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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #61: Leon Leonwood Bean

L. L. Bean was a real guy. He was born in Maine in 1872 and grew up as an avid hunter and fisherman in the state. The poor quality of his boots bothered him, so he developed a new combination of leather uppers and rubber soles that proved more waterproof. He began to market his new footwear, targeting Maine non-resident hunting license holders with mail circulars and offering 100% refunds on all unhappy customers. Of his firsts hundred pairs sold, Bean ended up refunding 90 of them as the rubber was prone to cracking.

Bean perfected his boots with help from the US Rubber Company in Boston, and he opened his first retail operation in his brother’s basement in Freeport, Maine. By 1917 his business expanded enough that he opened his own storefront in the same town. It’s still there, though a bit bigger than it was a century ago. Generations of sportsmen (and those who just want to look like one) continue to flock to the L.L. Bean mothership, outlet stores, or use the catalogs. Until just a couple of years ago, the 100% refund guarantee still stood, too.

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