11 American-Made Goods That Refuse to Change — for the Better

If It Ain’t Broke

11 American companies that refuse to change — for the better

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Which sage gent is responsible for this axiom, no one knows.

But damned if it ain’t every bit as true today as the first time it was uttered. Try as one may, some things simply do not require improvement.

This is a celebration of those things, made in partnership with our fine friends at The Frye Company, who know a thing or two about sticking to tried-and-true methods — they’ve been making rugged, tough-as-nails leather goods since Abe Lincoln sat in the Oval Office, after all.

Alongside their handsome heritage pieces, you’ll find canoes, duck canvas tents, wool blankets and more. All made right here in America, all made exactly the same way they were during the bygone era in which they first graced general store shelves.

PHOTO BY HVRNT

MERRIMACK CANOES

It should come as no surprise that America’s most storied maker of manual watercraft now builds them in Minnesota — the Land of 10,000 Lakes. (Previous headquarters included Tennessee and New Hampshire.) While their coordinates have changed, their construction methods have not: they still make each wood-reinforced fiberglass boat one at a time, by hand, the same way they did when the company was established in 1954.

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THE HARNESS 12R BOOT
THE FRYE COMPANY 

Since it first debuted in the 1960s, Frye’s signature Harness Boot has owed its design — especially the heavy nickel or antique brass hardware to which it owes its name — to a style worn by Civil War cavalry. True to the theme of the day, this made-in-America number only gets better with wear, from the oil-resistant neoprene outsole to the rich dark leather upper. A work boot by trade, feel free to beat them up in your woodshed or garage ... though they work equally well with dark jeans and a quick shine come the witching hours.

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SPRINGBAR TENTS

These iconic, American-made duck canvas tents were first introduced by Jack Kirkham, Sr., in 1961. His goal: to simplify the design of similar tents to the degree that one man could easily set it up himself. These days, his son Jack Kirkham, Jr., is at the helm, but the song remains the same: steel-reinforced aluminum poles, water-repellent duck cotton finish and a lifetime warranty on every unit.

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BICYCLE STANDARD PLAYING CARDS

There’s an old riddle goes like this: Two cowboys sit down at a table in a saloon. The only other things in the room are 51 Bicycles. Suddenly, one cowboy shoots the other. Why’d he do it? Because the second cowboy had the 52nd Bicycle up his sleeve. The fact that this joke is historically accurate should tell you everything you need to know about Bicycle Playing Cards: they’ve been around since 1885, and as long as there’s money to bet and a table to play on, they’ll continue to be the standard.

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ANNIN FLAGS

Betsy Ross made the first American flag. But she was not able (rest in peace) to continue making them for 170 years. Enter Annin, who began selling their take on Old Glory — robust, weather-resistant banners that have flown everywhere from the White House to Iwo Jima to the surface of the moon — out of a storeroom in Lower Manhattan in 1847. While they’ve updated their materials over the years (hell, they’ve invented new materials over the years), they remain the American-made standard bearer for all things starred and striped.

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THE WALKER LOW LACE
THE FRYE COMPANY 

The classic court sneaker — as worn by pretty much every significant tennis player who took the court between 1960 and 1980 — is one of the most enduring styles of athletic shoe ever created. Some of the era’s most famous silhouettes are still sold in near-original condition today, while others, like the Frye Company’s Walker Low Lace, pay faithful homage to them. A waxed suede, cup-sole sneaker available in three subdued, natural colorways, this American-made leather sneaker is a timeless ode to past greatness.

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MR. ZOG'S SEX WAX

If you’ve never heard of Mr Zog’s, we can assure you: it’s not what you think it is. Rather, it’s the one piece of equipment every surfer can agree on: an old-school surf wax formulated in Carpinteria, California, that has been providing traction to men who chase giants since 1972.

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JACOB BROMWELL GREAT AMERICAN FLASK

“The one that started it all” for one of the country’s oldest cookware companies, this nine-oz., 100% solid copper master flask has been channeling pioneer vibes since 1819. Note the historically accurate American Birch stopper. Convenient? Debatable. Cool as all get out to show off to your friends? Not debatable. Expect this one to last a lifetime.

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PENDLETON GLACIER BLANKET

Founded in Portland, Oregon, in 1863, Pendleton remains one of the preeminent names in American outdoor goods to this day. They launched their distinctive National Park blankets in the 1900s, borrowing many conventions and aesthetic details from the norms of frontier trading posts. The number of stripes indicated the value of a blanket, while Pendleton later rolled out different color schemes and variations to celebrate the National Park to which each blanket owes its name. Culled from 100% pure virgin wool, the stark white Glacier might be the signature piece in the collection.

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AIRSTREAM CLASSIC

While the interiors and engines of the world’s most famous caravan have evolved to accommodate changing technologies over the decades, the iconic aluminum coachwork is still as distinctive today as it was when the first Airstream rolled off the line in the 1930s. Based on designs by famed American engineer Hawley Bowlus — no less a man than the one who drew up the plans for Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis — Airstream (along with a slew of competitors and imitators) quickly became a symbol of American exploration. At the time of the Depression, more than 400 trailer builders were in operation; by the onset of the Second World War, Airstream was the lone survivor. Seventy years later, their fleet has expanded to include various models, from the 16’ Basecamp to the road-hogging Classic, but all are still made near the original factory Jackson Center, Ohio.

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STETSON OPEN ROAD HAT

There exists no garment more American than the cowboy hat. And there exists no American hatmaker more storied than John B. Stetson. Put ‘em together and what do you get? A timeless, wide-brimmed fur felt cap with a leather sweatband that looks every bit as cool today as it did on Buffalo Bill Cody or Annie Oakley.

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