REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) begins in Seattle in 1938.

  • By Priscilla Long
  • Posted 12/25/2000
  • Essay 2904

In 1938, Lloyd and Mary Anderson form a co-op in Seattle through which climbers can pool their resources to obtain hard-to-find climbing equipment in Europe. They call the little business The Coop. This is the future REI (Recreational Equipment Incorporated). The first 23 members each contribute one dollar to build group buying power. At the end of the first year, 82 members receive dividends.

In 1955, the Andersons hired climber Jim Whittaker (b. 1929) as a paid manager. (Whittaker was the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest.) The co-op grew, changed its name to REI, and became the large retail outlet that it is today. In 1999, REI had 55 retail stores selling outdoor gear in 23 states. By 2005, the number of retail stores had grown to 71.

REI has (in 2005) more than two million active members who get a patronage refund of about 10 percent. It is the country's largest consumer cooperative.


Jim Whittaker, A Life on the Edge: Memoirs of Everest and Beyond (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1999), 63-70; REI website accessed on December 25, 2000 and again on January 10, 2005 (; "Recreational Equipment, Inc.," Funding Universe website accessed May 9, 2012 (
Note: This essay was updated on January 10, 2005; and corrected on May 9, 2012.

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