T-shirt History: From Undershirts to Custom Screen Prints

"Property of" t-shirts - see 1932

In 1932, “property of” t-shirts raised in popularity at the University of Southern California. Students even stole to get these shirts. (Layout: QFB-16)

Did you know that the t-shirt did not exist before the early 1900s? It made its first appearance in 1913, as an issued undershirt for the U.S. Navy. Screen printing didn’t make its debut until plastisol ink was invented in 1959! Below, is a timeline sharing some of the notable dates in t-shirt’s history.

1913: Navy – T-shirts are issued to the U.S. Navy to be worn under their uniforms.

1920: Dictionary – The word “t-shirt” is added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

1932: College Athletics – “Property of USC” is added to football workout t-shirts at the University of Southern California. Students like the shirts so much that they start stealing them from their team. The school starts adding the saying to t-shirts to prevent additional crime.

1938: Sears – T-shirts are introduced at a popular retailer, Sears, and sold for 24 cents. These shirts were then known as sailor shirts or the “gob.”

1942: Life Magazine – One of the earliest printed t-shirts makes an appearance in LIFE magazine; the logo for the Air Corps Gunnery School.

1948: Politics – The first political t-shirt was created to endorse Governor Thomas E. Dewey in the presidential election. It had the tagline, “Dew-it-with-Dewey.”

1950: Mickey Mouse – Tropix Togs, a Miami based apparel company, purchases the rights to be the exclusive seller of Mickey Mouse t-shirts.

1959: Screen printing – Plastisol ink is invented, introducing screen printing on t-shirts.

1969: Tie-dye – Tie-dyed t-shirts become popular in Woodstock as a representation of individuality. Originally, Rit dye, which was used to create tie-dye, was primarily used to add color to drapes and linens.

1977: I heart NY – “I heart NY” shirts make an appearance after creator, Milton Glaser, sketches the logo on a napkin.

1978: Origins Weaver Screen Print is created as a garment lettering service for sporting goods retailers.

1984: Protests – Shirts were made with the saying “Frankie Say Relax” to protest the ban of the song “Relax” by the band Frankie Goes to Hollywood on BBC radio. These shirts were made by their label owner, Paul Morley.

1985: Origins – Weaver Screen Print starts its transformation from a printing service to a product manufacturer.

1990: Hard Rock Café – The Hard Rock Café creates a signature t-shirt line where each t-shirt has the name of the city that the restaurant is located in. Travelers can collect a t-shirts from around the world.

1990: Origins – Weaver Screen Print is renamed to Transfer Express when it begins to co-market custom transfers with Stahls’ Inc.

Today, customized t-shirts are vastly popular and worn on a daily basis. Here at Transfer Express, we make it easy to create a custom t-shirt business by providing a database of 5,000+ Easy Prints design layouts to create your heat applied transfers. Making it easy to enter into this market, and create custom t-shirts!


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Great post Thanks for sharing a very powerful post.


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