Friday, June 18, 2021

My 2021 red riding jacket, with snaps circa 1935

Sleeve of jacket show snaps sewn on cuff.
Snaps used to tighten cuff of new jacket are 86 years old.

Woe is me. The yellow jacket I like to wear when I ride my Royal Enfield motorcycle is "worn out." 

That's what I wrote in 2013. Being the sort of stubborn person I am, I have milked another 12 years of riding out of that yellow jacket!

But now, torn and dirty, it's disgraceful. It never was a "motorcycle jacket," being just light-weight, 100 percent Nylon. I also own three proper leather motorcycling jackets, with armor. But the light weight and vented Nylon jacket was about all I could stand to wear during Florida summers.

Now I have a new riding jacket. It's red.

Surprisingly, replacing the yellow jacket resulted in an odd historical side trip down memory lane. It summoned up artifacts of the Depression years, and Redditch, England, original home of Royal Enfield motorcycles.

To understand, you have to know why I would favor a loud, yellow jacket while riding my stately, vintage looking Royal Enfield Bullet.

The yellow jacket was well made, being from Lands End, and the fantastic thing was the number of pockets.  Not only were there big, zippered side pockets, but there was a wide "fanny pack" zippered pocket built across the inside back of the jacket.

My 2013 item was entitled "Does this jacket make my butt look big?" because I stuffed a scarf and folding plastic backpack into that back pocket.

What could be handier, I thought, then to have a back pack in your jacket in case you bought something while out riding and needed a way to carry it home? Very handy indeed. (I never used that backpack.)

The side pockets swallowed three clean rags for roadside repairs, a mini-bungee cord, extra ear plugs and a spark plug.

One especially handy feature of the old jacket was the Velcro on the cuffs that allowed me to tighten them up once the jacket was on. This kept the wind from blowing my sleeves half way up my arm, as happens with looser light jackets.

The yellow jacket's replacement is another Lands End light-weight windbreaker, in red. It's vented, and has zippered side pockets but, sadly, no fanny pack style rear pocket. And no Velcro on the cuffs.

I have to have the cuffs tight, so I conned my wife into getting out her sewing kit and adding snaps inside each cuff of the red jacket, to allow me to shut out the slipstream.

This is where the stroll into the past began.

"Where did you get these?" I asked, pointing to her package of snaps.

Close-up shows logo on package of snaps.
National Recovery Administration logo is in corner.

"That's the insignia of the National Recovery Administration!" I said.

"It was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935! This package of snaps has to be from the 1930s!"

Bonnie explained that she found the snaps in our house when we bought it from the estate of the original owners.

And that wasn't all she'd found. Along with the snaps were packages of fine sewing needles made in Redditch.

Packages of sewing needles from Redditch.
Needle making in Redditch, England eventually led to motorcycle making.

Of course, my wife knew that Redditch is the ancestral home of Royal Enfield motorcycles. She didn't know that Royal Enfield itself sprang from George Townsend's needle works, established in Redditch in 1851. The successful needle maker took on production of other products and began making complete bicycles in 1888. The first motorcycle appeared in 1901.

At one point 90 percent of the world's needles were made in Redditch.

As for the NRA (not to be confused with the National Rifle Association), President Franklin Roosevelt established the National Recovery Administration in 1933. The agency's eagle insignia and the motto "We Do Our Part" began to appear on U.S. products as manufacturers signed up to help fight the Depression.

We Do Our Part insignia.
"We Do Our Part" meant businesses joined to fight the Depression.
(National Recovery Administration logo in Library of Congress)

The intention was to encourage consumers to buy products from companies that set fair prices and paid fair wages.  Any product without the "blue bird" would be seen as not cooperating in the national emergency, and might even be boycotted.

The idea was so popular that the owner of the Philadelphia football team renamed it the "Eagles" to refer to the agency logo.

The Supreme Court pulled the plug on FDR's NRA in 1935, about the same time it overturned other New Deal legislation. This prompted FDR to favor  "packing the court" by appointing more, and more cooperative, Supreme Court justices.

It didn't happen, but FDR's 1937 threat to do so still comes up every time the idea of adding justices is proposed.

My new Nylon riding jacket may be inappropriate in vintage look as well as in safety. But the snaps on the cuffs are straight out of the 1930s, sewn on with needles from Redditch. What a coincidence.

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