History of Gear: Bill Moss and Moss Tents

History of Gear: Bill Moss, Camden, Maine USA

Moss Tent Works founded 1975-76 by C. William Moss in Camden, Maine. Moss Tents have an intense fan following and most models/vintages are highly collectible.... Here's a link to a Moss timeline, as completed by a colleague of mine: http://homepage.mac.com/inov8/Compass/mosshistory.html-- the reader should especially note that Bill Moss was the original inventor of the now-famous "Pop-Tent," That was in 1955, at a time predating everyone else in the U.S. except Roy and Alice Holubar and Gerry Cunningham, and of course the ultra-venerable Eureka Tent Company..... Below is the label from a very early model Pop Tent. You see that the fabric was a heavy cotton duck or the like. The poles were steel. For all its charm and other merits of convenience, the Pop Tent was far too bulky and heavy to ever carry as a backpacker's tent. The nylon and aluminum tents of GERRY and Holubar were far more appropriate for hikers and climbers.

New book about Bill Moss was published 2013. The writer, Marilyn Moss, former CEO of Moss Inc., sent me a copy to review. The book is titled "Bll Moss Fabric Artist & Designer" ISBN: 987-0-9892393-0-1, price: $60 USD. It is 301 pages, "10 x 11.25" format, chock full of color photography and other image content, covering not just Moss' considerable accomplishments in tent technology and design, but his personal history, his large-scale tensile structures, and his legacy in general, which is huge. (01/06/2014). Click here to read my review of the book.

Bill Moss, born 1923, passed away in October 8, 1994, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

2000-probably the date after which the "Moss" label was dropped from tents because MSR bought up the Moss tent designs. A company named Edgeworks had been manufacturing the Moss, Walrus and Armadillo tents in the interim after Moss tents stopped being made in Camden, Maine. A note of interest: the founders of Sierra Designs were quite involved in Walrus Tents, especially founder Bob Swanson....Click to access my six pages about the history of Sierra Designs.

THE MOSS FLAGSHIP, CIRCA 1984.

the flag on top is unique with & w/o rainfly

 

Below is one of the classic Moss tent designs, the Moss Olympic, this ones vintage is shortly before the death of Bill Moss.

Why are Moss tents so revered? Here is my paraphrase of what one Moss expert wrote recently: Moss tents were made with the ultimate attention to detail and durability. Although Moss tents were not designed with a goal of being lightweight, they are known for long-term durability and longevity. There is still a strong following for these tents in Maine and even worldwide, and especially in Japan.... They were first manufactured in Camden, Maine, and one can still get parts made and repairs from a small company in Camden which is composed of several ex-employees of Moss! (Click Link). --- Lastly, apparently Moss was unique in the tent industry in offering a “Double Guarantee,” where not only did their tents carry a lifetime warranty (like several other of the major brands had), but uniquely Moss had a buy-back policy, too, that said they'd buy the tent back from you if you were dissatisfied with it!



 

2000-- Moss brand is discontinued and tents are labelled MSR. Apparently MSR bought the Moss tent patents when the company went out of business....See link to my pages about the history of MSR.

2001--- MSR becomes part of Cascade Designs (maker of the famous Therm-A-Rest camping mattress)

Currently: Moss, Inc. has a website, which writes, "The story of Moss begins with a 20th century visionary: Bill Moss, an artist and industrial design wizard who invented the technology of "tensioned fabric". Bill designed and patented the first "pop-up" tent in 1955. In 1983, Moss brought its expertise in curvilinear designs in lightweight fabric and frame to the Outdoor Retailer Show as a backdrop for their display tents..." Source: website Mossinc.com

In some ways it is difficult to say when "real" Moss tents stopped being made; some say the answer is simply to look at the label on the tent; if it says "Moss" then it counts as a real Moss tent, in terms of collectibility. Others say the most highly desireable Moss tents have the "Camden, Maine" labels. The status of the Moss labels that say "Seattle" represent a more uncertain thing for collectors-- however, still important and collectible....Finally, I have noticed that some of the older MSR tents that are clearly Moss tent Camden in origin are selling for quite amazing amounts of money on eBay lately.


If your main interest is in finding MODERN companies which can supply you with the fabrics and down that you need for outdoor sewing projects, click here to visit my page about that important subject!


Please Note: All Material on this page, 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. I welcome readers contacting me at oldgear@oregonphotos.com with information, pictures or stories about their classic Gear, or about any of the classic outdoor companies. The Moss tent pictures above were contributed by readers and myself. A contributor in Colorado I especially thank for his fine selection of Flagship pictures.


..... I am researching this company's history; Additional reader input is solicited. Click to email me.


Please Note: All Material on this page, 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

Classic Labels: I am always adding to this page full of classic, old equipment labels and readers are welcome to contribute. Here's a label from one of the first companies in the USA to supply climbers and backpackers: it's an REI label from sometime in the 1960s, well before the era when the little climber's cooperative of Seattle exploded into a corporate giant (Recreational Equipment Inc.)..Click here for my REI page.... You'll note the tent shown is a primitive guy-lined A-frame, and the ice axe is wooden-shafted and with the old-fashioned pick/adze-- the axe in particular is a sign that this label dates from well before REI's neighbor in Tacoma had perfected the metal-shafted axe (Larry Penberthy's MSR, aka Mountain Safety Research; click for two pages about MSR . (image contributed by Monte Dodge).

 

Link to the Bill Moss official book website by Marilyn Moss

Main Page: Essays and pictures about the Pioneers of the Outdoor Gear Revolution, 1935-The Present, 45+ pages, five books published, and still ever-expanding!

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Last Revision 03/18/2017

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Moss book by Marilyn Moss, published by Chawezi, Camden, Maine, 2013. 301 pages. Review by Bruce B. Johnson M.A.

"BILL MOSS, FABRIC ARTIST & DESIGNER"

For over ten years I'd been busy researching and writing about the histories of the great American outdoor gear companies and their founders. Why was I then so unfamiliar with the name of Bill Moss? This took some time for me to understand.

My focus had always been on the evolution of gear since World War II, and to me that was gear for hiking, backpacking, recreational climbing and expeditionary climbing. In that sphere, the pioneers were such well-known companies as Holubar Mountaineering, North Face, GERRY Mountain Sports, and others of like persuasion. But as I read Marilyn Moss' tribute to Bill Moss and his long career, I came to understand that Bill Moss had moved in very different circles. Those circles had more to do with architecture, art, portable living structures, and car-camping. The main connection with the gear and gear pioneers that I was more familiar with was Moss Tent Works (1975-1993, in Camden, Maine). Once I had this clear in my mind, I found the book to be very successful in supporting its title with both written and lush graphic content.

Ms. Moss and her collaborators do a thorough job of outlining in words and images the life work of Bill Moss as a fabric artist, master tent-maker, designer of small, medium and enormous tensile structures, and, finally, his importance as a mentor to a new generation of creative designers and artists. Along the way, the book does a great job at impressing the reader with Moss' genius and influence.

The overall objective of the book seems to be that of a tribute to the life and work of Bill Moss. As such, it is not a comparative history or critical analysis of, for example, Moss tents vs. those of the other great tent designers before and after him. Moss' merits stand on their own in this book, and numerous they are. I now want to live in an O'Dome, or maybe an Op 200! Bill Moss' words on page 129 ring in my mind, "A tent to me is a piece of sculpture you can get into."
Many thanks for Marilyn and her collaborators for bringing to the public eye Bill Moss' work and life before it could be lost to history.

Bruce B. Johnson M.A.
The History of Gear Project
www.historyofgear.com
Since 1997

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