Founding + Heritage


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Founder Leslie Leroy Irvin creator of the parachute and the Irving Air Chute Company.


Founding

Leslie Leroy Irvin was an inventive man with a passion for adventure. So much so, that in 1919, he invented and hand-stitched a parachute as part of the Army Air Service’s parachute research team – then used it to make aviation history as the first-ever, free-fall parachute jumper. His first fall was from over 1500 feet over McCook Field in Ohio, USA. That single ambitious jump brought in orders for more chutes, which launched his aviation manufacturing facility, Irving Air Chute Company. It seems a clerical error added a “g” to Mr. Irvin’s name and the extra consonant stuck as his parachute gained rapid acceptance. By the early 1930’s it was utilized by some 40 air forces around the world.
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Founder Leslie Leroy Irvin creator of the parachute and the Irving Air Chute Company.

Founding

Leslie Leroy Irvin was an inventive man with a passion for adventure. So much so, that in 1919, he invented and hand-stitched a parachute as part of the Army Air Service’s parachute research team – then used it to make aviation history as the first-ever, free-fall parachute jumper. His first fall was from over 1500 feet over McCook Field in Ohio, USA. That single ambitious jump brought in orders for more chutes, which launched his aviation manufacturing facility, Irving Air Chute Company. It seems a clerical error added a “g” to Mr. Irvin’s name and the extra consonant stuck as his parachute gained rapid acceptance. By the early 1930’s it was utilized by some 40 air forces around the world.

Heritage

In 1922, Irvin started a club comprised of individuals whose lives had been saved by a parachute. He called it the “Caterpillar Club” because his original parachutes were made of silk – and caterpillars let themselves down to earth by a silky thread. Their motto “Life depends on a silken thread,” spoke truth for its members.

That same year, Irvin applied his product to automotive applications when he designed and built the first seat belt for a famed auto racer, Barney Oldfield. This innovation led to more growth for his company.

The Second World War

By 1939, the Irving Air Chute Company was the largest parachute manufacturer in the world and stationed in 45 countries and primarily based in Europe.

In 1942, Irving initiated a U.S. Expansion and opened a plant in Lexington, KY, where many of the company’s seat belts would be made.

World War II saw an even greater need for the Irving parachute and Irving delivered. The efforts served the Allies well, saving over 10,000 lives.

The Irving company also had an impact on the way soldiers dressed. Irvin was the creator of the classic leather and sheepskin jacket worn by “fly boys”. Today, the jacket is as popular as ever, more commonly called a ‘bomber’ jacket.

Once WWII came to an end, the company continued to thrive and diversify. Not only did it continue to make seat belts, but manufacturing expanded to clings for cargo handling and canning machinery.

The 70's through the 90's

Finally, in 1970, the uninvited “g” in the “Irving” Air Chute Company was dropped while “Industries” replaced “Air Chute Company.” This official name change not only reflected diversification into fabricated metal products, seat belts, vending machines and approximately ten other areas of expertise, but if properly represented its founder and namesake.

The 70’s were a busy time for Irvin Industries. In ’77, a plant opened in Greenwood, MS, adding another area of expertise where they produced sun visors and arm rests. The success of the company didn’t go unnoticed, because in ’79, the company was acquired by Milton Gordon, the President and CEO of Halle & Stieglitz. A producer in the early days of television, he made a fortune and went on to pursue a number of investments including the acquisition of his investment company.

By the 80’s, Irvin Industries partnered with a small company in Dandridge, TN, by the name of Tennessee Hand Bags. This partnership led to Irvin’s first job in crating seat trim. A small assignment at the time, but it led to bigger things. In 1989, the manufacturing sector of Irvin Industries, Irvin Automotive Products, was acquired by the Takata Corporation, one of the world’s leading automotive OEM suppliers of safety restraint systems.

The Modern Era

While Takata’s other North American Divisions specialized in seat belts, electronics and air bag technology, the Irvin division focused on soft trim components and assemblies for interior automotive applications. That included the production of seat trim on the H-car (series) for Buick. Irvin continued to branch out with manufacturing facilities in Mexico, employing more than 7,200 people. Between 2002 and 2003, the original plant in Greenwood, MS, was closed.

In 2016, the Piston Group decided to get in the game. Former Detroit Piston, Vinnie Johnson saw Irvin as an ideal addition to his line-up to broaden his product line and reach new customers. With the same focus and precision that made him a clutch performer in the heyday of the Detroit Pistons, Vinnie Johnson has created a successful business that continues to grow generating many job opportunities in the Detroit community.

Over the years, since its founding and expansion, Irvin has been there, with continued diversification and growth. Today, we are known for supplying a full line of high-quality interior trim products to OEMs around the globe. Our offerings include seat covers, headrests, cargo shades, barrier nets, armrest and sun visors. With a history of experience and innovation, we eagerly look forward to taking on whatever comes next.