Iconic Oregon firm turns 100

PENDLETON — The iconic Oregon company Pendleton Woolen Mills celebrated 100 years in its namesake city last week at a gathering where a photo of founder Kay Bishop looked down on his great-great grandson, mill president Mort Bishop III.

Kay Bishop, an English immigrant, opened Oregon's second woolen mill in Salem in 1863. He died in 1900 and the family began looking at Pendleton as a possible mill site because of its nearness to abundant wool and its reputation as an early commercial hub.

Pendleton residents put together $30,000 in bonds to attract the company, which moved there in 1909 and produced its first blankets that September.

Joseph Rawnsley was an early designer responsible for some of the mill's most famous designs, including the Chief Joseph blanket and the President Harding blanket.

"Despite his English ancestry, Joe was attracted to the Indian way," Bishop said. "He would live with tribal peoples for periods of time and then return to the woolen mills with an amazing sense of color, design and appreciation for Indian spiritual symbols derived from nature."

Mayor Phil Houk told those at the celebration that he never has to tell others where Pendleton is located. The mill and the Pendleton Round-Up have made the town famous beyond its size.

In the back of the room where the celebration was held is a picture of former President Warren G. Harding running his fingers over a blanket designed in honor of his 1923 visit, in what would be his last trip. He died in San Francisco before returning to Washington, D.C.

And there's one of the hit group Pendletones, named in honor of the mill's wool shirts and who later changed their name to The Beach Boys.

Viginia Tubbs of Pendleton said the anniversary gave her a flash of nostalgia.

She recalled how her son Kelly sold wool from his three or four sheep about 40 years ago.

"He would take the wool to the back door of the mill and sell it," she said. "They even accommodated little kids. He was on top of the world."

Share This Story