Work Wear Corporation, Inc. was founded in 1915 by Samuel Rosenthal in Cleveland, Ohio, as the Cleveland Overall Company to manufacture industrial work clothes. In 1919, Rosenthal bought the National Railroad Overall Company, maker of bib overalls and other work garments. In the 1920s, Cleveland Overall Company transformed the uniform industry by providing work garments on a rental basis. To increase both profits and its customer base, Rosenthal successfully marketed the concept of providing employers with rental uniforms for their employees that would always be clean, in good repair, and have an identifiable company logo. He then invested in laundries which cleaned and repaired the uniforms rented by his customers. After operating at several locations, the company settled at 1768 E. 25th St. Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1941 the firm established Buckeye Garment Rental in Cleveland as a research center for further development in uniform design and manufacture. During World War II it produced garments for the military and for wartime production workers. To retain its leadership, Cleveland Overall expanded its line to include coveralls, pants, shirts, shop coats, and protective clothing. Under Leighton Rosenthal, son of the founder, Cleveland Overall became the publicly held Work Wear, Inc., and stock sales permitted it to acquire industrial laundries in the 1960s. Work Wear was charged with controlling the manufacture of industrial garments under the Clayton Antitrust Act in 1968. In a complex spinoff 9 years later, the company ARA Services acquired Work Wear's laundry operations in 1977. Although the company retained its headquarters in Cleveland, it did not make clothes here after 1984. It employed 6,400 people worldwide and had sales of $165 million in 1985. Work Wear became a privately owned company when Paine Webber Capital, a subsidiary of Paine Webber Group, Inc., of New York City, acquired it in Mar. 1986. The company sold its 4 European operations for $9.2 million in Dec. 1988 and moved its headquarters to Greensboro, NC, in 1990.