Wool baseball caps have been making something of a comeback in recent years, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re comfortable, warm, and a heck of a lot sturdier than a traditional ball cap. So how is it these caps came to be? You can thank Stormy Kromer for that.
Who is Stormy Kromer?
George “Stormy” Kromer was a semi-professional baseball player with a bad temper and even worse ability to keep his hats on his head. After retiring from baseball he began working as a railroad engineer up in the windiest parts of the Midwest. He had a reputation as being somewhat of a grouch, hence the nickname, but he was also known for being incredibly genuine and hardworking.
The story goes that Stormy has a terrible time trying to keep his traditional baseball caps from flying off into the wind, so one blustery day in 1903 he asked his wife Ida to make him one that could withstand the weather. He needed something warm and comfortable, but durable enough to withstand the confusing Midwest climate. If you’ve ever lived there, you know what we mean. Snowstorms in April, anyone?
Ida got to work sewing together a cap made of wool that included a pull-down earband to keep it in place, a cloth visor and a higher crown. Thus, the Stormy Kromer cap was born.
The Start of a Business
Stormy strolled back into work the next day and—this is how we imagine it—flocks of his fellow coworkers hit their knees in worship of the sheer awesomeness of Stormy’s new hat. It was both ergonomic and quite fashionable. It was clearly ahead of its time.
Literally all of the fellas in his shop wanted one. Poor Ida knew there was no way she could keep up with this outlandish demand so she and Stormy got to work on securing a factory. They turned their sights toward Milwaukee, because why not? Out of their new factory they managed to produce and sell 1,200 caps before deciding they were going to need a bigger boat…err, shop.
It was around 1909, six years after the first Stormy Kromer cap came to be, when they finally settled in a run-down brick building in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Stormy, Ida and three other women managed to hold down the fort quite well for the next ten years before business boomed and it became too much for them.
Too Big for Their Britches
Stormy Kromer Mercantile packed up camp and headed back to Milwaukee in search of a bigger home. Over the next 30 years sales of the Kromers’ caps continued to grow, causing them to move warehouses twice in search of larger space to accommodate demand. They also hired dozens of workers to help those poor ladies out. They needed a vacation every now and then, you see. It’s tough sewing six-panel caps by hand day in and day out.
Up until this point their primary market had been the railroad industry workers, but as the years went by and cars became widely available they began losing customers. It was time for a change.
The modern men didn’t need as much protection from the outdoors as the railroad engineers, so Ida and Stormy put their heads together and decided that cotton was the way to go. Their new design and fabric appealed to welders and pipeline workers and a new era was born.
Death and Rebirth
It was around 1965 when Stormy Kromer fell victim to poor health and handed over responsibility for his company to a new owner. Sales steadily declined for decades afterwards, until a savior arose. Bob Jacquart, owner of Jacquart Fabric Products, purchased the rights to the Stormy Kromer caps in 2001.
Jacquart was bold with his plans to expand the Kromer line and began fashioning shirts, vests, and camouflage hunting caps under the Kromer name. Eventually he devled into the world of women’s fashion and named a new version of the hat, with a shorter brim and more feminine colors, named after Ida Kromer herself. Since then sales have skyrocketed and the Kromer name continues to live on as one of the finest, American-made products in the world.