Abstract: Branding in the 1930s: The Case of B.V.D.

Patricia A. Cunningham


In 1929 the Atlas Underwear Company in Piqua, Ohio, merged with the iconic B.V.D. Company and soon promoted not just union suits, but from 1930 until 1941, fashionable swimwear. They sold underwear to Sears Roebuck Co. and J.C. Penney, and B.V.D. swimwear to the finest shops: Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel. This paper provides a case study in early twentieth-century branding, and insight into how one manufacturer developed beneficial relationships among itself, its retailers, and ultimately its consumers. Although early twentieth-century promotion focused largely on simple informational advertising, B.V.D. went far beyond this usual approach. They purposefully branded their products using educational materials about product quality geared toward both retailers and consumers, and took care to create aesthetically appealing packaging. They provided retailers with point of sale visuals and copy for joint ads. B.V.D. sought Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as a designer and had him carry out crowd-pleasing B.V.D. Swim Club promotions at beaches across America. Weissmuller's later MGM connections provided access to Hollywood and allowed B.V.D. to draw on other film stars for promotional activities and the cachet of Hollywood as well.