Our Heritage: How Lee Outfitted WWI Soldiers

Did you know that Lee manufactured uniforms for the U.S. military during World War I?

It’s a fascinating story, one that seems fitting to share in light of Veterans Day. So slip into your vintage Lee jeans, pull up a chair and travel back to 1917 …

Slip into your vintage Lee jeans, pull up a chair and travel back to 1917 …

It began with a man named Ed.

Ed Snyder was a legendary Lee salesman, allegedly responsible for the first major Lee Union-All sale — which happened to be to none other than Uncle Sam.

It started on a Friday, when Ed witnessed thousands of soldiers training at a camp near Lawrence, Kansas. These soldiers were wearing interesting outfits, which were about as diverse as could be imagined. As it often did, an idea started brewing in Ed’s mind.

Ed gained the attention of Major-General Leonard Wood — the man in charge of this specific Kansas division — and painted an alluring picture in his head of thousands of his men completely equipped in khaki. I wish I had the transcript of that conversation. I’d love to hear the legendary Ed in action.

Major-General Leonard Wood and Wife

Major-General Leonard Wood, pictured with his wife

Somehow, Ed not only sold a large order of khaki Union-Alls to the government, but he was able to sell them with all the Lee buttons and labels that were standard with our product (rather than use generic, non-branded materials that are generally used in military uniforms).

Ed was the man.

What happened next was pretty remarkable.

Lee Jeans delivered thousands of Union-Alls for the military in less than 48 hours.

Ed conjured up this whole idea on Friday night when he visited the training camp. Major-General Leonard Wood asked for his order to be delivered the following Wednesday, which is already a pretty tight turnaround. But Ed was an ambitious man, and decided to deliver on Sunday. Thousands of Union-Alls in less than 48 hours.

I repeat: Ed was the man.

Lee Jeans Factory - 1917

Lee product being cut in the Kansas City H.D. Lee Mercantile Company factory, 1917



Lee product being sewn in the Kansas City H.D. Lee Mercantile Company factory, 1917


Eventually, the government’s need increased.

The military needed more and more Union-Alls, and eventually took over the operation of various Lee plants until the war ended.

When the war ended, veterans joined us.

During World War I, millions of soldiers wore the Lee Union-All in training or on the European battlefields. When they returned, as the story goes, they were “thoroughly sold on Lee quality.” Lee hired returning soldiers to round out its sales force, and they became our most dependable and valued salesmen.

It makes sense. These veterans knew Lee’s product well, and had really put it to the test. Who better fit to sell the product?


Things have changed since then. (Well, most things.)

Product has undergone many innovations. Our factories are more sophisticated.

But we’re still dedicated to quality. Our people are still filled with Ed Snyder’s passion for the product. We’re still proud to be an American company.

For all of those who have served our country, either in uniform or at home while a loved one was in uniform, Lee would like to thank you. Your service is truly appreciated. From all of us at Lee — Happy Veterans Day.


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