A Legacy of Practicality
Ida was preparing the final stages to dinner on a brisk January night in 1903 in her home in east central Wisconsin. As darkness set in and the temperature fell, she waited for her husband, George, to return from his job on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. Minutes ticked by.
George was a 27 year old, fit, hard working son of immigrants. George loved two things: baseball, and Ida.
Just a few years previous, as forest fires raged on Chequamegon Bay and the Menomonee River, with damage reaching over $1,000,000, George and Ida were figuring out life together. Ida, who was a strong personality and a woman of conviction, urged her husband to move on from his first love – baseball - if he had any intentions of being with her for the rest of his life. Ida, and perhaps more importantly to her, Ida's father, felt it was time for the young man to find a better paying job to support his new family.
George played professional baseball for the Kaukauna Baseball Organization in the Wisconsin Professional League. Kaukauna is a city in Outagamie and Calumet counties. It is situated on the Fox River, approximately 100 miles north of Milwaukee. At the turn of the century, Kaukauna was a hard-working river city.
Kaukauna is a Native American word that means, "portage" or "place of pike." At that time, Kaukauna was known as "The Lion on the Fox." But for a local baseball hero, George “Stormy” Kromer, it was simply a fond memory of days gone by - the days of his first love, baseball.
As Ida kept the dinner hot, George came home angry and as hot as the Stew she had boiling on the stovetop. He was repeatedly losing his cap on the wind-whipped locomotive where he now worked. That day his cap was snatched away – again! This was the final straw. An engineer’s hat was expensive and the Wisconsin cold was crippling.
That night, George asked Ida to stitch a new-fashioned wool baseball cap with a higher crown, a pull-down earband to keep it snug, and a soft, cloth visor. That night, in 1903, Ida would design for George “Stormy” Kromer a hat that would eventually become a legend.
Shortly thereafter, Stormy’s fellow engineers began to beg him for their own six-panel cap, that fit snugly and resisted the thieving wind. Ida’s sewing machine began to sing. Due to the cap’s popularity the Kromers went into full production, and formed the Kromer Cap Company in 1903.
The hat design included six panels that came to a point at the top. That design was unique; special to the railroad men, and became part of their identity. Originally, the hat was made from wool. Later, however, a summer version, made from pillow ticking, was in use among modern American train engineers. Variants with red or blue polka dots were popular in the early 20th century.
For years, as railroad men would enter a new town, they would routinely enter an eatery or hotel and ask the customers if there were any “Six-Pointers” inside. This was their unique way of creating camaraderie with railroad co-workers, a tough, but special blend of men.
In 1919, when the demand for caps overwhelmed the Kromer’s small, Kaukauna, Wisconsin operation, Ida and her helpers moved production to a bona fide factory on North Broadway in Milwaukee, where the company continued to grow, eventually employing an average of 25 to 30 workers for decades.
To meet him was to never forget him. “Stormy” was genuine, and that spirit reached every corner of a company he never planned to start in the first place. He simply wanted a piece of headgear that worked as hard as he did. One cap led to a thousand and then many millions, and a century later, Stormy’s hats are still being made.
George "Stormy" Kromer died in 1970 at the age of 94, but his hat lives on.
George Kromer sold the company in 1965 to Richard Grossman. In 2001, the Kromer Cap Company planned to cease production of Stormy Kromer caps. Bob Jacquart, owner of Jacquart Fabric Products, purchased the rights to the caps and production moved to Ironwood, Michigan. Stormy Kromer Mercantile was formed, and the hat was re-born. With the new birth came a new following. Production has increased to over 50,000 caps annually, a twenty-times increase.
Today, an entire Stormy Kromer product line exists with multi-million dollar sales globally. Stormy loved baseball and Ida. But Ida loved only Stormy. Her gift to him, born from love and necessity, lives on, 115 years later, which begs the question: whose legacy is that hat anyway? Stormy Kromer’s, or Ida’s?
So, the next time you’re faced with a challenge or you see a problem to solve, don’t hesitate to create. It can make all the difference, and perhaps, if done well, create a lasting legacy for you and a brand.
And that is why, Legacy Matters…
Featurette No. 8 (c) www.legacyletters.xyz
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