An Inside Look at an Outdoor Icon
Former L.L.Bean president Leon Gorman (center) in training for the 1990 Mount Everest International Peace Climb
The story of L.L.Bean is ever evolving. But the outdoors has always been at the heart of it. Explore over 100 years of L.L.Bean history in our timeline below.
“L.L.” returned from a hunting trip with cold, damp feet and a revolutionary idea. By combining leather uppers with rubber bottoms, he created an innovative boot that changed footwear forever.
But L.L. did not meet with immediate success. The bottoms and tops separated, and 90 of the first 100 pairs were returned. L.L. sent refunds, corrected the problem and sent more mailers.
“My men are very enthusiastic over their experience with your foot equipment on our last Arctic Expedition, finding it extremely practical, especially for fall and spring work,” he wrote.
Originally called the Maine Duck Hunting Coat, it was an instant favorite with hunters.
L.L.’s circulars evolved into a real catalog, judged #1 by Postage magazine. L.L. was awarded $25.
The First Lady proved a tough sell, resisting the impulse to buy fishing boots for her husband. But L.L. wouldn’t let her leave empty handed, presenting her with a trout knife for the president.
Featuring a breakthrough device called the “hookless fastener” (aka “zipper”), the duffle became an L.L.Bean mainstay.
L.L.Bean didn’t merely survive the Depression – it boomed. Durability had a lot to do with the company’s success, as did the advent of paid vacations and more time spent outdoors.
After claiming he “could whittle a better-looking bunch of decoys than that mess we’re using,” L.L.’s shipping clerk George Soule was tasked with the job. He went on to sell thousands a year.
With a parade of customers seeking his advice on pursuing big game, waterfowl and fish, L.L. wrote a book to share his nearly 50 years of experience.
Originally designed to haul ice and wood, the tote’s simple yet timeless design earned it a place as a style icon. Still made here in Maine.
L.L. came up with the idea to accommodate visiting sportsmen who would drive all night to get an early start the next morning. “We have thrown away the key to the place.”
The women’s showroom opened after L.L.’s daughter-in-law, Hazel, and wife, Claire, convinced L.L. that women needed something to do while their husbands shopped for fishing tackle.
Leon Gorman was hired as a clothing buyer at $80 a week. But he was drawn to the salesroom, waiting on customers and learning everything he could.
Inspired by the heavyweight sweaters “used by Norwegian fishermen who require unusual durability and warmth,” the sweaters developed an instant following.
The company receives 50,000 condolence letters and the store closes in his memory.
Following the death of L.L., Leon Gorman took over as L.L.Bean’s president, leading the company through rapid growth, expansion and modernization.
The program began with a winter clinic in Freeport, Maine, and over the years has expanded to include dozens of activities and locations.
A 25,000-square-foot addition provided more space to showcase the expanding assortment of outdoor gear. The centerpiece was an indoor pond stocked with Maine brook trout.
After the company donated the land around Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park in Maine, it introduced its Katahdin logo – symbolizing the beauty of the outdoors.
Featuring climbers from the US, China and Russia, the climb aimed to demonstrate that the world’s superpowers could work together to accomplish great things.
As part of its 95th anniversary celebration, L.L.Bean donated this park to the town of Freeport. Town officials chose the name to honor Freeport’s long-standing relationship with Gorman and L.L.Bean.
L.L.Bean made donations totaling $2.5 million, all in the spirit of enjoying the outdoors. It also introduced the Bootmobile – a 20-foot-long replica of the L.L.Bean Boot, which travels the country.
Leon died on September 3, 2015. He is fondly remembered for his love of Maine, his extensive philanthropy and his remarkable leadership.
Hauled by a matching pickup truck, the 24-by-7-foot trailer tags along with the Bootmobile as part of our annual College Tours. Packed with cool products, the team and vehicles head off to college campuses to offer students relevant product like fleece and Bean Boots – and plenty of crowd-pleasing fun and games.
Our Bean Boots were made available in stores in Canada for the first time, as well as on a new dedicated Canadian e-commerce site. We partnered with Toronto-based distributor Jaytex Group on the Canadian expansion, including wholesale distribution and retail expansion.
The global pandemic brought about changes and challenges like never before in our company’s history. For the first time ever, we installed locks and closed the doors to our 24-hour Flagship location in Freeport, Maine. Guided by our century-old belief in always putting people first, we immediately halted production of our Bean Boots and Boat and Totes and began making 350k face masks for our healthcare community. Our fulfillment center started packing food, instead of flannels, in partnership with local food banks. And, as a record number of people reconnected with the outdoors, we were happy to make their adventures easier, safer and more comfortable, whether it be an afternoon on the porch, the pursuit of a new outdoor hobby, or an ambitious family hike.
2020 also brought about new ways to do business, including our first-ever wholesale partnerships with beloved brands, Staples, Nordstrom, Zappos and SCHEELS, and a new collaboration with renowned designer Todd Snyder.