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Stormy Kromer hats: A Yooper tradition develops a cult-like following



I’m a sucker for hats. Ball caps, cowboy hats, straw hats, watch caps and lately, Stormy Kromer hats.

We picked up our first Stormy Kromer hats while doing some winter camping last February in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Seemed like every Yooper we saw was wearing one. So Jennifer and I both got one, me a rakish black, Jennifer’s a demure grey with pink trim.

As we returned from that trip but kept wearing our hats, we met lots of other people who either had one, knew someone who had one or wanted one.

Lots of people call them an Elmer Fudd hat. Don’t do that.

This is a Stormy Kromer hat, steeped in UP tradition. Here’s the official story, from the Stormy Kromer website:

George “Stormy” Kromer was a real guy – a semi-pro baseball player and railroad engineer. Not the kind of guy you’d expect to start a clothing company, in other words, but one who happened to create a cap that became known for long-comfort and the ability to stay snug, even in the fiercest winds.

This final feature, in fact, is the reason he made his famous headgear in the first place, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Mr. Kromer, known as “Stormy” to the folks who knew his temper, was born in 1876 in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. He grew up with baseball and would eventually play on nearly 30 semi-pro teams throughout the Midwest. He might have continued to play that field, too, but he met Ida, and before Ida’s father would allow her hand in marriage, our ballplayer needed to find real work.

That meant the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and long, cold trips across the plains. Stormy was an engineer, and to see where he was headed, he had to stick his head out the window – into the wind. Mother Nature stole his cap more than once, and as the story goes, he set out to get her back.

In 1903, he asked Ida (now his wife and an excellent seamstress) to modify an old baseball cap to help keep it on in windy weather. The all-cloth cap with the soft, canvas visor was a departure from the traditional fedoras of the day, but it was more comfortable and because of its six-panel fit, it stayed put.

Soon other railroad workers wanted one of Stormy Kromer’s caps for themselves, and when Ida could no longer keep up with demand, they hired a few employees and the business was born.

A lot of things have changed since those first few caps – new colors, new fabrics, new styles – but we haven’t changed the way we make ‘em. They’re hand-stitched right here in the good old U-S-of-A, and they’re still made to fit better than anything you’ve had next to your noggin. Stormy Kromer caps are true to the original, and that means you get all the comfort and function that made them famous.

Wear one, and you’ll know what we mean.

I was going to do a Stormy Kromer story in February, when we got our hats. But I decided to hold off until I could visit the actual factory where they were made, in Ironwood, at the far western end of the UP, right on the Wisconsin border. So when we were there on our annual RV tour of the UP, I made an appointment with Bob Jacquart, the CEO, and arranged for a factory tour.

Again, from the website:

In 2001, Bob Jacquart (CEO of Jacquart Fabric Products, in Ironwood, Michigan) got wind that the Kromer Cap Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was about to discontinue production of its legendary Blizzard Cap.

Bob had a mind to make a call to Milwaukee and see if he couldn’t make those quirky wool caps a part of his sewing factory. A month later, Bob was the proud new owner of the Kromer Blizzard Cap, and Ironwood officially became home to the legend it had always struck a certain sentimental claim to. You see, folks in Ironwood (and the rest of the U.P.) have been wearing Kromer caps for generations, and it seems this has always been their true home, where the North Wind blows cold and the snow falls harder than almost anywhere else.

When the cap came to Ironwood, Bob made a few subtle changes to the iconic headgear, changing the name from the Kromer Blizzard Cap to the Stormy Kromer Cap, and adding Stormy’s signature and the founding date to the back of every cap.

Over the next 10 years, Bob invested in Stormy Kromer – particularly through branding and marketing – and today, annual production of the caps is 20 times what it was in 2001.

Bob and his crew have also expanded the product line significantly – adding outerwear, apparel, and a full women’s line in honor of the debt we all owe Ida for creating this winter masterpiece.Today, Stormy Kromer products are still hand-stitched in the U.S. of A. It might be cheaper to sew things overseas, but it just wouldn’t feel right. That’s why every piece of Stormy Kromer gear is hand-crafted in America from the finest fabrics on earth. That not only makes for a legendary cap or article of clothing, it means the hundreds of hard-working folks we employ in the heartland get to keep working hard. And if that’s the style of authenticity you’re looking for, well, you just found the perfect fit.

The hats have really become cult items. Hollywood and rock stars wear them. They're showing up in trendy magazines, and a new marketing campaign is about to make them even better known.

The Stormy Kromer factory in Ironwood welcomes tours. Just stop in next time you are through the area. A wall of photos tells the history and story of this cool hat. You can watch the Yooper ladies in the sewing room assembling the hats. And afterwards, shop a retail area of the factory to get your own.

And yes, I got a new Stormy Kromer, a light weight summer tan. You can see it at the end of my video.

Stormy Kromer rocks!


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