Gerry Cunningham was for many years was quite a mountaineer in his own right. He was friends with many of the big name climbers of the 50s and 60s. Gerry supplied the likes of Barry Bishop, Lute Jerstad, Willie Unsoeld, Tom Hornbein, Pete Schoening, Bob Craig, Dee Molenaar, Art Gilkey, Charlie Houston, and Bob Bates with the GERRY Himalayan Tent and other GERRY gear. Gerry counted among his accomplishments making first ascents in the Canadian Rockies with Dr. Jerry More, (Dr. More organized the first successful ascent of Mt. McKinley's West Buttress route (Denali); and was also one of Barry Bishop's climbing partners Dr. More also donated to me a copy of a short film that has Gerry and his family demonstrating the concept of lightweight backpacking for families.Pete Cunningham and David Cunningham and Penny Cunningham.
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GERRY'S speciality in the company's early years became its Gerry Himalayan Tent, a stout A-frame design with two flexible mid-poles (wands). In the history of gear, Gerry's tent began to obsolete the Whymper and Mummery tents of earlier times, link to my Vintage tents... The Gerry Himalayan tent was used extensively on major expeditions from its introduction in about 1953. It was quite a large and heavy tent, at nearly 12 pounds and floor dimensions of 138 inches x 60 inches wide; it was a generous 3-man tent indeed. After awhile, Gerry designed a smaller brother named the "Mountain Tent," which was also orange, but much downsized and with only a single mid-pole, definitely a more cramped 2-man style of tent, but much lighter and still very strong....The first image on this page shows one of these tents (I can't tell which) being field-tested right above Gerry's home near Ward, Colorado. His wife Ann Cunningham is in the picture, seen with the tent and another famous Gerry design, the "CWD" pack (Controlled Weight Distribution) ....The two catalog images below are from Gerry's 1963 catalog. The first image shows the Himalayan tent in action on the K2 in 1953. The second image highlights a major event in the history of American mountaineering--- the first AMERICAN expedition to climb Mt. Everest!. So that you may read the historic text, I have transcribed below the image the historic text from the section: "These Are The Men."
"These are the Men"1963. (Quoted from the GERRY catalog above): "Part of the final team chosen for the first American attempt on Mt. Everest during their Mt. Rainier shakedown. Back row: Gil Roberts, Barry Corbett (Gerry dealer in Jackson, Wyoming), Dave Dingman. Front row: Will Siri, Norman Dyhrenfurth (leader), Disk Emerson, Dr. Tom Hornbein, Jim Whittaker pulling, and Lute Jerstad watching." This photo shows 9 of the 19 Americans who were on the Expedition....My commentary: the Expedition did successfully place five of its members on the summit, including "Big Jim" Whittaker on May 1, 1963 (click here to see the enormous honor bestowed by the gear industry on Jim in 1992).....A very interesting backstory is that famed "dirtbag" climber Fred Beckey was passed over by Dyhrenfurth in favor of Whittaker because Beckey was not regarded as a good team player (probably true!)....
Two weeks later, Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein made a first ascent of the West Ridge route, while Lute Jerstad and Barry Bishop ascended the South Col route that Sir Edmund Hillary had done on the mountain's first ascent in 1953 (Lute and Tom are shown in the picture above; please click here to see a 1972 picture of Lute Jerstad climbing on Mt. Hood, Oregon)..... However, tragedy marred the Expedition's accomplishments when Jake Breitenbach was killed in the Khumbu icefall early in the expedition (Jake is not shown in the image above).. Tragedy also nearly demolished the four summit climbers, who were forced to spend the night high on the mountain, suffering serious frostbite.....For his heroic rescue of four stranded climbers on the 1963 expedition, Dr. Dave Dingman received the Hubbard medal from President John F. Kennedy. Dr. Dingman conducted a successful practice in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in Salt Lake City and rose to the rank of Professor at the University of Utah Department of Surgery. . At least three of the Expedition members maintained strong ties to the Everest area throughout their lives (Barry Bishop (main photographer for the Expedition), Lute Jerstad and Gil Roberts). Link to an excellent account of the Expedition from National Geographic, click here.
Here's a picture of later GERRY brand tent: a "Mountain II" from the 1970s. Although Gerry himself had left the company by then, the design looks very similar to the designed-by Gerry tent called the "Mountain" found in the 1965 catalog, advertised as "Our lightest high altitude tent." That tent was also orange; it cost $130, and weighed in at 7 1/4 pounds without stakes, so was actually a lot of tent for the weight. This later tent is perhaps circa 1974. It's build quality is excellent, and it's highly reinforced in all the right places. Image compliments of Dan Dunbar, a gear guy in Canada.
CORDLOCKS: Gerry Cunningham invented and patented the "Drawstring Clamp" sometime in those very early years (the early 1950s). Later to become known as the "Cordlock," this small device replaces knots and has become omni-present in today's society, even reaching into areas having nothing to do with backpacking or climbing!
