Celebrating 75 Years of Adventure
Highlights of REI History


This was originally created to show the historical highlights of REI history as the company celebrated 75 years. Eventually the domain's registration expired and the site disappeared from the web until new owners bought the domain's registration. As avid outdoor adventurers who have purchased many REI products, the new owners decided to bring back the archived content of REI's history to share with others.

Content is from the site's archived pages, as well as from other outside sources.

Enjoy learning more about REI history from the 1930's through the 2016's.
And don't forget to visit their website: www.rei.com/

 

Celebrating 75 Years of Adventure

 

Mary Anderson, a Founder of the Outdoor Cooperative REI, Dies at 107

Mary and Lloyd Anderson

Mary and Lloyd Anderson, who founded REI in 1938, modeled mountaineering clothing for a 1946 newspaper photograph.

CreditCreditMOHAI, Seattle P-I Collection

By Daniel E. Slotnik | April 10, 2017 | www.nytimes.com/

Mary Anderson, who, with her husband, founded the mountaineering importer in 1938 that became REI and helped it grow into the nation’s largest consumer cooperative without betraying its founding principles, died on March 27 in the Puget Sound region of Washington State. She was 107.

An REI spokesman confirmed her death.

Avid climbers and outdoor enthusiasts, Mrs. Anderson and her husband, Lloyd, were unhappy with the ice axes available in the United States in the 1930s. So they began to import less expensive, high-quality ice axes from Austria, and these soon caught the eyes of their climber friends.

In 1938, 21 of those friends paid $1 each for a lifetime membership in the Andersons’ company, originally the Recreational Equipment Cooperative, which imported outdoor equipment for lower prices than it could be bought domestically.

The idea behind the cooperative, a business model that peaked in the Depression, was to supply gear at fair prices and return some of the profit to members, in that way encouraging outdoor activities.

By the end of the year, membership had more than quadrupled, with members receiving a dividend based on the amount of gear they had bought. Over the following decades the Andersons ran REI from their Seattle home, where they stored most of their merchandise.

Mrs. Anderson made sure the operation ran smoothly by coordinating orders and deliveries, stitching tents and packaging food for expeditions. By the 1960s REI had outgrown the home.

The company continued to expand, and now offers equipment for outdoor activities like cycling, skiing, camping and hiking from a thriving catalog and online business and more than 140 stores in the United States.

In 2016, REI reported revenues of $2.56 billion and said that more than six million active members had received dividends or credit card rebates worth a high of $193.7 million. The company said it returns 70 percent of its profits to the outdoor community, including $9.3 million to nonprofit groups.

“I never thought a man should make money off his friends,” Mr. Anderson once told Timothy Egan, who wrote about REI last week in an Op-Ed column in The New York Times.

Mrs. Anderson retired in 1968, followed by Mr. Anderson in 1970, but their influence was still felt at REI.

Sally Jewell, a former REI chief executive and an interior secretary under President Barack Obama, said in an interview on Monday that Mrs. Anderson had helped create REI’s mail-order business, and that when she gave a speech to a large REI gathering in the mid-2000s, “it was like Mick Jagger” had appeared.

“I would say the women were particularly moved by the role she played and the fact that she was still around and proud to be associated with us,” Ms. Jewell said.

Mrs. Anderson was born Mary Gaiser in the Yakima Valley region of Washington on Dec. 7, 1909. She was a schoolteacher before REI became successful, and she often took her students on hikes and excursions.

Mr. Anderson died in 2000. Mrs. Anderson’s survivors include a daughter, Sue Anderson, and two grandsons. Another daughter, Ruth, died before her.

Shortly after Mrs. Anderson’s 100th birthday in 2009, the REI Foundation, a nonprofit organization supported by the company, announced a grant in her name to encourage young people to engage with nature and outdoor exploration.

 

 

 

REI HISTORY

We began as a community of climbers in search of quality outdoor gear. Seventy-five years and 129 stores later, our passion lies in inspiring, educating and outfitting our more than five million active members and customers.  As you take this trip down memory lane with us, we hope you’ll see how much fun we’ve had, and more importantly, how grateful we are for how you’ve helped shape us into the co-op we are today.

 

REI

CELEBRATING 75 YEARS OF ADVENTURE

REI HISTORY

We began as a community of climbers in search of quality outdoor gear. Seventy-five years and 129 stores later, our passion lies in inspiring, educating and outfitting our more than five million active members and customers. 

 

1930's

1936 | Unable to find quality ice axes in the U.S., avid mountaineer Lloyd Anderson sources them from Austria for $3.50.

