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LION KNITTING MILLS

The LION KNITTING MILLS produced high quality knit goods for 78 years. Founded in 1912 by Louis and Harold Ensten at 1011 Power Ave., the knitting mill produced a variety of knit goods for the military and the private-label market. Lion's first product, the varsity or award-letter sweater, was knitted on hand-operated machines. By World War I, the company had installed belt-driven knitting machines which were used to make woolen watchcaps for the U.S. Navy. Lion also produced its popular "Ace" winter sports cap under an exclusive patent until 1939. To utilize the skilled immigrant labor force living on the near west side, Lion moved to 3256 W. 25th St. near Meyer Ave. in 1921. Based on Lion's contribution to World War I, the company secured a contract to design and make knitted caps and sweaters for the armed forces during the Depression, and 98% of its production was for the military during World War II. Looking to diversify, Lion added the necessary facilities to produce luxury sweaters of cashmere, lambswool, and vicuna in 1948.

For 2 decades, Lion distributed its line to wholesalers who sold the garments under high-quality brand names to customers such as Pendleton Woolen Mills, Janteen Knitting Mills, Cluett, Peabody, Inc. (Arrow), and Hathaway Shirt Co. However, threatened by low-cost knitted imports from the Far East by 1965, Lion converted its production to cotton sweaters, selling its new line directly to retailers such as Brooks Bros., Saks Fifth Ave., L.L. Bean, and Eddie Bauer. The company also installed computer-controlled machines to make afghans, lap robes, throws, and baby blankets for its new North Bay Comfort Prods. Division. When the diversified product line tripled sales in the early 1980s, Lion expanded its W. 25th St. facilities and added a new distribution center in STRONGSVILLE. In 1985 it employed 240 skilled workers. A private company since its founding, Lion Knitting Mills was under the direction of the Hibshman family from 1971 until Norbert and Lawrence Hibshman closed it in the spring of 1990--a casualty of the lower-cost imports which flooded the American market.