The Other Holy Trinity

No, I am not talking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  Not that I have any problem with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.  I am a Catholic after all.  No, the Holy Trinity I am talking about involves Christmas trees, NFL Football, and Made in America.

The Germans kicked off the Christmas tree tradition in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.  Martin Luther pitched in on the Christmas tree effort by adding lighted candles to trees.  According to those Protestants in the know, Luther was walking home one winter evening, composing a sermon, when he looked up and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the stars twinkling amidst evergreens. He set up a tree at home and wired candles to the tree’s branches.  Some German families still use candles, lighting them only on Christmas Eve.

When Germans immigrated to America in the 19th century, they brought their Christmas trees with them.  There was some initial grumbling about German pagan symbols, but that soon dissipated. By the 1890s, intrepid German businessmen were exporting Christmas ornaments to America where they were being placed on Christmas trees that reached from floor to ceiling.

At about the same time as the German Christmas ornaments began reaching our shores, Americans started playing football.  In the 1880s, a rugby player from Yale, Walter Camp, proposed rules changes that transformed rugby into the new game of American Football.
The American Professional was formed on September 17, 1920 and two years later became the National Football League.  The first official NFL championship game was held in 1933.  The rival American Football League was founded in 1960. It was very successful, and forced a merger with the older NFL that resulted in a greatly expanded league and the creation of the Super Bowl, which our Seattle Seahawks won last year, waxing the Denver Broncos 43-8.  The lopsided score brought to mind an old joke that circulated about the Broncos circa 1987-90.  In those four seasons, the Broncos lost three Superbowls by scores of 39-20 (Giants), 42-10 (Redskins) and 55-10 (Niners).  Hence the joke:  How many Broncos does it take to fix a flat tire?  One, unless it’s a blowout then the whole team shows up.

I recently discovered an American firm that can allow you to combine the two great American passions of Christmas trees and NFL football.  Wendell August Forge produces a full line of metal NFL team ornaments that will make your tree the talk of the neighborhood.

I of course will be opting for the Seahawks ornament.

Wendell August Forge was founded in 1923 by Wendell McMinn August and is America’s oldest and largest forge, producing hand-wrought ornamental metalware and a variety of great objects in aluminum and other metals.  Starting with the production of hand-forged door latches, Wendell and Ottone “Tony” Pisoni soon started producing decorative ironware products such as fireplace andirons, candlesticks, lighting standards, door knockers, latches, railings, and grilles for windows and doors.

In the 1930s, Pisoni mastered the art of forging aluminum and after finishing a stunning architectural remodeling at the Grove City National Bank, the Bank’s president convinced Wendell August to relocate his firm to Grove City, Pennsylvania.  Wendell August’s Grove City forge is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  Wendell August currently produces a very wide range of jewelry, collector’s plates and commemoratives, Christmas ornaments and gifts, trays, bowls, and vases.  Each piece is still individually made by hand using Wendall August’s original eight-step process.  Wendell August pieces are available in aluminum, bronze, pewter, sterling silver, and other metals.

I want to get my hands on one of the 12 solid bronze plates commemorating the SALT II treaty between the U.S. and Russia that the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency commissioned Wendell August to produce.  Unlikely I admit, but a man has got to have goals.

What with it being just a week before Thanksgiving, now is a perfect time for you to visit the Wendell August website.  Order your favorite NFL team’s Christmas tree ornament, and then get all of your holiday shopping done in one fell swoop.  Uncle Morty in Pittsburg?  Done.


Aunt Bess in Chi Town?  Done

Your Mum in Cleveland?  Done.

Don’t thank me, I am just glad I can help you get your Christmas shopping done before December even darkens our doorway and at the same time allow you to provide jobs for members of our extended American family who are working at Wendell August.


Now get shopping!

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Which coast is this again?


My dad, Richard Briggs, grew up on the east coast.  Living in New York City, he took most of his beach vacations in Massachusetts.  Sadly, we didn’t get to take an East Coast beach vacation together before he suddenly passed away in 2001.  It would have been a hoot I am sure.

