A while ago I was playing my vintage 1980 edition of Trivial Pursuit with some friends, facing down typically challenging questions about obscure names of pigeon friends in 1960s television shows. On one of these question cards came one of those names you always hope to find in your daily life. Ebenezer Butterick.
Mr. Butterick was one of the biggest names in fashion in the late 1880s, in many senses of the word. Frustrated with the difficulty of measuring and scaling home made clothing, Ebenezer and his wife Ellen Augusta Pollard Butterick came up with tissue paper dress patterns to make the job easier. This revolutionized home sewing and quickly made the couple very wealthy.
Ebenezer was a tailor by trade and therefore fully familiar with sizing up custom patterns to fit any individual, and set about creating a sewing empire with his simple, yet revolutionary invention.
The Buttericks eventually formed the Butterick Company, which among its many achievements once held the record for the world’s largest electric sign that hung off the side of their custom build Butterick Building in New York City. The sign had more than 1400 electric lights, and required a full time staff member of the company to constantly monitor it and replace burned out lights.
As you probably figured out by now, the author of this piece really knows nothing at all about sewing and the power and beauty of the Buttericks’ invention is a bit lost on me. However, I wouldn’t pass up any chance to salute their fine achievement of building a good idea into a giant funnily named company.
Butterick, as fitting a fashion icon, wore an impressive huge beard and also founded the Metropolitan fashion magazine, mostly to promote his own patterns. He died in 1903, the same year the company’s Manhattan headquarters was finished. The Butterick-McCall company is still a major player in fabrics, proudly carrying its founders’ name now in its third century. And that’s the power of a great name.