1938 | With help from lawyer Ed Rombauer, Lloyd and Mary Anderson form the Recreational Equipment Cooperative to share quality outdoor gear with their fellow climbing buddies.

| On July 21, the first 23 members join Recreational Equipment Cooperative; a lifetime membership was a bargain at $1 per person.

1939 | Co-founder Lloyd Anderson makes a deal with Julius Ruen for shelf space at the Richfield gas station located at 2121 Western Avenue in downtown Seattle.

| When Austrian sources become inaccessible during World War II, the co-op turns to Switzerland for quality ice axes and other goods.

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1940's

1940| REI begins the decade with 200 members and $3,000 in annual sales.

1940 | Richfield gas station, where REI sells merchandise, moves to 803 Virginia Street in downtown Seattle.

1942 | Richfield gas station, where REI sells merchandise, moves to 803 Virginia Street in downtown Seattle.

1944 | After the Richfield gas station is sold, the co-op sets up camp next to the Mountaineers’ club room in downtown Seattle at 523 Pike Street.

1945| Driven by the lack of rental options in the Pacific Northwest, the co-op creates a gear rental business that continues to thrive to this day.

1946| The co-op hires Everett Lasher as the first part-time employee. He packages food and makes small items in the basement of the Anderson home for 75 cents an hour.

1948| Hand-typed by Lloyd Anderson, with witty cartoons by artist Toly Kojev, REI launches our first mail-order catalog.

 


 

1950's

1950| REI begins the decade with 3,000 members and $40,000 in annual sales.

1954| Business is booming and the co-op begins the first of many expansions.

1956| The co-op officially becomes Recreational Equipment, Inc. when members vote to incorporate as a nonprofit.

1959| After storing goods in Mary and Lloyd Anderson’s home for nearly 30 years, REI rents our first warehouse space.

1959| Co-founders Lloyd and Mary Anderson travel to Europe to meet suppliers, with Mary playing the role of German translator. They also evaluate equipment and test new climbing techniques.

 


 

1960's

1960| REI begins the decade with 20,000 members, one retail store in Seattle and nearly $500,000 in annual sales.

1961| Committed to taking care of our own, REI begins to offer employees medical and pension plans; a profit sharing plan debuts several years later, in 1966.

1962| With a knack for turning a difficult situation into an opportunity, the co-op hosts a blow-out sale for damaged goods after a broken water main floods the warehouse. Used-gear sales continue to be a hit with customers to this day.

1963| April 5 marks the grand opening of REI’s main location for nearly 30 years, 1525 11th Avenue in Seattle, with its quirky layout, nails and staples visibly stuck in the floor, and a distinct creosote smell.

Mount Everest Expedition

1963| One of REI’s earliest employees, sales manager Jim Whittaker, becomes the first American to summit Mount Everest.

1967| THAW Corporation begins operation in February as a subsidiary of REI, making sleeping bags and soft goods.

1967| REI moves from 523 Pike Street to the basement of 423 Pike Street, leaving our Mountaineers club neighbors.

1969| Climbing safety pioneer Cal Magnusson joins REI as the co-op’s first quality control engineer.

 


 

1970's

1970 | REI begins the decade with nearly 200,000 members, two retail stores in Seattle and more than $5 million in annual sales.

1970 | After dedicating more than 30 years to REI, co-founder Lloyd Anderson retires as manager and CEO on December 31.

1975 | Crowds of outdoor enthusiasts flock to the grand opening of REI’s first location outside the Seattle area in Berkeley, Calif.

1976 | REI launches a giving program to support outdoor recreation. Since then, the co-op has donated more than $40 million to such projects on public lands.

1977 | Due to rapid growth, REI opens our first distribution center south of Seattle in Tukwila, Wash. It also houses our administrative headquarters.

1977 | With hopes of summoning good snowfall from Mother Nature, the inaugural REI Twinkie Roast tradition takes place.

1979 | After 24 years of service, REI’s manager and CEO, Jim Whittaker, retires. REI names Jerry Horn as our third manager and CEO.

 


 

1980's

1980| REI begins the decade with one million members, six retail stores and $50 million in annual sales.

1983| REI launches Novara, a line of mountain, road and touring bikes, along with cycling clothing and accessories.

1983| REI names Wally Smith as the fourth president and CEO, replacing Jerry Horn.

1987| REI Adventures launches with unique itineraries focusing on sustainable, human-powered outdoor adventure, taking people off the beaten path to iconic destinations.

1988| The co-op starts an in-house product development team, with six employees working in REI’s downtown Seattle factory.

