Piqua's Past Gets Underneath It All
Information and photographs courtesy of the Piqua Public Library
PIQUA - For more than 100 years, the City of Piqua was known for its underwear production. During the early 1900s Piqua had six different plants producing garments that supported and comforted the nation. Up until a few decades ago, the City also hosted an annual festival to honor its place in underwear history.
Early on, Piqua’s hosiery industry blossomed, creating a complex history of plant openings, buyouts and mergers. Company names and brands shifted among several production facilities. In particular, the popular brand name BVD was bought and sold several times. Some interesting facts related to the industry in Piqua, include:
• W.C. Gray & Company (Piqua Woolen Mills), began producing men’s seamless woolen and cotton hosiery in about 1876.
• In 1886, the Piqua Hosiery Company on Spring street opened and began producing the first practical drop-seat union suit for men. Combining the warmth of a one-piece and the easy use of a two-piece, it was a best seller.
• Atlas Underwear Company began production in 1899. After being bought out by the Flesh family, the company went national with union suits in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. With a variety of products including lightweight cotton shirts and briefs, they managed to survive the Great Depression.
• Atlas eventually bought out Piqua Hosiery, and then became a subsidiary of the BVD Underwear Corporation. BVD brought the production of elastic yarn swimwear for women to Piqua. Men’s swimming attire was produced as well, and was advertised by famed Olympic swimmer (and future Tarzan) Johnny Weismuller.
• Atlas purchased the brand name BVD and turned their expertise to thermal wear with the Insulaire line in 1941. The Allen-A Company of Wisconsin merged with Atlas and in turn, Medalist Industries purchased the firm, leaving Piqua in 1992.
• Superior Underwear, third largest of the Piqua plants, opened in 1898. By 1911, they specialized in underwear for athletes. In 1933, they had entirely abandoned union suit production and focused on boxer shorts. They produced lines called Les-on and Short-eez before creating a man’s brief known as Gan-dee pants (named after Mahatma Ghandi wore them). During WWII, Superior produced silk parachutes for the Army Air Corps. The company reorganized in 1951 as the B.V.D. Company.
• During the 1960’s, the B.V.D. Company began producing colored “fashion” briefs, marketing them to a hip new generation of young men with the slogan “Next to myself, I like B.V.D best”. Atlas Underwear bought out Superior in 1968, and in1976 the B.V.D. brand name was sold to the Fruit of the Loom Corporation.