Every time I visit Seabrook on the Washington Coast, I think of my dad because Seabrook is a place that evokes in me thoughts of what I imagine beach communities on the East Coast look like.  Lots of tidy and cute beach houses.

Parks with fire pits and bocce ball courts.  A community swimming pool that has the good sense to be indoors so it can be used all year-long.

A very cute dinner serving up amazingly yummy food.

After the first day of our first visit to Seabrook about six years ago, I was sold.  We have returned to Seabrook for several vacations.

We most recently visited this last summer, and I came away with another reason to love Seabrook.  Seabrook seems to use a lot of products made by members of our extended American family.  Seabrook’s cleaning crews are all equipped with Libman’s cheery green and white brooms and mops.

Most of the appliances in the homes we have stayed in at Seabrook are American made as is lots of the furniture.  We did a lot of reading on the porch of our Seabrook house this past summer and we were lucky to be sitting on great deck furniture made by Kingsley Bate.  Pretty stylish don’t you think?

So if you are looking for a great beach vacation, look no farther than Seabrook.  Come in the summer for our amazing summers.  Or come in the winter for blustery beach walks as you watch the storms come pounding in off the Pacific.  In any season, you and your family will have a great vacation.  And given Seabrook’s commitment to products made by members of our extended American family, those relatives will be happy as well that you came for a visit.

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Do as I say, not as I do


I came across a post on one of my favorite blogs about American made things, Made in the USA Challenge, about Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards.  It seems Martha and her minions have been holding a competition in each of the last three years to honor great American made manufacturers.  Americans like Heather Lins who makes really cool embroidery stuff.  I was blown away by Martha’s commitment to American consumer goods manufacturing.  I felt that I should pay Martha back for her support of American manufacturing by purchasing some of the American made products she markets under her Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s.

I went to the Macy’s website and began to peruse the 411 items in Martha’s collection.  My cast iron casserole cookware has seen better days, so I thought I might buy one of Martha’s casserole pans.  Made in China.  Ok, well how about some non-stick bakeware?  Imported. Food storage containers?  Imported.  Color coded cutlery?  Imported.  Martha Stewart Collection Stainless Steel 10 Piece Cookware Set?  Imported.  3-Piece Cutting Board Set?  Imported.  Wow, most of Martha’s kitchen goods aren’t made by members of our extended American family.

Well, no one’s perfect I figured, so I looked at other items in the Martha Stewart Collection.  How about Martha’s Sweaterknit Throw?  Made in China.  Martha’s Martha Luxury Flannel Sheet Sets?  Imported.  Martha’s Quick Dry Robe?  Imported.  Martha’s Flannel Christmas novelty sheets?  Imported.  Martha Stewart Collection Flannel Dot Full/Queen Duvet Cover?  Imported.  Martha’s Colette Shower Curtain?  Imported.  You get the picture.  Apparently Martha wants to tell you and I about all these firms making products that are made by members of our extended American family, but it appears that she isn’t very interested in hiring very many Americans to make many of the products in her Collection.  I’m perplexed.

Well this is America.  Martha is free to make the products in her Collection wherever on the globe she wants to make them, and we are free to tell Martha to go pound sand and take a pass on all her imported products.  If you want to buy products from people who actually make things in America, just punch in the American made product you are looking for in the search function on my blog page, and it is likely you will find what you are looking for.  If not, just enter “American Made products” in Google and you will be given lots of places you can go to buy American products.

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Now on deck, Bangladesh!


I have had apparel on the mind lately since I have been talking to lots of young hepcats that are committed to having members of our extended American family make their clothing. And in two weeks I am visiting the Portland Garment Company, surprisingly located in Portland, OR, to find out what they are up to these days. So I thought I would repost one of my old posts for those Americans apparel CEOs that just can’t get over the offshoring habit.

