Abstract: Reinterpreting Corporate Identity: History and Innovation at Pendleton Woolen Mills

Richard S. Hobbs


The history of Pendleton Woolen Mills provides a case study of how an understanding of a company’s history, culture, and ownership has contributed to the firm’s survival as an entirely US-based operation for more than a century, long after most of Pendleton’s competitors either failed or moved their operations overseas.  An iconic American company founded in 1909, Pendleton is family owned and managed, and traces its roots back six generations to the arrival of Thomas Kay in Oregon in 1863.

Five distinctive features of the company’s culture are interwoven throughout its history: (1) Alliance with Native American tribes and use of native-inspired designs; (2) corporate organization based on vertically integrated structure, from raw wool to finished retail products—combined with thorough understanding of the woolen industry; (3) a commitment to making and selling premium quality merchandise; (4) ownership’s value system centered on loyalty and the “Golden Rule”; and (5) fiscal conservatism.  These features form the core of the corporate identity—a  platform of constraints that have served the company well for 107 years.  Their evolution in response to changing economic conditions and historical events is an instructive story of innovation, adaptation, and success.