Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Fortune reports Amazon is contacting and refunding shoppers who bought "shoddy counterfeit solar eclipse glasses on the company's website."

Shoddy has a scurrilous backstory.

In the mid 19th century, English shepherds would sell scraps of wool to textile manufacturers, who'd mix it with old rags to make a packing material known as shoddy.

Before long, the companies succumbed to the idea to market the stuff to makers of cheap clothing―and sold millions of pounds of shoddy to American war profiteers, soon to be known as "shoddy millionaires."

Shoddy quickly came into use as a term for swindling and humbug of every sort.One shoddy millionaire was Brooks Brothers.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, federal contracts for military uniforms were awarded not to the lowest bidder, but the highest briber.

The bribes inflated their cost of goods, so clothing makers cut corners on product.

Brooks Brothers won orders for 36,000 uniforms that year, and turned out uniforms for the volunteers that fell apart in the first rainstorm.

When asked by legislators why his company used shoddy instead of broadcloth for the uniforms, one brother, Elisha Brooks, responded, “I think that I cannot ascertain the difference without spending more time than I can now devote to that purpose.”

Brooks Brothers was by no means the only "shoddy millionaire." Profiteers materialized throughout the North. Some sold the government shoddy uniforms that were non-regulation color, causing many soldiers' deaths from "friendly fire."

Harpers Weekly described shoddy in 1861 as “a villainous compound, the refuse stuff and sweepings of the shop, pounded, rolled, glued, and smoothed to the external form and gloss of cloth.”

In 1861, there were a couple dozen millionaires in New York City; by 1865, millionaires in the city numbered in the hundreds. One even included the mayor, who in his role as procurement officer awarded Brooks Brothers its contract for uniforms.

The New York Herald proclaimed, "This is the age of shoddy. The new brownstone palaces on Fifth Avenue, the new equipages at the Park, the new diamonds which dazzle unaccustomed eyes, the new people who live in the palaces, and ride in the carriages, and wear the diamonds and silks―all are shoddy."

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