Originally posted on simplyamericandotnet:

Over the last week, I have introduced you to a number of great American firms making apparel in this country: Montauk Tackle Company, American Giant and Game Gear.  Yet the production of apparel by firms like this is a pittance when measured against the tidal wave of apparel that we import each year from abroad.  In 2010, we imported about $75 billion worth of apparel from other countries.  China exported $111 billion worth of textiles and apparel to the world last year and a bunch of that landed on our shores.  But, as you may have heard, China is becoming a more expensive place to manufacture clothing these days.  This stems from a couple of factors: rising wages, diminishing governmental support for clothing manufacturing, and increased transportation costs.  What is a firm to do that wants to design its apparel in this country, manufacture it overseas and then reimport it into this country to sell?  Start…

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I hope you can follow the thread of this story


90% of the apparel that you and I buy is not made by members of our extended American family.  It didn’t used to be that way.  As recently as the 1970s over 70% of apparel sold in the U.S. was made in the U.S.  But that was before NAFTA and WTO eased the ability of “American” firms like Eddie Bauer, Ralph Lauren and the GAP to ship American sewing jobs to places like China and Bangladesh.  Mind you, the age of the seamstresses who sew your clothing dropped a bit with the move, but as the Germans say, “Geschaft is Geschaft.”

I am happy to report that we are seeing a rebirth of apparel manufacturing in America. Old American firms and new American firms are producing great clothing for us to add to our wardrobe.  Firms like Homage, Mindful Supply, Dehen, Sympatico, or any of the hundreds of firms listed on my friend Jack A’s amazing blog.  However, a roadblock of sorts has developed in this American apparel movement: a lack of trained seamstresses. But I recently read a wonderful story about how a college in Minneapolis is starting to churn out members of our extended American family who know their way around a sewing machine.

Dunwoody College and Technology in the Twin Cities is now offering a seamstress training program whose students are being hired at wages of as much as $18 an hour even before they have their diplomas.  What a great deal!  So many people these days are talking about the need to pass “Living Wage” initiatives.  Guess what?  Just by purchasing goods made by people like Dunwoody’s new graduates, you can create your own “Living Wage ” effort.  For the last three years I have been doing just that.  I am usually sporting Jack Donnelly or Bill’s Khaki’s pants, Brooks Brothers shirts, Wigwam or Smart Wool socks, Allen Edmonds shoes and Allen Edmonds belts.  When I have to dress up for court, I wear either my Hart Schaffner Marx or my Joseph Abboud suit.

So when looking for clothes on your next shopping trip, look for the sewn in America label.  Also, I would love to know about what apparel firms you are aware of in your home town.  Please shoot me a comment about the local firms whose clothing you love to wear.

Now get shopping!


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Even I would look good in an Electric Mirror!


I stumble into the bathroom of my hotel room in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, or Tokyo. Faucet, sink, mirror. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Remote control? That does seems odd. I push the on button on the remote control and the television comes on. But the screen flashing the Dow Jones numbers isn’t located in the bedroom. The television is in the bathroom. In the mirror. In the Electric Mirror to be exact.

4 - Cutting glass according to the specified size.

In an unassuming office park in Everett, Washington, 200 Americans are producing some of the most amazing mirrors in the world. Electric Mirror combines cutting edge technology with a product that people have been using for 2000 years. Electric Mirror produces more tha 45 models of mirrors for a myriad of different applications. Not every Electric Mirror product sports a flat panel television, but all of them are remarkable in their own way.

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Like many successful American businesses, Electric Mirror is a family business. Jim Mischel Jr. founded Electric Mirror in his family’s garage. Jim’s father, Jim Sr. or “Doc” his mother Faith and brother Aaron and sister Mia helped Jim begin his quest to build a better mirror. As with many inventors, Jim saw a problem and thought he could come with a solution.  Jim’s nemesis was fog and he soon came up with a high-tech solution to keep bathroom mirrors clear even after the hottest of showers. As droves of orders for his defogging mirror started arriving in the Mischels’ mailbox, the family decided that a facility larger than the family homestead was in order. Electric Mirror was in business.


Aaron, Doc, Faith and Jim Jr.

Most of us never give mirrors much thought.  Jim was different. He believed a mirror could do more than just show us our reflection. It could add light and interest to a room. Electric Mirror produces a huge number of different lighted mirrors, lighted in-shower mirrors, lighted cabinet and wardrobe mirrors and lighted makeup mirrors.  I contacted Electric Mirror and asked if I could stop by the factory to see their products being manufactured. They said yes and a few days later I made the short drive north from Seattle to the Electric Mirror facility in South Everett.