ULTRALIGHT STOVE: Pressurized cannister gas stoves (such as are so common nowadays) were introduced relatively late in the History of Gear, probably in the late 1960s with the French imported "Bluet" stoves....... A few years later, Gerry marketed a cannister stove, and it was undoubtably one of the first manufactured in the USA. As we have seen, Gerry had a long-time commitment to ultra-light camping, and the cute little GERRY LP gas stove folded up tiny into its flat, roundish aluminum case. Gerry's pioneering presence as a environmentally conscious manufacturer is well stated on the side of each cannister: "HELP PRESERVE OUR ENVIRONMENT. CARRY ME BACK WITH YOU. I'M WORTH 5 CENTS ON A NEW CAN OF FUEL." The stove dates from GERRY's later years, when the company was marking its products as made in Denver, CO instead of Boulder..Gerry himself says the stove was in the GERRY catalogs beginning in 1972, and lasting only a few years due to a company decision a few years later to drop its backpacking product line to concentrate on GERRY skiwear.
I have had several inquiries from folks seeking fuel cannisters for this particular stove.* THESE CANNISTERS ARE NO LONGER PRODUCED. ... The original cannisters were a bit over 4 1/2 inches tall, and had a "net weight" of 6 1/4 oz., and another place on the can stated: "Contains: a minimum of 178 grams of liquefied petroleum gas."
Notes-- * this little stove is commonly referred to as the GERRY Mini-Stove. Gerry states that he did not invent it, but also he states that he doesn't believe that Hank Roberts, who was a Boulder fly-tyer," actually developed this stove either. In any case, the "Hank Roberts" brand stove was very similar and came first. Over its years of production it was variously named the "Hank Roberts Mini-Mark I, II, or III," made in Boulder/Denver. By the late 70s, an ex-GERRY employee had begun to produce the stove under the name EFI, so one can find those versions from time to time, also.
Stove Adapter for modern fuel cannisters: Brent P. provided me with the picture to the upper right in July 2010, showing a custom adapter for both a GERRY mini stove and a Hank Roberts mini stove.
Sept. 8th, 2010. I've now got my own older model GERRY Mini stove
adapted to modern cartridges, such as the MSR ones shown above.
The parts required for my model came from two foreign sources,
thousands of miles apart! The key was Mr. Henrik M, a Danish citizen.
He made for me a small metal adapter about 3/4 inch long. It adapted
the base of my specific GERRY burner assembly to accept a fuel
tube, such as shown above. He provided me with the information
that I could order a fuel tube either from eBay, or directly from
the source's website in Singapore: www.plus2city.com..The
price was about $3 for my "Spare gas tube TK800 Stove"
part .... Update: May 22, 2011-- I am no longer in contact with
Henrik, so have no source anymore for the adapters that connect
your old stove to the modern fuel tubes! Another note is that
not all of the mini stove models are the same-- some will require
a different adapter than mine. The picture to the left shows my
new parts nested into the original aluminum case-- it all fits
MODERN BABY BACKPACKS, the Kiddie Pack: Gerry and his wife Ann also experimented with the first modern baby carriers to meet their own needs of having 2 and then 3 small children and living in a very isolated high mountain community, Ward, Colorado..... After some years, Gerry joined forces with Meg Hansson, an old Antioch college friend who had moved to Boulder. Together they patented their original design in 1963* as their "Gerry Kiddie Carrier." Innovations included the use of lightweight aluminum for its "S" curved frame, and lightweight nylons for the material. It was to sell for 30+ years and became a very big money-maker!
Many of us as infants and toddlers spent many hours in the out-of-doors in a Gerry Kiddie Carrier, and the close parent-to-child contact these carriers promoted led to life-long pleasant associations to the outdoor world. Gerry and Ann's lifelong friend from Antioch College days, Meg Hansson, ran the spin-off "Gerrico" company for decades. When I presented a history of gear talk in Boulder in June 2011, Meg was in my audience, along with Gerry's daughter Penny. Sadly, in October 2016, Meg passed away. Image note: Meg Hansson in the late 50s.
Gerry Cunningham himself was 84 years old in 2006 when I first began talking with him. He was living in the warmer West Coast climate of southern Arizona. There, he pursued another passionate outdoor interest, sailing the Sea of Cortez. Interestingly, his family and the family of Meg Hansson had sailed there decades before, camping on the beach during a couple Christmas vacations. In 2006, Gerry was well-known in sailing circles for his line of sailor's charts..... He retired from GERRY (the company) nearly 40 years ago (it was in 1970)..... Gerry told me that he has been aware that the brand name "GERRY" has remained in use in the recent past (2006).....My research at this point has not clarified if true "GERRY" gear is still being manufactured.(Source: emails with Gerry Cunningham)....
R.I.P. Sad news from 2010 is that Gerald Arthur Cunningham, born
2/17/1922, passed away at his home in southern Arizona on May
15, 2010. His wife and life-long companion had passed away about
a year before. We have lost one of America's greatest gear innovators.
He was a man who had a lifelong message for us all: "Travel
light and leave no trace." In my own experience with him,
he was unstintingly kind and helpful.
Please Note: All Material below, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com (email@example.com). Some of the material below is derived from interviews and/or correspondence with Gerry Cunningham. Other contributions came from Julie Johnson, who sewed many of the Himalayan tents and from Meg Hansson's daughter Allyn. Also contributing were some ex-Holubar employees.... Editors: Please contact me if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon (firstname.lastname@example.org.....Sponsors: if you are an outdoor product entity interested in sponsoring this History of Gear website, please contact me for details.