The history of this iconic garment extends all the way back to the original founding of C.C. Filson Company in 1897. The following year, the cruiser shirt, with its signature four-pocket front and one large pocket on the back, was purchased by Robert McFadden—a prospector who left Seattle and headed for the Klondike in 1898—and many others on their way north.
From the beginning, the popularity of the cruiser shirt was undeniable, given its widespread demand by those seeking their fortunes in Alaska and the Yukon goldfields. Official company records indicate that a patent was filed for the original design, the “Wool Cruiser Shirt,” on October 28, 1912. The patent was approved by the U.S. Patent Office two years later, and it was from this successful design that a new garment was born.
Introducing the Tin Cloth Cruiser
The Tin Cloth Cruiser jacket emulated the pocket configuration of Filson’s original and used a new type of material that incorporated waterproofing and durability.
This “tin cloth” was actually waxed cotton fabric. It was imported from England through companies such as Britain Millerain, which sought out American markets to supply the fabric as a material for workers’ clothing that would be suitable for all types of weather and heavy labor. In the 1920s, Filson launched its new outerwear clothing line made from this material, marketed at first as their “waterproofed khaki” cruising shirts and coats.
“The tinned fabric came to be regarded as highly as the design of the coat for its waterproofing quality amid the rain and snow of the Pacific Northwest.”
The brand terms “cruising” and “cruiser” were intertwined. The name “timber cruiser” was heard throughout logging camps in the United States, predominantly in the Pacific Northwest. A timber cruiser was a worker who would scout the forests in advance of the rest of the logging crew, flagging those sections where new timber could be harvested. These rugged individuals would spend hours, from predawn to dusk, pushing through the wet boughs of evergreens and up steep hillsides to mark the boundaries where the logger’s ax or saw would fall next. It was in these dense woods that timber cruisers would reach into the large back pocket on their Filson “tin cloth” jackets to pull out a map as they tracked their progress through the terrain. The tinned fabric came to be regarded as highly as the design of the coat for its waterproofing quality amid the rain and snow of the Pacific Northwest.
As a working man’s coat, the Tin Cloth Cruiser simply had no equal.
One testimony from 1925 described how “logger’s boots, Filson water-repellant pants and jackets, woolen underwear, and sox” were the proven “standard Forest Service uniform” for the backcountry. As a working man’s coat, the Tin Cloth Cruiser simply had no equal. The combination of tightly woven cotton fabric and the wax treatment on its surface was built to last and hold up to the elements. Later, in the 1990s, the hard-wax formulation was updated with Filson’s oil finish wax treatment, resulting in a fabric that was less stiff and easier to maintain while still providing the same level of protection and durability.
While the design of the Tin Cloth Cruiser has changed little over the decades, it has undergone some minor variations to meet demands beyond the forests. In the 1922 Filson catalog, the cruiser jacket was offered as a single layer, the button-front version with double shoulders and sleeves. The 1934 catalog offered the jacket shown with a front-shoulder cape and double-layered sleeves. And in the 1947 catalog, the Filson Cruiser coats (including the Tin Cloth Cruiser) were now noted for being the indispensable garment out in the open, whether for business or pleasure—the latter referring to the role of sportsmen seeking protection from the environment. Over the years, the “cruiser” name has become synonymous with ruggedness and dependability—qualities that apply both to the Filson jackets themselves and to those who wear them.