In 1903, a cantankerous railroad engineer and semi-pro baseball player named George “Stormy” Kromer began the Kromer Cap Co., in Kaukauna, Wis.
It was a company born of a practical need. As a railroad engineer, Kromer often stuck his head out the window of the engine to get a better view, causing his cap to fly off. He lost so many hats that he asked his wife Ida to sew ear flaps onto his wool baseball cap. The cap that Ida made launched a company.
“At the various stops along the train route, people took an interest in the cap, so that was really the birth of the Kromer Cap business,” says Richard Grossman, who bought the company from Kromer in 1965. “Ida manufactured as many as she could handle. Subsequently, as the company grew, they moved into Milwaukee.”
Kromer had been a semi-professional baseball player before marrying Ida. But, Ida’s father insisted that Kromer needed to find a real job so he went to work for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. He didn’t completely relinquish baseball though. Kromer owned a semi-pro baseball team and many of his workers played on the team. He made them practice in the alley behind the factory.
Nancy Going, from the Town of Cedarburg, got her cap as a Christmas present from her husband.
“Mine is pretty enough that you could wear it anywhere, I think,” says Going. “But, it’s more of a sporty hat. It’s not your Easter bonnet. But, if we get snow, it might be.”
“The basic men’s cap construction has stayed the same from the beginning,” says Grossman.
The caps are no longer made in Wisconsin but just across the border in Ironwood, Michigan.
Music: Spring Green’s Hank Dedrick playing “Give Me My Heart Back”