Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Jantzen Knitting Mills Collection


Collection ID:
Jantzen, Carl C.
Physical Description:
7 Cubic feet
Carl C. Jantzen and John C. Zehntbauer founded the Portland Knitting Company in 1910 as a retail store selling knitted products (i.e. sweaters, hosiery, jackets). Carl Jantzen later invented an automated circular knitting machine that allowed the company to make light-weight materials for swimsuits. In 1916, the company first used the name Jantzen as their trademark and went on to specialize in swimsuits.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
This collection has a thorough representation of company newsletters,
Jantzen Yarns
, and many sample and print catalogues from the 1970s which show the Jantzen clothing and swimwear lines for misses, juniors, and men during that time. There are several company histories written by Zehntbauer which were printed in
Jantzen Yarns.
The photographs, though few in number, are a good sampling documenting Jantzen headquarters, as well as employees at work. The films, are aimed at store buyers and feature different lines of Jantzen clothing or swimwear, or are training films for sales representatives.
Series 1: SAMPLE CATALOGUES, 1974-1976, includes sample catalogs are for misses, juniors, and men.
Series 2: PUBLICATIONS, 1925-1977, contains issues of Jantzen Yarns (house publication), 1925-1973 (some of the covers of the newsletters include cover art by noted "pin-up" artists George Petty, Jon Whitcomb, Pete Hawley, and Rene Gruau); Intra-Views (company newspaper); and clothing and swimwear catalogues for women, juniors, and men, 1972-1977.
Series 3: COMPANY HISTORY, 1921, 1923-32, 1973, includes photocopies of various company histories written by John A. Zehntbauer; a photocopy of a patent; and an annual report for 1973 (many volumes of Jantzen Yarns [Series 2] have annual reports as an issue).
Series 4: PHOTOGRAPHS, ca. 1920s/30s, consists of a group of photos (originally from an album) showing the main office building, warehouses, and photographs of groups of employees at work or in posed groups.
Series 5: AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS, 1951, 1976, undated, is divided into two subseries. Subseries 5.1: Films, circa 1951, undated, consists of four films produced for store buyers and sales representatives. Subseries 5.2: Slide Presentation Materials, 1976, includes slides, script, and audiocassette for an in-plant presentation on the Misses Fall 1976 line of Jantzen clothing.


This collection is arranged into five series.
Series 1: Sample Catalogues, 1974-1976
Series 2: Publications, 1925-1977
Series 3: Ccompany History, 1921, 1923-32, 1973
Series 4: Photographs, circa. 1920s-1930s
Series 5: Audiovisual Materials, 1951, 1976, undated
Subseries 5.1: Films, 1951
Subseries 5.2: Slide Presentation Materials, 1976

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Known primarily for its swimsuits, the Jantzen Knitting Mills are located in Portland, OR. John A. Zehntbauer and Carl C. Jantzen founded the company in 1910. It was then called the Portland Knitting Co. and consisted of a retail store and "a few knitting machines on the second floor" where heavy sweaters, woolen hosiery and other articles of clothing were manufactured.
The two partners were intent on expanding their company, especially by means of a product that would give them an edge in the highly competitive knitting industry. Fortunately, a member of a rowing club approached them one day and asked if they could make him a pair of rowing trunks "of a rib stitch." The success of this item led to the company's specialization in the manufacture of swimsuits in the elastic rib stitch. A patent for this suit was granted in 1921. Carl Jantzen's inventiveness was responsible for the development of an automated circular knitting machine, a derivative of hosiery knitting machines, with a fine needle-bed which produced the light-weight material needed for swimsuits. It also reduced the cost of knitting dramatically.
In 1916 the company first used the name Jantzen as a trademark in advertising, and in 1918 they changed the name officially to the Jantzen Knitting Mills. The name was again changed in 1954 to Jantzen Inc.
Early advertising campaigns were aimed at encouraging swimming. One of the longest used slogans was "the Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming." An idea for a cut-out sticker of a "diving girl" in a red Jantzen suit and knitted cap was reported in a 1923 issue of Men's Wear N.Y. as "proving popular with auto-drivers--[and that] many windshields carry as many as 3 or 4 of the figure." It also became the Jantzen logo. Billboards were used extensively with artwork by George Petty and McClelland Barclay. Ads in
in 1921 represented the first national advertising of the bathing suits and established the product as "first class."
Before the peak year of 1930, the firm operated factories in Canada, England, and Australia, in addition to exporting to many countries in Europe, South America, and the Phillippines. After the Depression years of 1931-34, a decision was made to license companies in Europe, rather than operating there. The decision was based on the uncertainty of U.S. foreign trade regulations and on the awareness of Zehntbauer, after a trip to Europe, of the political changes taking place.
In 1936 Jantzen made one of its greatest plant investments: a new spinning mill which was considered "the most up to date dying and spinning mill in the U.S." It enabled Jantzen to experiment with different fibers instead of having to purchase them from other mills. In the same year the firm hired their first female designer.
In 1937 serious considerations of making satin latex swimsuits--which were cut and sewn--were resolved in favor of keeping the elastic knit stitch. By 1973 sales and earnings were the highest in the 63 year history. Employees numbered 4,500.
Currently, Jantzen is owned by Vanity Fair Corporation. The company also operates an archives which is limited to serious research inquiries. Some historical information may also be located on their website:


Evelyn Wagman and Robert S. Harding
Separated Materials
Related collections in the Division of Home and Community Life (now Division of Cultural and Community Life). The collection includes bathing and swimming suits and men's, women's and children's clothing (tennis and exercise outfits, blouses, and trousers (1912-1990s). Items have been donated by Jantzen as well as private donors. Also available in the Division are samples of advertisements from the 1940s to 2000 and news articles about Jantzen.
Custodial History
The collection was transferred to the Archives Center from the Division of Costumes (now Division of Home and Community Life) on August 8, 1986.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by Jantzen, Inc. in November 1973 and November 1978.
Processing Information
Evelyn Wagman and Robert S. Harding, November 1986, Revised by Jennifer Snyder, February 2001; Robert Harding, June 2001. The films were reunited with the paper materials in February 2001.

Using the Collection

Preferred Citation
The Jantzen Knitting Mills Collection, 1925-1977, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: reproduction fees may apply.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open for research use.

Related Materials
Materials in the Archives Center
Industry on Parade Film Collection (AC0507)
Contains a 1952 film about Jantzen entitled "Suited for Swimming!" which describes the manufacture of swim suits at the company's Portland, Oregon, plant.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Business records -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Bathing suits Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Clothing Manufacturers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Catalogs Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photograph albums -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Knitting companies (Mills) Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Textile industry Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Textile fabrics Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Zehntbauer, John C. Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Portland Knitting Company. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jantzen Knitting Mills. Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Costume Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012