Statue of Paul Bunyan wearing a mackinaw jacket, in Bangor, Maine

The mackinaw jacket, also known as a mackinaw coat,[1] is a short double-breasted coat made of a thick heavy woollen material, generally with a red-and-black plaid pattern.[2]


The word "mackinaw" is derived from the Odawa Ojibwe language word "Mitchimakinak" meaning a large turtle.[3] When French Canadian fur traders transliterated the word, they spelled it as Michilimackinac but pronounced the final consonant as "aw" Rather than "c". The British later shortened the word and changed the spelling to match the French pronunciation: Mackinaw (though the French spelling was used for Fort Mackinac when constructed in 1780–81).[4]


The origin of the mackinaw jacket is owed to the British Army Captain Charles Roberts,[5] while commanding Fort St. Joseph along the St. Mary's River near Sault Ste. Marie. Roberts was unable to obtain military-issued winter greatcoats from his general headquarters (G.H.Q.) located in Montreal, Quebec, for the forty soldiers of the 10th Royal Veterans Battalion[6] under his charge.[7][8] The date was November 20, 1811, and Captain Roberts, wrote a letter by candlelight to the then Captain Thomas Evans,[9] adjutant general in Montreal, Quebec, making a requisition, written as follows:

"All hopes having now ceased of the arrival of the schooner Hunter or any other vessel from Amherstburg with the clothing of the detachment, I am this day obtaining, upon my requisition to the storekeeper of the Indian Department, a consignment of heavy blankets, to make their greatcoats, a measure the severity of the climate strongly demands and one, I trust, the commander of the forces will not disapprove of when he is informed that not a remnant remains of the coats served out to them in the year 1807 and that they have received none since." – Captain Charles Roberts[10]

To alleviate this health and safety concern, Captain Roberts acquired a supply of 3.5-point Hudson's Bay point blankets[11] and requisitioned John Askin Jr.,[12] a Métis and keeper of the King's stores at the fort, to design and manufacture forty woollen greatcoats.[7][8] In response, Askin hired his spouse and eight to ten local Caucasian and Métis women to sew the forty greatcoats, which were completed and presented to Roberts within two weeks.[10] Everyone agreed that the newly tailored greatcoats were of superior quality than the British Army standard issue greatcoats and helped to increase the morale of the King's soldiers.[7]

1936 HBC Catalogue

On July 17, 1812, during the War of 1812, Roberts and his men defeated Captain Porter Hanks[13] and the 61 men of the 1st American Artillery Regiment[14] during the siege of Fort Mackinac[15][16] and then occupied Fort Mackinac[17] located near present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan.[7][8] Roberts ordered a new supply of Hudson's Bay point blankets from the British Indian Department for the upcoming winter to manufacture more winter coats. The order called for blue coats; however, the number of blue blankets was inadequate and was supplemented with red and black-on-red tartan pattern blankets.[7] This time Roberts had enlisted the aid of professional tailors and seamstresses to produce the greatcoats.[7]

A despatch runner advised that the long length of the greatcoat was impractical for the deep snow drifts when travelling between Mackinaw and Montreal and requested it be replaced by the shorter double-breasted style, which became known as the mackinaw jacket.[7][18] At first, the mackinaw jacket was produced in blue and was later replaced by the more popular red and black tartan pattern.[7] The new design of the mackinaw jacket was so beneficial for travelling through woods and trails that orders were received from people located from Fort William to Penetanguishene.[7]

More than a century later, when the Hudson's Bay Company began to commercially sell point blanket coats the mackinaw jacket remained popular with their customers.[7][8][18]

"In regard to clothing for the body, I will say right here that the man who invented the mackinaw jacket or coat should have a medal if alive and if dead a monument; for in no other garment is there so much all-around common sense for outdoor work in cold weather." – A. F. Wallace[19]


The mackinaw jacket created as a child of grim necessity for cold weather conditions had a short rhyme written about it, adapted from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade:

When can it's glory fade?
Stout little coat of plaid,
All the north wondered.
Honour the coat they made
Down at the old stockade,
Still made by the hundred.[18][7]

Modern times

In modern times, the mackinaw jacket has proven to be effective as cold weather workwear and popular among the blue-collar working class including farmers, fishermen, lumberjacks, longshoremen, trappers and outdoorsmen.[18] The demand for the mackinaw jacket has decreased by the end of the 20th century; however, it continues to be manufactured by several companies including: C.C. Filson Co., Johnson Woolen Mills and Pendleton Woolen Mills.[18]

In popular culture

Marlon Brando wearing mackinaw in On the Waterfront, 1954.

See also


  1. ^ Collins Dictionary: mackinaw coat
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionary: mackinaw
  3. ^ Mencken, Henry Louis. (1945). The American Language: An Inquiry Into the Development of English in the United States. pg. 173. Knopf.
  4. ^ "A Quick Guide to Spelling and Pronunciation in the Straits Area". Mackinaw City, Michigan: Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau. 25 May 2017. Retrieved December 3, 2021.
  5. ^ "Roberts, Charles". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 2021-11-11.
  6. ^ Abstracts of the 10th Royal Veteran Battalion's Standing Orders
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wooley, H. J. L. (1911). The Sword of Old St. Joe. Chp V, pg 17–21.
  8. ^ a b c d HBC Heritage: Hudson's Bay Point Blanket Coat
  9. ^ Dictionary of Canadian Biography – Captain Evans
  10. ^ a b Parks Canada: The mackinaw coat – a Canadian invention
  11. ^ The HBC Point Blanket: a Canadian icon and a symbol of colonialism
  12. ^ Farrell, David R. (1983). "Askin, John". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. V (1801–1820) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. Retrieved 2015-08-22.
  13. ^ Havighurst, Walter (1966). Three Flags at the Straits. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. pp. 115–121.
  14. ^ Sweeny, Alastair. (2012). Fire Along the Frontier: Great Battles of the War of 1812. (Pg. 85) Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1459704336, 1459704339
  15. ^ Hitsman, J. Mackay; Graves, Donald E. (1999). History The Incredible War of 1812 (pg. 72)]. Toronto: Robin Brass Studio. ISBN 1-896941-13-3.
  16. ^ War of 1812: The British Capture Fort Mackinac
  17. ^ Britain Captures Fort Mackinac
  18. ^ a b c d e f g Cutler, Charles L. (2002). Tracks that speak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 25–26. ISBN 0618065105.
  19. ^ (1912). Fur-Fish-Game magazine. page 114 "Proper Clothing for the Outdoor Man". A. R. Harding Publishing Company.
  20. ^ Chapman, Aaron (2016). The Last Gang In Town: The Epic Story of the Vancouver Police vs. The Clark Park Gang. Arsenal Pulp Press. ISBN 9781551526713.
  21. ^ Forbidden Vancouver - The Last Gang in Town