Google Patents/Erin McCarthy
Google Patents/Erin McCarthy

The Near-Death Experience That Inspired the First Patented Down Jacket

Google Patents/Erin McCarthy
Google Patents/Erin McCarthy

Many of us couldn’t imagine enduring these chilly winter months without down jackets—they keep us warm without weighing a ton. The outerwear was first patented in the U.S. in 1940 by Eddie Bauer; it would become his most iconic and successful product and change the nature of his business, taking it from a local storefront to a nationally known brand. But he might not have come up with the idea if not for a scary near-death experience that occurred 80 years ago this month.

Bauer outside of his store at 215 Seneca, Seattle. Photo courtesy of the Eddie Bauer Archives.

The Little Shop That Could

Bauer was just 21 when he started his business in 1920, renting 15 square feet of space inside another man’s gun shop in downtown Seattle and stringing tennis rackets. According to company historian Colin Berg, Eddie Bauer’s Tennis Shop operated for about a year—just enough time for Bauer to save enough money to open his own storefront.

Bauer’s Sports Shop was a hunting, fishing, and sporting goods store, but Bauer was more than just a merchandiser, he was an outdoorsman, too, and developed gear based on his own needs and the needs of his clients. “If I didn’t trust the equipment, it wasn’t stocked,” he once said. “If I needed equipment that wasn’t available elsewhere, I developed it myself.” If you’ve ever played badminton, for example, you’ve used the shuttlecock Bauer developed and patented.

Bauer backed everything in his shop with a lifetime guarantee—a rare thing in the ‘20s, and something Bauer called “my greatest contribution to the consumer … that guarantee was part of what I sold”—and he only hired people who, like him, were adept at outdoor pursuits. “People knew that if something was in Eddie Bauer’s store, we had personally put it to a rugged test,” he said. His small shop was successful, with a reputation not just for quality goods but also a knowledgeable staff.

For someone who had a passion for hunting and fishing, owning an outfitting shop was the best thing ever: “My business was also my hobby,” Bauer said. “It was like one long vacation. I loved every bit of it.”

A Fateful Trip

The shop might have stayed a small but successful business if not for a fishing trip Bauer took with his friend Red Carlson, a trapper from Alaska, in January 1935. The pair headed to a canyon in the Olympic Peninsula, where they fished for steelhead. That cold, snowy January day, their haul was 100 pounds, and they stripped off their heavy wool mackinaw jackets, climbing out of the canyon in just their wool shirts and long underwear.

The car was a mile away, and the 200- to 300-foot climb out of the river canyon was steep. As they hiked, Bauer—wet from his bag of fish and sweating profusely—began to fall behind his friend. When he reached the top of the canyon, he stopped and leaned against a tree to rest. “He was literally falling asleep on his feet, nodding off,” Berg says. “All that moisture froze in the cold and the snow, and he was getting hypothermic. He was in a bad way.”

Thankfully, Bauer was carrying a revolver. He pulled it out and fired two shots to alert his friend, who came back to get him and helped him to the car. If Bauer had been by himself, he might not have survived. But despite the scary experience, “he wasn’t about to give up winter fishing or hunting,” Berg says. “He realized what he needed was a really breathable, warm jacket that he wouldn’t have to take off when he was working strenuously in the cold.”

Google Patents

Designing with Down

Inspiration struck when Bauer remembered the stories his Uncle Lesser had told him as a kid about his time in the Russian Army during the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria, before he had emigrated to the United States. Russian officers, Lesser had told Bauer, wore feather-stuffed coats to keep warm in the bitter, bitter cold.  And now, Bauer would create a jacket that would allow American outdoorsmen to do the same.

Bauer had worked with feather merchants making flies for his store, so he knew where to get high quality goose down. “He made a pattern for a jacket that he thought would fit him,” Berg says, “and had a local seamstress assemble the prototype.” The resulting jacket was made of high-thread count cotton (which kept the down from escaping) with diamond quilting in the torso (which kept the down in place) and alpaca-lined sleeves.


The oldest Skyliner in the Eddie Bauer Archives, circa 1940. Photo courtesy of the Eddie Bauer Archives.

Bauer took his new outerwear—which he called the Blizzard-Proof Jacket—to his friend Ome Daiber, “a well-known climber at the time, who had also developed some climbing gear,” Berg says. “As a mountaineer himself, he immediately knew the importance and value of it.” Daiber, who had a small manufacturing operation, created the first generation of the jackets for Bauer, who continued to tinker with the design. Then, in 1936, he released a new version of the jacket—he called it the Skyliner—and began to advertise in Field & Stream, American Rifleman, and other hunting and fishing magazines. “He didn’t have a catalog at that point,” Berg says, “so sales happened through mail order and in his shop.”

