Back-to-School Shopping? Try These 6 Made-in-America Gems
Tough Traveler Bags and Baby Products
Tough Traveler has been making durable bags and baby products since 1970. The business in Schenectady, New York, prides itself on selling almost entirely American-made goods -- going out of the U.S. only for hard-to-find fasteners, small pieces or small custom orders. All cloth comes from the U.S.; a phone representative said the bags come from the "best U.S. cloth, not the cheapest."
Blackbox Cases for Apple Products
No matter what your age, your electronics are likely among the items that you break the most. Thus the market for Blackbox Case, founded in 2009 to handcraft products to protect your Apple (AAPL) gear (sorry, PC and Android users). Engineer Lance Atkins was inspired to create the lightweight, strong and stylish computer cases after taking his Macbook to Africa. After building his own computer-controlled woodworking router, he enlisted some skilled friends to make red oak cases to protect the MacBook Pro. The Golden, Colorado, firm has expanded to keeping a variety of Apple laptops and iPads safe and to using bamboo as well (wool felt and leather straps complete many cases).
Randolph Sunglasses, Frames
The history of Randolph Engineering is a classic American story of adaptivity. Founded in 1972 by Polish immigrants Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski, the Randolph, Massachusetts, firm started out manufacturing tools, dies and machinery for the optical industry. But in the late 1970s, in need of a new income stream, the company shifted from tools to eyewear. Not so many years later, it was producing 200,00 Mil-Spec Aviator sunglasses a year for the U.S. Air Force, and that business soon expanded to sunglasses and prescription frames for civilians. A third generation of the Waszkiewicz and Zaleski families runs the firm today.
Crayola Crayons and Art Supplies
Crayola -- a name almost every American has come across -- started in upstate New York by Joseph Binney in 1864 as Peekskill Chemical Works, producing charcoal and lamp black. Son Edwin and nephew C. Harold Smith converted operations to Binney & Smith, adding pigments (1885) and pencils (1900) and moving to Easton, Pennsylvania, where headquarters remain today. Other classroom products include dustless chalk (1902) and paint (1920), but the biggest innovation is "safe, quality, affordable wax crayons" (1903). There are factories in Brazil and Mexico, but a page on the corporate website lists every product made in the States.
Sterilite Storage and Housewares
Sterilite started out making women's heels. Brothers Saul and Edward Stone partnered with Earl Tupper in 1939 to create plastic heels (they'd usually been made of wood). But with plastic of the time unable to stand up to heat, the brand moved to military personal grooming products. Later additions included toys, plastic giftware, food storage bowls, storage bins and shelving. In 1968, the company moved to Townsend, Massachusetts. It now lists seven lines on its website: storage, laundry, wastebaskets, food storage, pet and garage. (And yes, that's the Earl Tupper of Tupperware.)
Field Notes Notebooks
In 2006, designer Aaron Draplin took his love for American ephemera to the next level. Draplin created a hundred or so mini pocket notebooks –- the rage in the first half of the 20th century -– to give to friends as gifts. Recipient Jim Coudal loved his so much that Field Notes was created less than a week later. The Chicago-based brand has since expanded to multiple editions that offer various colors, styles and special editions for brands such as Levi Strauss and Microsoft (MSFT).