Alpha Wins First DOD Contracts

When Alpha Industries began operations in October 1959, it initially survived by completing subcontracting work for several Knoxville apparel contractors. However, Alpha's founder, Samuel Gelber, knew his company’s survival depended on securing more consistent work, so he immediately began to bid on outerwear contracts under the Alpha Industries name. In December 1959, just two months after its founding, Alpha was awarded its own U.S. Department of Defense contracts and soon began production of the N-3B parka and the Navy shipboard shirt.

The nylon N-3B parka was developed by the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1950s and was the last in a series of very successful extreme cold weather parkas first introduced in the 1940s. It was used primarily by air crews working in very cold weather conditions. The version made by Alpha in 1959 featured a sage green nylon shell, heavy wool interlining, and real coyote fur trim on the hood. It also had the Air Force “Hap Arnold” insignia stenciled on the sleeve. The N-3B parka would prove to be an important silhouette for Alpha in the coming decades.

Although the company had some quality control issues making the Navy shipboard shirt, it was able to enlist the help of Gelber’s business associate, Herman “Breezy” Wynn, to quickly ramp up the training of employees and improve the technical capabilities of the company. By the end of its first year in business, Alpha Industries was well positioned for the next decade when the need for government manufacturers would grow significantly.

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