The jacket proved to be a hit right away, and in 1939, Bauer filed for a patent on his jacket, which he received in 1940. Interestingly, though, the patent didn’t mention down feathers at all. “It could have been insulated with anything as far as the patent was concerned,” Berg says. In fact, none of Bauer’s 11 patents relating to down jackets actually mention down: “They all happened to be insulated with goose down, but it was really the visual quilting pattern that was the patented element.”

Then, in 1942, Bauer made another down jacket that would change his business: the first down-insulated flight jacket of the U.S. Air Force, called the B-9. The jacket—along with the accompanying pants—could keep aviators warm for up to 3 hours at -70 degrees F, and allow them to float with 25 pounds of gear for up to 24 hours. The jacket’s label read “Eddie Bauer, Seattle, U.S.A.,” and when aviators returned home in 1945, they wrote letters asking where they could get more down gear. The servicemen became the company's core customer base when it launched the catalog that same year.

Images for the Blizzard Proof and Skyliner Jackets in the inaugural Eddie Bauer catalog. Photo courtesy of the Eddie Bauer Archives.

The Skyliner was a key part of his collection from 1936 to 1986 (and was offered again in 1995, 2003, and 2010), and was included in the business’s inaugural 1945 catalog. Testimonials printed in the catalog heaped praise on the product: “I was so pleased with the down Blizzard Proof Jacket, I am ordering three more as presents for my duck hunting friends,” one NYC man wrote. “My husband thinks his down jacket is the best thing that was ever made,” wrote a New Hampshire wife. And, said Mrs. L.E. from Kodiak, Alaska, “I wear it everywhere out of doors. I didn’t buy any woolen underwear, but with this jacket on I certainly don’t need any.” Other satisfied customers say the jacket is “tops” and “worth its weight in gold.”


Two of Bauer's other down products: A sleeping robe and a sleeping bag. Photo courtesy of the Eddie Bauer Archives.

Lighter Than a Feather

Jackets weren’t the only thing Bauer created with down: In the 1940s, he made comforters, pillows, a “sleeping robe,” and a sleeping bag that was was guaranteed to keep people warm down to temps of -60 degrees F. And though one of Bauer’s early slogans was “Lighter than a feather, warmer than 10 sweaters,” because he wanted to make things as warm as possible, he packed in a lot of down. “The sleeping bag weighed 18 pounds,” Berg says. “The marketing tagline was ‘Built for service you’ll never require.’ But you’d need a dogsled to carry it around.” This was a pattern; the jacket Bauer designed for the 1963 American ascent of Mount Everest had so much down in it that it was rated to -85 degrees F. “I talked to Tim Hornbein from the expedition, and he said, ‘It was in our packs most of the time,’” Berg says. “They couldn’t climb in it, it was so warm.” 

Over the years, the designs of Bauer’s down jackets have changed, of course, as new materials became available: The company began blending cotton with nylon in the 1950s, and started using Ripstop nylon in 1958. “It was a little bit like pulling teeth to get Eddie to go that route, because he was afraid that lighter fabric wouldn’t stand up to the durability that was so important to him,” Berg says. (After all, this is a guy who believed that “there can be no compromise of quality when lives depend on … performance.”) His original down jacket, meanwhile, probably wouldn’t look out of place in modern retail stores. “Some of the jackets from the ‘70s and ‘80s seem much more dated, either because of the cut or the color,” Berg says. “But lots of people say you could just take the original off of the form and wear it today.”

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.

1. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM A TRICKY BIT OF GEOGRAPHY.

London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.

2. CHARLES DICKENS TAGGED ALONG ON PATROLS.

Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.

3. THERE WERE DIRTY COPS AMONG THE RANKS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS.

For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.

4. THEY HELPED PIONEER FINGERPRINTING.

A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
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At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.

5. THEIR PATROL OFFICERS DIDN’T CARRY GUNS UNTIL 1994.

The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.

6. THEY HAVE A SQUAD OF “SUPER RECOGNIZERS.”

A surveillance camera is posted in London
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images

With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.

7. THEY KEEP A SECRET CRIME MUSEUM HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC.

Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  

8. YOU COULD LIVE THERE ONE DAY.

The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
Jack Taylor, AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

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