Filed Under Industry

Kaynee

In 1888, Charles Eisenman and Jacob Kastriner pooled their resources to create a company that would provide boys with quality shirts and washtogs. The company was originally named the Kastriner and Eisenmann company but underwent a number of name changes before finally in 1914 settling on Kaynee, a phonetic spelling of the founders' surname initials.

From the very beginning Kaynee offered employees a number of benefits and services that are unheard of in most companies of today’s world. There was a staffed day care free for all employees and workers could visit the children on breaks. In addition to a large cafeteria and kitchen for employees, there was also a recreation room for various indoor games and activities, most notably exercise. A large area was used primarily as a dance floor but could also be transformed into a motion picture theater. The company used this area to host a number of dances and concerts for their employees in efforts to promote company loyalty.

The company also invested in improving the welfare and education of all employees. Medical and dental offices were located on the premises, providing inexpensive and convenient healthcare for employees and their family. Employees could choose to participate in continuation school, the expense taken care of by the Kaynee Company, in order to further their education in avenues related to the business and work they were performing.

In 1915, the company donated a play area to the neighborhood, equipped with tennis courts, a baseball diamond, and sand boxes for younger children. The company looked to improve conditions under which children in the district grew up. This generosity was not altruistic as much as it was a strategic business decision. A company representative stated, “All that Kaynee does is done in the cause of better business. Children who are brought up in the open grow into better men and women, and the better men and women are, the healthier they are- the better employees they will make.”

Kaynee was also able to find a way to promote themselves while simultaneously supporting children’s education and astuteness. From 1940 to 1953, Quiz Kids was a popular weekly show in which a panel of children were asked a series of trivia questions and gave very detailed answers without the help of calculators or notes. Kaynee used the show to promote their line of boys clothing in commercials and started a new Quiz Kids line. Kaynee also sponsored a contest for boys to write in why they wanted to be a quiz kid and the winner would be featured on the show.

Despite the plethora of welfare programs available to employees, problems arose. Workers began pushing for unionization at the behest of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. On November 8, 1934, workers began a strike for unionization. A majority of the employees refused to strike or join the union and was thus susceptible to attacks by strikers. Despite what union leaders claimed, a large number of employees did not walk out; the plant entrances were barred by the picket line and they were unable to begin work. On November 12, Kaynee announced the closing of its Cleveland plants and cancelled all orders placed for delivery. The decision came in the wake of brutal attacks on their employees when riding to and from work and even at their homes. The strike ended January 1935 when the two entities reached an agreement that provided collective bargaining, reinstatement of workers without discrimination, equalization of work, and a reconsideration of wage rates.

The company quickly resumed production and continued operations peacefully until the 1950s. Aetna International bought a large share of stock in 1952 and later sold it to Piedmont Shirt Co. of Greenville, South Carolina. Piedmont bought out the company in 1958 and soon closed both plants (the other being in Williamsburg, Kentucky), putting around 600 employees out of work. The company is still in operation today but is known as the Rifle/Kaynee and is based in New Jersey.

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Kaynee Building Started in 1888 by Charles Eisenman and Jacob Kastriner, Kaynee had many firsts. It was the first boys-wear manufacturer to advertise its apparel, was among the first (and largest) companies in the area to hire African Americans, and the company patented the first loop drawstring for boy's blouses. Source: Photo Courtesy of Tony Zajac
Kaynee Plant (front) In addition to a large cafeteria and kitchen for employees, there was also a recreation room for various indoor games and activities, most notably exercise. In 1920, the company completed a 5 story addition to the plant for $250,000 making Kaynee one of the largest companies in the country devoted to the production of children's apparel. Source: Photo Courtesy of Tony Zajac
Kaynee Advertisement Kaynee manufactured boys' shirts and wash togs, most notably for school and formal dress occasions. As the company progressed it began to create new lines for recreation. In 1932 Kaynee made a deal with Disney to create a new line of merchandise featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse. By the end of the decade, Kaynee was also producing shirts for girls. Source: Courtesy of Tony Zajac
Kaynee Boyscout Ad As the largest manufacturer of boy's shirts, it is no surprise that Kaynee supplied uniform shirts for the Boy Scouts of America for most of the 20th century. Source: Boy's Life Magazine, September 1919
Kaynee Strike Statement In 1934, with the influence of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, the Kaynee workers began a strike for unionization. Employees who did not strike were subjected to harassment and attacks on the street as well as having their homes damaged. The strike finally ended in January 1935, when the two entities came to an agreement that allowed for collective bargaining and reinstatement of workers. Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer
Quiz Kids From 1940-1953, Quiz Kids was a popular weekly show in which a panel of children were asked a series of trivia questions. An example of such questions is “: If all United States presidents up to the year 1896 were side by side in a line, from what city to what city would the line extend?” Washington to Cleveland (George Washington to Grover Cleveland).Kaynee used the show to promote their line of boys clothing in commercials and started a new Quiz Kids line. Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

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Metadata

Danielle Rose, “Kaynee,” Cleveland Historical, accessed December 2, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/723.