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The first thing you notice at Electric Mirror is the calm. There is a lot going on, but everyone knows what needs to be done and does it without a fuss. At the back of the facility, the components that will eventually become an Electric Mirror arrive unceasingly. Watching the glass being cut is impressive. Great sheets of metal are cut, bent and formed into the cabinets which are the superstructure of an Electric Mirror. That superstructure supports and protects all the components that make an Electric Mirror special. And Electric Mirrors are unlike any mirror I had ever seen before. My favorite is the Vive, Electric Mirror’s newest model.  The Vive is a Bluetooth enabled mirror that allows you to listen to Radiohead from your iPhone as you put on your makeup in the bathroom. Groovy.

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The Mischels‘ products are technologically advanced, but the values that guide their family and their family business are very old school. Be thy brother’s keeper. The Mischels’ commitment to keep their production in their community cannot be minimized. What was once a family business in the Mischels’ garage, is now a family business in a 50,000 square foot facility that employs 200 members of the Mischels’ extended family. So if you or someone you know is in the market for the coolest most technologically advanced mirror for the home or office, shoot Electric Mirror an email.  You will be getting the ultimate twofer.  The best mirror money can buy and the knowledge that your purchase will be ensuring employment for members of our extended American family working in Everett at Electric Mirror.

Now get shopping!

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The Needle

marty reisman

For most Americans, table tennis is a game.  But not for Marty Reisman.  For Reisman, table tennis was much, much more.  Reisman once remarked that he had built a career around a game usually played in the basement next to the clothes dryer. “A funny way to spend a life,” he said. Reisman passed away in 2012, but his style and love of ping-pong live on in PaddleYou, a game improving custom ping-pong paddle service from Table Tennis Nation that is the result of decades of Reisman’s experience and his dream to make more people fall in love with the sport.

It is perhaps fitting that such a unique man should come to his vocation in a unique manner.  Reisman did not begin playing table tennis because he wanted to, but rather because he needed to.  According to Reisman, “I had a nervous breakdown when I was nine years old and ended up in Bellevue Hospital. Ping-Pong was the ultimate escape. My racquet became a sensuous connection between the ball and my brain.”  Soon after he began to play table tennis, it became obvious to everyone that Reisman had a gift for it.  By age 13 he was New York City’s junior champion at 13.  By age 16 he was putting on table tennis exhibitions in England.  But for Reisman, the real point of table tennis was not trophies.  The real point of table tennis was the action.

Where else but the City?

Within a few years of taking up the game, Reisman was making money playing it.  He became a fixture at Lawrence’s, a locale that during Prohibition was a speakeasy run by Legs Diamond.  It was at Lawrence’s that Reisman learned his trade.  There he met the titans of table tennis, played them and eventually bested most of them.  In 1958, Reisman bought the Riverside Table Tennis Courts at 96th Street and Broadway and renamed it “Reisman’s.”  According to Reisman biographer Stefan Kanfer, “Most of the time [Reisman] is not to be found behind the tables of his splendid Manhattan Gothic establishment. Instead, he waits in a little back room, coiling and uncoiling in preparation for the occasional mongoose foolish enough to challenge him.”

For an amazing cast of New Yorkers, Reisman’s was a regular haunt. Dustin Hoffman, Kurt Vonnegut, David Mamet, Bobby Fisher and a group of violinists from the Metropolitan Opera routinely stopped by for a game.  Jackie Mason, who grew up with Reisman the Lower East Side and remained a lifelong friend, was a fixture.  So were hard-core players with names like Freddie the Fence, Herbie the Nuclear Physicist, Betty the Monkey Lady and Tony the Arm.  Several members of Meyer Lansky’s legendary street gang Murder Incorporated also frequented Reisman’s.  Once Reisman’s closed for good in 1981 due to soaring rents in the City, Reisman was forced to less “comfortable” digs.  To wit, the Manhattan Table Tennis Club, where betting on matches is forbidden.  It should be no surprise that the company now bearing the Reisman torch, PaddleYou, set up shop in New York City and is making all of their paddles in New York.

