The year was 1971. Seattle aerospace giant, Boeing, announced its largest layoff in company history, resulting in 50,000 people losing their jobs. So devastating was the impact on the local population, that a now infamous billboard near the SeaTac airport read, “Will the last person leaving Seattle, please turn out the lights?”
Among the newly jobless were my good friends Jim Lea and Neil Anderson—both engineers who were eager to get back to work. Turning to me for ideas, I told them that as a mountain climber, I knew the world needed a better sleeping mattress. Air mattresses were cold and prone to leaking, while closed cell foam pads didn’t offer sufficient comfort. I wanted a mattress that was lightweight, warm and comfortable. Jim and Neil accepted the challenge.
One day while Jim was working in his yard, he noticed that the gardening cushion he was kneeling on expelled air as he shifted his weight. That’s when lightning struck. Jim realized that open-cell foam had memory. Excited about this discovery, he and Neil began working on a mattress prototype. Their plan was to take a piece of open-cell foam, like that in Jim’s gardening cushion, and sandwich it between two pieces of airtight fabric. Using an old sandwich maker, they melted the fabric onto the foam, creating a bond that was perfectly airtight. They added a valve, and their prototype was ready to test.
Therm-a-Rest prototype For months, we continued the process of testing, refining, and re-testing until we arrived at the perfect design. In 1972, Jim and Neil filed for a patent, and within two years we began production of Therm-a-Rest pads—the world’s first self-inflating mattress. Our collaboration produced a worldwide standard for outdoor sleeping comfort and a company – Cascade Designs, Inc.
Today, we’re fortunate to remain a private, family-owned company that has grown to be one of the most respected outdoor equipment manufacturers in the world. We’ve achieved that distinction through a combination of the Therm-a-Rest brand’s enduring popularity, the acquisition of strong companies with superior products and shared visions, and by sticking to the same fundamental principles we were founded upon: providing relevant and innovative products, exceptional quality, and service that exceeds your expectations.
One of our Seattle, U.S.A., manufacturing facilities. In the pursuit of quality, I believe that the strength of our products is a key to the success of our brands and that whenever possible, we should manufacture what we sell. Though much of the world’s manufacturing has shifted from North American and Europe to Asia, we still build the vast majority of our products in our facilities in Seattle, USA and Cork, Ireland. This allows us to retain control over the quality and availability of what we sell, to distribute regionally, thereby minimizing wasteful shipping, and to keep jobs here at home. Because of this priority, dedicated people show up every day to make sure we continue to fulfill our promise of superior innovation, quality and service.
Looking forward, I see our future success assured by continuing to do what Jim, Neil and I set out to do over 40 years ago—create innovative, quality solutions to real-world needs by listening to you. With your needs to guide us, our strong engineering, testing and manufacturing team comprised of avid outdoors people will continue our legacy of providing you with the most innovative, useful and long-lasting products, made in the most environmentally responsible means possible.
I am humbled with what we have been able to accomplish over the years and that our products have been an integral part of the outdoor experience for so many people around the world. Though we face many levels of uncertainty in these challenging times, we are all lucky enough to have those experiences—and many more to come—to ground us and give us perspective on what’s truly important. I encourage you to remember the restorative powers of the outdoors, to seek them as often as possible and to spread the word. And whether you get out once a week or once a year, try us out. I’m confident you’ll find that the lasting value of quality products will make your experiences even better.
—John Burroughs, company co-founder and chief product tester