The History Of Duluth Pack, Duluth’s Iconic Canvas And Leather Manufacturer And Retailer
You don't have to be from the Duluth area to know all about Duluth Pack. The famous company has become a household name over the years, with its flagship store sitting in the heart of Canal Park and their manufacturing facility on Superior Street.
Duluth Pack's reach goes far beyond the area it is named after. The company has been featured on national news over the years, including a recent feature on Good Morning America. They also regularly gift big stars items when they come to Minnesota for a concert. They are so well known, they were even once a question on Jeopardy!
The business is thriving today and comes with a long and inspirational history. Founded back in the 1800s, Duluth Pack is older than penicillin, sliced bread, the first vehicle and even the first bike. The company has also survived two world wars, two pandemics, a recession and the Great Depression.
Today, the thriving company is known all over the world but many don't know the incredible story behind it - or the man who started it all over a century ago. To get more background on the history of Duluth Pack, I spoke to the company's Marketing Manager Andrea Johnson.
Want a little Duluth history? Read on.
1839: The Man Behind Duluth Pack Is Born
Camille Poirier was born in Montreal on March 3rd of 1839. A French-Canadian, he had a hard upbringing, losing his mother at an early age. After losing his mother, he went to live with his uncle with his eye on living the American dream one day.
Between the ages of seven and nine, Poirier got an untraditional education, not attending school in an official schoolhouse. He was unable to speak English and worked on the family farm until the age of fourteen.
1853: Camille Poirier Moves To America
Once a teenager, Poirier decided to try his hand at shoemaking. He did this for three years, becoming an expert in leather shoemaking and earning his certification to become a shoemaker.
At the age of 18, he made his dream of moving to the United States a reality and headed to to Pennsylvania. A few years later, he landed in Manchester, New Hampshire. At this time, he was around the age of twenty.
Poirier had trouble communicating, as he still did not speak any English. He took on different physically-intense jobs, including a job chopping wood. While working this job, he injured his leg with an axe. After three years in America, he headed back to Montreal, giving up (for now) on the American dream.
1860: Duluth Pack Founder Returns To His Canadian Home
After his first short stint in America, Poirier returned to Canada and got married and had two kids. Sadly, his wife passed away a few years after their kids were born. This tragedy left him considering another trip to the United States and another try at the American dream. This time, he set his sights on Minnesota.
1865: Camille Poirier Gives The United States A Second Shot
The second time was the charm, at least for Poirier, who arrived in St. Paul in 1865. Things were better this time around, as he was named the foreman of a shoe shop. A few years after arriving in Minnesota, he got remarried and decided to try his hand at becoming a business owner somewhere in the state. However, he did not plan to stay in St. Paul.
After doing some research on the state, he learned that Duluth was one of the wealthiest cities in the nation per capita. He learned what kind of industries were thriving at the time: the port, railway, mining and timber industries. It was then he decided to head north.
1870: Duluth Pack's Founder Heads To The Northland
Poirier's journey to Duluth was anything but easy. During the time of his trek, the road stopped in Hinckley, which means there was no easy way to Duluth from the St. Paul area where he was coming from. He therefore headed to Duluth by foot with all of his belongings on his back. He made the trek solo with his kids and wife at home for the time being. Keep in mind, walking was hard for him after he hurt himself with an axe. He made it to Hinckley then cut over to superior before arriving to Duluth by boat.
Once in town, he set up his own shoe shop and started to try and make a name for himself. At the time, his shop was the first and the most successful shoe store in Duluth. The shop was in the spot that is now home to Pizza Luce along Lake Avenue in downtown Duluth. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing. The store kept seeing hardships, including two fires that knocked him down, but he always landed back on his feet. The fires forced Poirier to move locations, this time to the current 7 West Taphouse location just down the street from its original spot.
1882: Camille Poirier Officially Starts Duluth Pack
A few years prior to opening Duluth Pack, Poirier noticed a lack of proper equipment for workers in the major industries that were booming in Duluth. They had a lot of equipment but not the right gear to carry it in. People at this time were also starting to travel north and needed a bag they could rely on to do so. This caused a lightbulb to go off in his head and thus, the Poirier Pack Sack was born.
Poirier patented the original Duluth Pack in November of 1882. It was approved on December 12th of 1882, just one month later. The famous bag is still sold in the store today.
What made the bag so revolutionary? It's as patented with a tumpline. A tumpline is designed to keep the strain off the lower back and shoulders. It puts your spinal column in line with a strap that is placed near the top of your forehead. The pack was a massive success and thus, Duluth Pack came to be.
1911: Duluth Pack Is Sold Due To Camille Poirier's Failing Health
Poirier sold the business in 1911 and following the sale, Duluth Pack moved to 1610 West Superior Street. This same spot is still where the company manufactures their products today. Poirier knew his health was failing and he wouldn't have time to dedicate to the company like he wanted to. He sold the business to a group of five brothers who owned Duluth Tent & Awning. They bought the patent from Camille and started expanding. Sadly, Poirier passed away in October of 1919, less than a decade after selling the business.
1991: Duluth Pack Opens Flagship Store In Canal Park
Fast forward a few decades and Duluth Pack opens its flagship store in Canal Park. This is a big moment, as the business landed in the heart of Canal Park, one of the busiest areas in all of Duluth located right along the shores of Lake Superior.
2000: Duluth Pack Launches Online Store
It is crazy to think of a time before the internet or online shopping but it was a big occasion when Duluth Pack launched its first online store back in the year 2000. The same website is up and running today.
2007: Tom Sega Buys Duluth Pack On April Fools' Day
In 2007, engineer and entrepreneur Tom Sega bought Duluth Pack, a moment that was years in the making. What led him to purchase the iconic company and brand? For his previous job, he would travel a large portion of the year and on one trip to Detroit, the zipper broke on his six-month-old briefcase. This was a common thing for him, having to replace his briefcase often due to wear and tear.
He remembered his friend telling him about Duluth Pack and so he went to the store when he got back to buy a more durable briefcase. He fell in love with the company and said in an interview that he had a "vision" of what the company could become in the future. In 2003, he tried to purchase it with no luck. He continued to try to buy it from the owners for years without any luck.
Finally, in 2007, the day he had been waiting for arrived when the owners agreed to sell him the company. The deal went through on April Fools' Day and the rest is history. Tom still has that same briefcase nearly thirty years later.
Duluth Pack In The Present Day
Sega still owns and operates Duluth Pack today. The company still has the same manufacturing building it did back in the Poirier days with its main flagship store still sitting in Canal Park. The company employs over 100 people that all work in house in Duluth. They ship to all seven continents every year and offer free tours to the public so fans of the company can see the bags being handmade.
Duluth Pack's Business Model & Legacy
Duluth Pack is more than just a store. It is a business and a brand that is already leaving a legacy across the country and the world. They are passionate about making all products in America and employing those in Duluth. The products are handmade as well. Your purchases are so personal that you can see who made the product thanks to a tag inside. You can even go thank the person who made your pack online!
Duluth Pack is also passionate about being sustainable. The scraps from their products are made into cribbage boards, which you can buy in store. Those who love DIY can also purchase scraps from the store for various projects. They also have a lifetime guarantee on their products, which means when you purchase a pack or a different item, it will be with you for life.