Back in the 1930s good mountain climbing gear was hard to find in this country. To make up for the lack Seattle City Engineer Lloyd Anderson and some Cascades Mountains climbing buddies pooled their resources to import some gear from Switzerland for their own use. The group, officially entitled the Recreational Equipment Co-operative, was limited to 23 climbers and it had no plans to expand. But news of a good thing gets around, and the co-op was soon inundated with requests for membership. In time a wider business arrangement was decided upon, a nonprofit organization in which members would receive dividends each year based on the amount of their purchases. Lloyd was elected treasurer and manager, a position he holds to this day. A grocer offered shelf space on a commission basis, and the coop was off and running.
In 1955 the co-op hired a full-time store manager, a long-legged, slender young Mount Rainier climbing guide named Jim Whittaker, and moved to its own location on Seattle's Pike Street. When Whittaker was assigned as equipment coordinator for the American Mount Everest expedition, Recreational Equipment became its major supplier.
Life membership in the co-op is now well in excess of 100,000, stocked items in the catalogs over 3,000. Membership never has been required of customers, but it's lots more fun. Even for people who never expect to see a mountain, the annual color catalog is worth the cost of life membership—still $1.00—as fascinating literature.
Just as members circle the world, so does co-op shopping skill. The catalogs are filled with superb originals, designed by co-op officers like Whittaker who has firm ideas about compressor stuffing bags, ice screws, balanced pack boards, waterproof ponchos, Everest tents, elephant foot sleeping bags and Northern goose-down clothing. But there's a great deal for the family camper, too.
The co-op shines in the field of specialized items that nobody else carries in such amazing, esoteric variety: wind meters, compasses, geologists' hammers, altimeters, sewing awls, pedometers, clamps for fixing cameras to trees and ice-ax heads, machetes, head lamps with belt batteries, candle lanterns, climbing slings, steps and ascenders, bamboo-wand trail markers, rubber crampon guards, fifihaken (safety devices, for hanging and retrieving rope ladders)—or even group flights at bargain rates to European mountains. The co-op knows all and furnishes all at nonprofit prices from its stores at 423 Pike St. and 1525 11th Ave., Seattle.