Munsing Wear is a classic vintage lingerie label with a uniquely American history. The brand is the brain child of entrepreneur and inventor George Munsing. In 1885 he opened the Northwestern Knitting Company in Minneapolis along with MIT graduates Frank Page and Edwarde Tuttle. The company specialized in manufacturing knit underwear for men and women, particularly the onesie union suit.
Women at work at the weaving machines at the Northwestern Knitting Company.
Munsing dedicated himself to textile innovation and in 1888 he patented a method of knitting silk plated elastic wool fiber in which silk thread passed through a ribbed wool fabric from one side to another, covering the wool on the outside surfaces. The genius new fabric was heavy enough to keep its wearer toasty yet soft against the skin, and the ribbed knit was naturally elastic creating a comfortable fit. Munsing didn't stop there, by 1891 he had four other patents under his name, including one for a crocheting machine that created a scalloped trim along the edges of fabric, a finishing technique still widely used for underwear elastics and hems.
A parade float for Munsing Wear union suits in Oklahoma, 1908.
These patents gave the Munsing Wear label the leg up on competition and it became one of the largest union suit manufacturers of its time. Their products were marketed as being both high in quality and functionality, ideals embraced by Americans of the Industrial Revolution.
In 1895 Munsing left the company to pursue other research interests but he did not take the business with him. The new management shifted their focus from innovation to merchandising, putting more efforts into advertisement and the production of a variety of styles and garments. Soon the company outgrew its original work space which was torn down and replaced with a state of the art mill and factory including a dentist office, a print shop and a full kitchen.
The dentist office at the factory in 1924.
The 1924 Munsingwear women's basketball team.
In addition to making union suits the Munsing Wear brand began to include women's bloomers and tap pants. By 1917 approximately 30,000 garments per day were produced at the factories, accounting for more than one tenth of all union suits made in the States. In 1919 George Munsing returned to the firm to lead the research division and that same year the company was renamed the Munsingwear Corporation.
Women sewing at the Munsingwear plant, 1924.
The 1920s presented a new concept in underwear production which would change the industry forever. Unlike the prior generations, Americans of the 20s, particularly women, began to desire undergarments that were fashionable in addition to being functional. This new interest in aesthetics is visible in the variety of styles Munsingwear offered during the era. Soon lounge wear, pajamas, hosiery, and pull on girdles replaced the union suit as the brand's primary products and materials like rayon, silk, Lastex, tricot and cotton-wool blends became the company's standards. In the 30s bandeau bralettes, knit bathing suits, and foundation garments like the "Foundette" girdle were added to the Munsingwear line with much success.
Racy pinup ads for the Foundettes girdle line in 1941.
The company continued to grow, acquiring several important manufacturing plants including Rollins Hosiery Mills of Des Moines in '45, the Vassar Company of Chicago in '48 and the Hollywood-Maxwell Company in '58. These latter two companies were ultimately combined to form the Hollywood-Vassarette Intimate Division, a brand that made some of the sexiest lingerie of the New Look era. While their product line diversified to including slips, bras and nightgowns the company stayed true to the original Munsing spirit of innovation, incorporating the use of nylon tricot in underwear in '47, introducing the "Stay There" line of foundation garments made with Ban-Lon for a snug, no-slip fit in '58, and using multicolored Antron nylon for printed lingerie sets in '59.
Munsingwear ad for the Balbeauties line of nightgowns, 1941.
Munsingwear continues to produce lingerie and apparel, although the famous union suit has since been retired. These days the company is split into two divisions, with the men's collection made under the Munsingwear label and the women's intimates produced under Vassarette.
A vintage 40s Munsingwear pantie from our archives.