Every state has its own distinct lore and recognizable icons. Mere mention of Maine to most anyone across the country invariably elicits mention of lobsters, moose and L.L. Bean. Most Mainers — and a good many folks from away — are familiar with the tale of an avid outdoorsman named Leon Leonwood Bean who, a century ago, returned from a hunting trip with cold, damp feet and decided he could build a better boot.

In 1911, Bean enlisted the aid of a local cobbler to stitch leather uppers to rubber boots, creating the Maine Hunting Shoe. Demand for this innovative footwear was strong enough to convince Bean to go into business.

In 1912, he obtained a mailing list of nonresident Maine hunting license holders and sent each a three-page flyer boldly proclaiming, “You cannot expect success hunting deer or moose if your feet are not properly dressed. The Maine Hunting Shoe is designed by a hunter who has tramped the Maine woods for the last 18 years.” Bean also guaranteed his boots, “… to give perfect satisfaction in every way.”

That promise nearly did in the budding entrepreneur, but ultimately became the foundation for another Bean trademark. His new venture seemed off to a successful start when Bean received 100 orders. Unfortunately, the rubber bottoms of his initial run separated from the leather tops, and 90 of those first 100 pairs were returned. Though it nearly put him out of business, Bean refunded the purchase price; then, with the resiliency and determination emblematic of Mainers, set about to right the wrong.

A century later, the traditional Maine Hunting Shoe remains popular among outdoorsmen and women, and is now available in several configurations, including unlined or with various linings like Gore-Tex, Thinsulate and shearling. There’s also a more general-purpose version — the Maine Hunting Shoe — that has recently become something of a fashion statement, particularly among young adults.

L.L. Bean has grown to become one of the world’s largest catalog and internet retailers. In addition to their Freeport flagship store, which never closes, they have over two dozen domestic stores, 20 stores in Japan and 62 stores in China.

Though it has become largely a clothing retailer, the company remains faithful to its roots. And recognizing that hunting and fishing are the foundation of the L.L. Bean brand, the company is celebrating its centennial with several commemorative items.

Second only to the Maine Hunting Shoe as a symbol of the company are its Coastal Decoys, once hand-carved out of cork and pine by George Soule. In 1935, Soule ran a fly-tying business for Bean’s mail-order house. He also shared his love for hunting black duck with the company’s owner, but was critical of his employer’s equipment. “Old L.L. had a ragtag set of round-bottom wooden tollers that skittered, bobbed and pitched like seagoing rocking horses in the slightest chop,” Soule recalled. In the same spirit as Bean, Soule set to building a better block.

The 100th Anniversary Coastal Decoy Set is carved from the original masters and hand painted by well-known Maine artist Steve Brettell. Meanwhile, the 100th Anniversary Soule Coastal Duck Call is patterned after a call that Soule also produced for L.L.Bean, and features a bronze reed, walnut barrel with engraved logo, and engraved and numbered brass band. Other commemorative items include a classic Maine-style snowshoe with steam-bent ash frame and cowhide decking; a beavertail canoe paddle made from spruce logs reclaimed from the Penobscot River — remnants of Maine’s historic river drives; a canoe built with traditional canvas over cedar strip construction; and a Double L Special bamboo fly rod handcrafted by Steve Campbell of Thomas Rod Company in Brewer.

L.L. Bean remains a strong symbol of Maine, with a commitment to 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and to their most loyal customers — hunters and fishermen across the country and around the world. Happy Anniversary.


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