Stronghold: From Metal Detector Finds to Hollywood’s Closets

During a recent metal detecting expedition, I stumbled upon two buttons emblazoned with “Stronghold Steve” from workwear unearthed at an old dump site. This discovery piqued my curiosity, leading me to delve into the history of the mascot, the buttons, and the company behind them. Initially, I was unfamiliar with the brand, but my subsequent research uncovered the significant impact this company had on the apparel industry, its pioneering role during WWII, its innovative advertising strategies, and its contribution to the normalization of women wearing denim.

Stronghold distinguished itself as the inaugural apparel brand manufactured in Los Angeles, holding the exclusive title of denim and canvas workwear producer in the city prior to WWII. In 1916, the company showcased its forward-thinking approach to marketing by leveraging the influence of celebrities, notably through an advertisement featuring Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance. In this ad, Chaplin queries, “Are they?” to which Purviance responds affirmatively, “Sure, they’re Strongholds.” This marked a dual milestone: Chaplin was at the zenith of his fame, and it was the inaugural depiction of a woman donning denim in any advertising, highlighting Stronghold’s trailblazing status in embracing influencers and setting trends in fashion advertising

History of Stronghold Apparel Company
and the Mascot Stronghold Steve

Founded in 1895 in Los Angeles, a city then home to merely 65,000 people, the Stronghold brand predates the Wright brothers’ first flight by eight years. Initially part of “Brownstein, Newmark, and Louis,” named after founders Daniel Brownstein, P. A. Newmark, and Henry W. Louis, the company emerged as a trailblazer in the city’s apparel industry. These visionaries not only laid the groundwork for the Los Angeles Merchants and Manufacturers Association but also, following Newmark’s departure, reincorporated in 1911 as the “Brownstein-Louis Company.”

By 1912, Stronghold had made its mark as the premier manufacturer of denim and canvas workwear in Los Angeles, a distinction it held exclusively until World War II. With a workforce of 1,000 in downtown Los Angeles, it became Southern California’s largest clothing manufacturer, producing a wide range of garments for men, women, and children, including outerwear, dress shirts, trousers, jeans, and overalls.

The introduction of “Stronghold Steve” in 1908 as the brand’s mascot marked a significant step in its advertising strategy. This character graced labels and buttons across the brand’s workwear into the mid-20th century, helping to cement its iconic status.

Stronghold’s influence extended into the nascent film industry of the 1920s, becoming the go-to brand for Hollywood’s workwear needs. This local Los Angeles brand thus found its garments featured extensively in early Hollywood films, dressing characters from cowboys to miners. In 1916, the brand received a notable endorsement from Charlie Chaplin, one of the era’s biggest film stars, in an advertisement also remarkable for featuring a woman, Edna Purviance, wearing denim.

Such endorsements and the brand’s cinematic presence, including in Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Tom Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath,” underscored its cultural impact. Despite closing in the late 1950s, the brand’s legacy endured, leading to its revival in 2004. A vintage clothing collector’s discovery of a pair of Stronghold jeans in a Mojave desert mine sparked interest in the brand’s rich history, culminating in the relaunch of Stronghold garments. Manufactured once again in Los Angeles.

Gallery of Stronghold Vintage Advertisements

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