The extensive library of equipment catalogs offers a wealth of information on the cultural, commercial and ecological impacts of the outdoor recreation industry since the turn of the 20th century.
A few years ago, Sean Michael, a professor at Utah State University, had an idea: What if you could trace and preserve the history of outdoor gear through a dedicated collection of vintage catalogs and outfitter magazines?
Michael contacted Clint Pumphrey, Curator of Special Collections and Archives (SCA) at the university, who picked up the idea and spearheaded it through Chase Anderson, Program Director of Outdoor Product Design and Development (OPDD). ) from school.
The two departments forged a partnership that would focus on collecting and curating publications focused on outdoor recreation equipment.
The growth and potential of Gear Archive
In 2018, the partnership ball was rolling fiercely. And in March 2019, the SCA/OPDD gear anthology was officially launched. At its inception, Pumphrey and Anderson focused on curating catalogs and outfitter magazines from the 1960s – Chouinard (later renamed Patagonia), Eddie Bauer, and LLBean were rudimentary.
But the once humble treasury has since spawned a massive and inimitable library, the Outdoor Equipment Archive. A single donation of 1,200 catalogs launched the project in 2018. By March 2021, it had grown to house nearly 3,000 volumes from 200 publishers.
And that’s not to mention his burgeoning collections of photos, manuscripts and books. In September 2021, the archives acquired patents, original images and illustrations owned by the late Bill Moss of Moss Tent Works.
“With its explosive growth over the past few decades, the outdoor industry has firmly positioned itself as an important part of the country’s business, environmental and social fabric,” said the Outdoor catalogs and magazines page explains.
“One way to look at this impact is to use equipment catalogs, which represent the culmination of a company’s work, from product design and development to marketing and brand promotion, and how this process has changed over time.”
The outdoor recreation archives are gaining notoriety
Pumphrey and Anderson have placed the entire Outdoor Recreation Archive online alongside the SCA Recreation Collection, curated since the 1970s. Together, the equipment and recreation compilations make up the Recreation Archive of outdoors (ORA) now renamed from USU. As of December 2021, ORA is nothing short of a goliathan – over 10,000 catalogs and magazines from 800 or more sources line its filing cabinets.
A litany of the collection’s most treasured artifacts, latest additions and announcements populate the archives PageInstagram, which enjoys a significant number of followers – 14,500 subscribers at the time of writing.
“The Instagram following of the archive is more important than that of OPDD and the [university] that of the library. It’s a really powerful tool. It helped us connect with a lot of industry professionals,” Anderson said. “Reaching national publications and having so many people accessing the collection is truly a dream come true.
“We definitely exceeded our own expectations and generated more interest than we originally anticipated,” Pumphrey remarked. “That’s a very good problem to have.”
To access the Utah State University Outdoor Recreation Archive, go to libguides.usu.edu/outdoorcatalogs. A digital exhibition dedicated to the collection of outdoor catalogs and magazines is available on exhibitions.usu.edu.