For more than 100 years, Russell Athletic has supplied America’s athletes and teams with the latest innovations in sports apparel. The company was founded in 1902 by Benjamin Russell in Alexander City, Alabama, originally as a producer of woollen undergarments. With 10 sewing machines and 8 knitting machines the small factory had a capacity of 150 garments daily. In 1920, Benjamin Russell’s son, Benjamin Russell Junior was attending the University of Alabama and during a football game had an idea for an all cotton version of the standard woollen jersey that would stop the discomfort and chaffing experienced when playing in wool garments. This radical concept for a cotton sweater was the inspiration that created the contemporary sweatshirt as we know it today. Soon the company was manufacturing all cotton sports apparel and athletes everywhere loved the comfortable new fabric.
By 1925 long underwear, sweaters and athletic shirts all made from cotton were added to the production creating a full athleticwear collection. 1932 saw Russell acquire the Southern Manufacturing Company giving the company access to athletic team apparel and this was the beginning of the Russell Athletic divisions cutting and sewing operations. Later in 1938 the company began making woven athletic garments including basketball, baseball and football pants and jackets.
In 1941, founder and humanitarian Benjamin Russell died and the reins of the company were passed to his son Benjamin C Russell Jr. During World War 2, like many US clothing manufacturers, Russell’s ‘Athletic’ Division was contracted to the US Military making shirts, drawers, t shirts, athletic garments and special outer garments for the US Army and Navy, thousands of military specification garments were made during this time adding to Russell’s varied and vast catalogue. Benjamin C Russell died in 1945 and was succeeded as company president by his brother, Thomas D Russell. After the War, the company embarked on further expansion and development through its knitting, weaving, dyeing, finishing and cutting departments and began to corner the US athleticwear market.
By the early 1960’s Russell was THE household name for athletic garments. The ‘Athletic’ division was the largest manufacturer and marketer of athletic apparel and uniforms in the United States. In 1962 the Russell Manufacturing Company’s name was changed to Russell Mills Inc and the brand became synonymous as the company that supplied uniforms for Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, Softball and Volleyball teams, professional, amateur and collegiate. Renown as much for their comfort and durability as their casual styling, Russell garments were staples of collegiate life and seen on campuses across America. Russell was notably the only brand to supply athletic apparel to all eight of the Ivy League Universities.
In 1973, Russell Mills’ name was changed to Russell Corporation and the company expanded manufacturing across Southern USA, and also into Latin America and Europe. The brands success continued throughout the 1970’s and thanks to the sneaker and music culture revolution of the 1980’s Russell was introduced to an entirely new generation and became a streetwear favourite across the Globe. During this era Russell also began its conquest of the NFL and MLB, being the only brand to date to supply uniforms to every team in both the professional football and baseball leagues securing its already firmly established place in sports history.