WM. J. Mills

HometownGreenport, New York SpecialtyCanvas Bags Established1880

Wm. J. Mills is Founded

William J. Mills arrives in the small seaport village of Greenport located 100 miles east of New York City on Long Island’s north fork. The village was thriving on the maritime industries of commercial fishing and shipbuilding. The promise of steady work enticed the young sailmaker to move east from his home on Hempstead Harbor where he worked in a family sail loft following his immigration from Scotland. He purchased the small Fordham Sail loft in 1880. While continuing to make sails for sailing yachts of the rich,  and established Wm. J. Mills & Company. A hardworking man he went on to design and build sails for many of the working ships in Greenport’s commercial fleet. Eventually, the family business diversified by making canvas awnings for homes and businesses.

A Return Home

After World War I, the war to end all wars, William J. Mills’ son, Robert L. Mills, returned home from active duty as the captain of a submarine chaser to join the family business. With the sailmaking business established and operated by his father, Robert chose to focus on Cedar Island Oyster Company and pursue riches in the fast-growing oyster industry in Greenport. 

In the late 40’s Cedar Island Oyster company was sold to General Foods. Robert (featured to the left in the picture) returned to the Mills sail loft upon the sale of Cedar Island Oyster Company.

Despite the marine engine, sails were not entirely obsolete. Sails still served small yet crucial roles on commercial and recreational vessels. Sails were used as stabilizers in inclement weather; sails also provided additional speed and were safety precautions in case of engine failure. In addition to their still stable sail business, Wm. J. Mills & Company became well known as the premier awning company for the elite of the Hamptons on Long Island’s south fork.

At the end of World War II, Robert’s son William J. Mills II (Bill), returned home to become active in the business after serving as Navy pilot and graduating from Yale University. It was then that Bill designed the first Mills canvas duffel bag to take on sailing regattas. The bag is still in working condition to this day. 

Recently, the company relaunched the Mills Canvas Bag Line that first became popular in the 1950’s. The Mills Canvas Bag Line has been featured in Vogue magazine, Lucky Magazine, GQ Style and several other high-end boutiques around the world.