Coleman® Company History

W.C. Coleman could see the light for the darkness. The young salesman was taking a stroll after a hard day’s work selling typewriters, and spotted a new type of lamplight in a drugstore window in Brockton, Alabama. This new light burned with a strong, steady white flame and was fueled by gasoline. The standard lamp of the era burned kerosene and produced a smoky, flickering, yellowish light. W.C. was stricken with very poor eyesight, and was very interested in this new, steady white light that enabled him to read even the smallest print in books and on medicine bottles. Coleman saw potential in the new light, and through his vision a new company was born that would put America’s farms and ranches in a new light, and would eventually make his name synonymous with outdoor fun.

First Light (1900 - 1929)

A black and white photo of W.C. Coleman sitting at a desk assembling a lantern with two other men, one on either side, leaning over and watching him work.

In 1905, W.C. Coleman wanted to demonstrate just what his new gas lamps were capable of. He strung his lamps from poles on both sides of the football field at Fairmount College in Wichita, Kansas. According to Coleman historians, the first night football game west of the Mississippi occurred that evening under Coleman gas lights and resulted in a 24-0 shutout of Cooper College by the Fairmount College Wheatshockers.

At the turn of the century in America, electric service was not an option in rural parts of the country. When the sun went down, the work day ended. In 1909, W.C. Coleman started selling a portable table lamp that would became a staple in rural homes, and five years later introduced a product that would help transform the company from a local concern into a national necessity. The new 300 candlepower lantern provided working light in every direction for 100 yards and could light the far corners of a barn. The Coleman® lantern lengthened the time farmers and ranchers could work. This significantly boosted productivity, and fundamentally changed the work dynamic in rural America. It wasn’t just for civilians either, as the U.S. Government declared this lantern an “essential item” for the troops serving in World War I, and nearly 70,000 lanterns were distributed to American forces fighting in Europe.

ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT (1930 – 1945)

A black and white photo of two soldiers sitting in front of a hillside. One soldier is in a hollowed-out space; the other is in front and to the left. The solders are eating canned rations, and a Coleman pocket stove is sitting on a box in front of the solider in the hollow.

Less than twenty years later, World War II swept across the globe. Like many companies, The Coleman Company did its part to support the war effort. Allied munitions and air forces contained parts manufactured in Kansas by The Coleman Company. In June of 1942 the Army Quartermaster Corps issued an urgent request to the Coleman Company. Field troops were in dire need of a compact stove that could operate within a wide range of conditions in multiple theaters, weighed less than five pounds, could be no larger than a quart bottle of milk, and could burn any kind of fuel. And, the U.S. Army wanted 5,000 of the stoves delivered in sixty days.

Work commenced immediately to design and manufacture a stove that met the Army's strict specifications. The end product far exceeded anything that the Army had requested: the stove could work at 60 degrees below and up to 150 degrees above Fahrenheit; it could burn all kinds of fuel; it weighed a mere three and one-half pounds; and it was smaller than a quart bottle of milk. The first order for 5,000 units was flown to U.S. forces involved in Operation Torch, an allied invasion of North Africa in 1942. World War II journalist Ernie Pyle devoted 15 news articles to the Coleman® pocket stove and considered it one of the two most important pieces of noncombat equipment in the war effort, the other being the Jeep.

HAVE COLEMAN, WILL TRAVEL (1946 - 1953)

A museum display model of the first Coleman fold-up camp stove

When the war ended, Coleman's business boomed. Since the company had been manufacturing products for the armed services during the war, the inventories of normal recreational products were depleted, and there was an enormous backlog of demand for its regular products. And returning GIs had a familiar attachment to the Coleman name, given the tremendous success of the field stove. In peace time, American families had money, a new interstate highway system, and fancy new cars! Lower prices made cars affordable for many families, and with this newfound mobility came the urge to travel and explore. Car camping was all the rage. Travelers loaded up the station wagons and took off. Roadways were improving, but hotels in those days weren’t on every corner. Instead of check-in times, Vacationers simply pulled off the road and made camp on the roadside.

A fold-up camp stove that W.C. Coleman had first developed two decades earlier quickly found favor with the auto camping crowd. To retailers, the two-burner stove was billed as a "keen cooker and a quick seller". It found its way onto front porches and into hunting lodges, vacation cabins and camping trailers. Along with the lantern, the camp stove made an ideal traveling companion and was a must have for the family getaways.

ON THE BUBBLE (1954 – 1999)

A vintage magazine image depicting a side-shot of the top half of a VW bus. The top is loaded with various Coleman outdoor gear, including grills, coolers and lanterns. Each window of the bus shows a smiling family member. The father is at the wheel, followed by the eldest son, wife, grandmother and two younger children in the back.

In 1954, if you had a cooler it was made of steel. The old steel ice bins, or “picnic chests” as there were called, would sweat, rust, and were generally inefficient. Three years later, a Coleman engineer saw a child blowing soap bubbles, and came up with the concept that is basically the same process used today for insulated coolers. A plastic “bubble” could be formed out of heated sheet plastic, and then molded into the shape that is needed for the cooler, and finally is snapped into place. The product revolutionized the Cooler industry in 1957, and the cooler that Coleman manufactured as a result of this groundbreaking process is lighter and more efficient, and easier to clean than any cooler made to this date. This is basically the same process that has been used ever since.

In the decades that have followed, The Coleman Company adapted to the changes and trends in the business of outdoor recreation. We added tents and sleeping bags to our outdoor line in 1962. Coleman facilities spread across not only the country but also went international in the years that followed to meet the supply for our high quality outdoor products. Coleman® battery lighting hit the market in the ‘80s, and the Coleman Company scaled new manufacturing heights by producing over 15 million products a year. The ‘90s see an even more comprehensive catalog of products sporting the distinctive Coleman logo, such as camping furniture and accessories, along with award-winning backpacking stoves with innovative fuel systems.

A BIG TENT (21ST CENTURY)

The image depicts a family of four (husband, wife, two young boys) camped in a grassy field with a lake and mountains in the background. The mother and father are relaxing in a Coleman  green and white dome tent while the boys run around in front.

The Coleman Company, Inc. added many recognizable brands to our family of goods after the dawn of the new century. Under the Coleman tent, you’ll now find Sevylor® floats and towables, Stearns® life vests, Mad Dog Gear® ATV accessories, Helium® sports vests and AeroBed® airbeds. It’s a challenge to outfit yourself for outdoor fun and not have something from the Coleman® family of products with you.

What started out as a lamp that could light up four corners of a barn has become a company that has helped light all four corners of the globe. Coleman products have journeyed deep in the Sahara desert, and been along on treks all the way to the South Pole. Coleman lanterns guided aircraft to safe landings in the Andes Mountains in South America in the 1920s, and helped climbers reach the top of Mt. Everest in the next century. Hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, boating, swimming, four-wheeling, relaxing, tailgating. Being in the outdoors has so much to offer, and Coleman has everything to help you get out there.