IRONWOOD - You probably recognize the name "Stormy Kromer".|
You probably also know what the recognizable hats look like from seeing them around the Northwoods.
But do you know where and how they're made?
George "Stormy" Kromer was a semi-pro baseball player and railroad worker in Kaukauna in the early 1900s.
But old Stormy had a problem.
"He worked on the Chicago-Northwestern line for a long time, and he kept losing his hats in the wind, riding the trains. He brought a baseball hat home and asked Ida to sew a band around the hat, and the Stormy Kromer was born," says Gina Thorsen, the Stormy Kromer Vice President.
Before long, they took off, and were being mass produced in Milwaukee.
But that business was about to die in the early 2000s.
To save it, an Upper Peninsula family bought the brand and moved the production to Ironwood.
"We find that people who have hats almost think of it as a special club. When you see someone else wearing a hat, you might walk by and say, 'nice hat'," Thorsen says.
Since the hats started being made in Ironwood, they've gained even more popularity.
That's allowed the company to branch out into womens' Stormy Kromers, as well as other cold weather apparel.
That success has made it a staple of the community's economy.
"Here in Ironwood, it's a small town. Industries have left. Businesses have closed. To us it's really important to be able to provide jobs here with benefits and to treat them well and to provide them a place where they can spend their career," Thorsen says.
About 150 people work for the company in Ironwood.
They make hats that have become a symbol for people in the Northwoods and U.P.