo in question:
While we can’t say for certain if the pants in the mystery photograph are Sweet-Orr, or if the man refereeing was with their company, it does seem fairly likely that the picture was inspired by Sweet-Orr’s memorable demonstrations.