1989| REI co-founds the Conservation Alliance, a group of outdoor industry businesses working to fund the protection of wild places.

 


 

1990's

1990| REI begins the 90s with two million members, over $230 million in annual sales and 26 retail stores.

1992| REI opens a new, state-of-the-art distribution center in Sumner, Wash.

1993| The Cooperative Business Association’s Hall of Fame inducts REI co-founders Mary and Lloyd Anderson.

1993| In honor of three Seattle employees who died on Mount Rainier, REI creates the REI Memorial Fund, which later becomes the REI Foundation.

1996| On September 19, the REI flagship store opens in downtown Seattle.

1996| REI.com launches as the largest outdoor gear and apparel store on the Internet.

1998| Following up on the success of REI.com, the co-op offers "off-price" quality gear online through REIoutlet.com.

 


 

2000's

2000 | REI begins the decade with over five million members, 61 retail stores and nearly $700 million in annual sales.

2000 | REI names Dennis Madsen the co-op’s fifth president and CEO, replacing Wally Smith.

2000/2001| After great anticipation, REI’s first international store opens in Japan, but closes one year later.

2002 | Priced at $149, REI’s Half Dome tent debuts as the first two-door, two-vestibule, two-person tent, and stakes our reputation as the leading tent brand.

2005 | REI names Sally Jewell as the co-op’s sixth ceo and president, replacing Dennis Madsen.

2005 | REI establishes a comprehensive sustainability strategy aimed at environmental stewardship, and pledges ongoing support to related causes.

2006| REI celebrates $1 billion in annual sales by awarding $1 million in grants to 100 national parks, for a total of $4 million in grants for the year.

2007 | To better serve the East Coast, REI opens a LEED Silver certified distribution center in Bedford, Penn.

2007 | First annual stewardship report
REI publishes our first annual stewardship report, detailing social and environmental progress and activities from the previous year.

2008 | The co-op joins Facebook and Twitter, and introduces our first mobile app, the REI Snow Report.

2009| In celebration of our co-founder Mary Anderson’s 100th birthday, the REI Foundation establishes the annual Mary Anderson Legacy Grant.

 


 

2010's

2010 | REI begins the decade with 10 million members, 114 retail stores across the nation and $1.66 billion in annual sales.

2011 | REI expands our reach to the Big Apple with a three-level store in the historic Puck Building in SoHo.

2013 | Sally Jewell named Secretary of the Interior

2013 | REI celebrates our 75th year anniversary with employees and members, and looks forward to continuing to serve these communities 100 years from now and beyond.

2013 | REI names Jerry Stritzke as co-op’s seventh CEO and president, replacing Sally Jewell.

 



 

11 Adventurous Facts About Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)

BY EMILY BECKER | AUGUST 1, 2016 | http://mentalfloss.com/


iStock

Recreational Equipment, Inc., which started as small Seattle co-op, now boasts 145 stores in 35 states with flagship locations so expansive customers don’t even have to enter the outdoors to test out the company’s equipment. Here are a few things you might not have known about the company.

1. THE FOUNDERS STARTED THE COMPANY TO SELL QUALITY CLIMBING EQUIPMENT TO THEIR FRIENDS.

Seattle residents Lloyd and Mary Anderson loved spending time in the mountains. Unfortunately, much of the mountaineering equipment they found in the U.S. was flimsy—which could put outdoorsmen in precarious, and even fatal, situations. But when Lloyd tried to purchase ice axes from the local European retailers, they refused because he didn’t buy enough volume. They figured their mountain-going colleagues could also use better (and safer) equipment, so the Andersons established a co-op in 1938 so that they and their friends could pool resources and get better deals on tough, quality gear.

2. THE COMPANY IS STILL RUN AS A PSEUDO-CO-OP.

For a one-time $20 fee, customers can join the more than 6 million customers who are members of REI. Each year, members are typically given 10 percent back of the amount they purchased in eligible items at the store the previous year. But membership doesn’t just pay off for the customers: About 80 percent of REI’s sales each year are purchases made by those who are part of the club. But as REI has gotten bigger and bigger, many people now view it as a conventional retail outlet rather than a true co-op, with fewer than a percent of members voting in the 2015 board election.

3. FOR THE FIRST SIX YEARS OF ITS EXISTENCE, REI DIDN'T HAVE A RETAIL LOCATION.

After the Andersons founded REI, creating a large chain of retail stores was not high on the list of priorities—and until public demand necessitated a larger operation, the company was run out of the couple’s house. In 1939, REI opened its first retail location by displaying its equipment on three shelves in a Seattle gas station.