The “Reisman myth”

Reisman became larger than life as a result of his amazing skills with a table tennis paddle and his own considerable efforts at self-promotion.  Reisman’s trademark forehand could hit speeds of 115 miles per hour and table tennis connoisseurs agree that Reisman had the greatest drop shot ever seen on the face of the earth.  Reisman won 22 major table tennis titles from 1946 to 2002, including two United States Opens and a British Open. In 1997, at 67, he became the oldest player to win a national championship in a racket sport by winning the United States National Hardbat Championship.

Reisman’s opponents were routinely thrashed with objects aside from table tennis paddles.  Shoes, frying pans, coke cans, even garbage can lids were lethal when wielded by Reisman.  Depending on the size of the bet, he would play and beat opponents when sitting down or even when blindfolded.  Breaking a cigarette in half from across the table was a Reisman standard.

Reisman was a larger than life figure, both at and away from the table.  He cultivated an eccentric appearance, wearing both Borsalino fedoras and Panama hats.  He loved to hang fashionable, brightly colored clothes over his thin physique; for his whole life he enjoyed the fact that his moniker was “The Needle.”  Before beginning a game, he habitually removed a $100 bill from his roll to measure the net.

Reisman had rules.  Against amateurs, Reisman went out of his way to level the playing field.  He would routinely spot opponents as many as 18 points, and still win the match.  He would play and beat anyone.  Including Montgomery Clift, the President of the Philippines in Manila and the Maharaja of Baroda.  He would go anywhere for the action.  Along with his longtime table-tennis partner, the late Doug Cartland, Reisman circled the globe eight times, several times serving as the opening act for the Harlem Globetrotters.  Cartland and Reisman played together for a crowd of 75,000 spectators at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, the biggest recorded live audience for a table-tennis tournament.  But of all of Reisman’s rules, there was one that was paramount: No sponge paddles.

A match with Reisman always came with one condition: old school paddles only.  Reisman hated the sponge paddles that were first utilized by the Japanese player Hiroji Satoh when he bested Reisman at the world championship in 1952 in Mumbai.  From that day forward, Reisman crusaded against the sponge paddle.  Unlike Reisman’s “hardbat”, the sponge paddle had smooth, thicker rubber and no pimples.  The paddle propelled the ball at greater speeds than the hardbat, but from a spectator’s standpoint, faster does not mean interesting.  In the professional matches of today, the average rally is less than four times across the net. From Reisman’s perspective, watching two players with sponge paddles do battle was “like watching paint dry.”

The Way Back

In 2010, two years before his death at age 82, Reisman founded Table Tennis Nation, an organization he hoped would help make table tennis fun again.  Table tennis is the most popular sport in the world, but in the US only about 8000 players participate in tournaments and ping-pong events. No one was doing anything to reach the 20 million casual ping-pong players in the US (and even more around the world).  Reisman and his colleagues at Table Tennis Nation wanted to change that.  And they have.

Key to this effort in Reisman’s mind was the resurrection of a version of the old-fashioned paddle.  That paddle is now being manufactured by PaddleYou in the only place a paddle fit for Reisman could be produced: New York City.  The entire PaddleYou production process take place in the City. The new paddle is designed to help the everyday player take advantage of the sport’s technological advances while also making the game easier and improving table tennis. And through a heavy research and development process, now you can customize your own Paddle You paddle using pictures and designs from your facebook, instagram, computer, smartphone, or tablet.

PaddleYou has sold its Made in New York paddle in 22 countries.  Every day, the folks at PaddleYou hear stories from people around the world about why they’re buying a PaddleYou paddle and the reactions they’ve had to the product.  The PaddleYou gallery is full of incredible paddles designed completely by its customers: baby pictures, soldiers abroad, corporate logos, artwork, and everything else you could imagine.

So while you probably will never be 1/100 the player Marty Reisman was, you can now design a PaddleYou paddle that would have made Reisman proud.  Thanks to the generosity of Reisman’s buddies at PaddleYou, five people who design their own paddle after linking to the PaddleYou site from this blog post will be chosen at random and will receive their one of a kind paddle free of charge, in honor of the memory of Marty Reisman, a one of a kind man.

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