4. REI’S FIRST GENERAL MANAGER WAS ALSO THE FIRST AMERICAN TO REACH THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT EVEREST.

Jim Whittaker grew up climbing the peaks around Seattle and joined REI in 1955 as one of the company’s first full-time employees. He left the offices of REI in 1963 when he was summoned to be part of a 19-person expedition with its sights set on the highest point in the world. Whittaker (along with his sherpa, Nawang Gombu Sherpa) was the tenth man ever to reach the summit of Everest and the first American to do so; he spent 20 minutes enjoying the view and catching his breath before heading back down.

5. WHITTAKER RETURNED AS THE COMPANY’S PRESIDENT ALMOST EIGHT YEARS AFTER HIS CLIMBING MISSION.

Under Whittaker's leadership, REI opened its first store outside Seattle in Berkeley, California in 1975. The store continued to expand across the region as well as in its offerings, including manufacturing its own clothing when conventional suppliers weren’t fast enough. Whittaker left the company in 1979 after years of philosophical battles with REI’s board of directors. He explained in his autobiography that, after successfully scaling K2 as REI’s CEO, the board didn't congratulate him—they demanded to know how much it cost the company ($50,000 in equipment, but he estimated it generated $1.5 million in free publicity in National Geographic alone). None of the board members were climbers, and, Whittaker wrote, "I couldn’t quite understand [how] the board of perhaps the nation’s leading mountaineering and outdoor equipment retailer could fail to grasp the direct and indirect benefits of having the first successful American ascent of the second-highest mountain in the world be led by their very own CEO."

6. THE COMPANY GIVES AWAY THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF EQUIPMENT TO ITS EMPLOYEES EVERY YEAR.

Employees of REI are encouraged to clock out every once in a while and spend some quality time in the outdoors. Individuals or groups who are looking to try something new—such as climbing Mount Rainer or hiking the Appalachian Trail—can submit challenge grants and, if approved, are given free equipment to complete the journey. In 2002, REI gave away approximately $30,000 worth of gear and clothing to its employees.

7. EACH YEAR, SEVERAL LOCATIONS HOLD A “TWINKIE ROAST” IN ANTICIPATION OF THE WINTER SPORTS SEASON.

According to REI Spokane's Facebook page, "REI legend has it that roasted Twinkies bring the snow." The quirky tradition, which began at the Berkeley location in the 1970s, is now held at its headquarters, two distribution centers, and many stores. The Denver event has been particularly lucky over the years: In 2006, a blizzard followed the store’s roast (where they burned a Twinkie Sphinx), and in 2007, snow fell in the mountains 59 of the next 62 days after REI employees enjoyed their toasty Twinkies.

8. THE COMPANY HAS VOWED TO BECOME CLIMATE NEUTRAL BY 2020.

REI is focusing on using solar technology, purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates, and switching to more energy efficient lighting and cooling systems to accomplish this goal. Currently, 26 locations are equipped with solar panels, including an almost energy-neutral location in Tustin, California. REI is also a founding member of the Conservation Alliance, along with Kelty, Patagonia, and The North Face, which donates to grassroots conservation groups across the country.

9. REI’S RETURN POLICY USED TO BE SO LAX THE STORE WAS KNOWN IN SOME CIRCLES AS “RETURN EVERYTHING, INC.”

Until 2013, the company employed a well-known no-questions-asked return policy for any merchandise purchased in its store for the lifetime of the product. The store changed the policy to only apply to the first year after purchase after one too many customers took to the internet to brag about returning a snowsuit to REI after using it to climb Mount Rainier or returning a backpack for a newer model 30 years after the original was purchased.

10. THERE USED TO BE AN REI LOCATION IN JAPAN.

The company’s first and only international location was opened in Tokyo in April 2000 after more than 80,000 people became catalog customers in the 1990s. However, Japanese interest in outdoor gear had waned since then, and the store was closed just over a year later.

11. IN 2015, REI REFUSED TO OPEN FOR BLACK FRIDAY AND INSTEAD GAVE ITS EMPLOYEES A PAID DAY OF VACATION.

While not required, the company encouraged its 12,000 employees to “go outside and do something.” All 143 retail locations, its distribution locations, and headquarters were closed on the historically shopping-driven holiday. Even the website was on a bit of a vacation: It was changed to give information about getting outside and explained that any orders made that day weren’t processed. But the employees had more work to do when they got back: Visits to REI’s website rose 26 percent on Black Friday, and the stunt helped REI post record revenue and membership increases for the year.

 

REIHistory.com