About the Mallory Hat Company
The oldest hatter in the U.S. and originator of the fedora type hat was founded in 1823 by Ezra Mallory near Danbury Connecticut, a.k.a. “Hat City”.
It had been controlled solely by the Mallory family during its 129 years until 1952 when the John B. Stetson Company bought out the Mallory Hat Company.
History of Mallory Hat Company
Ezra Mallory was born in Redding, Connecticut in 1785, and started the Mallory Hat Company in Danbury Connecticut in 1823. He set up his shop near his home in the Great Plain district of town. He produced high beaver hats called stovepipes that had bell shaped crowns and heavily rolled brims. Ezra started with one hatter and an apprentice in his shop. Furs to make the hats were used from hare, rabbit, beaver, muskrat, and nutria. The skins came mostly from places like Russia, Australia, South America, and Scotland, brought to America by pelt dealers. Beaver plug hats sold for $8 apiece, and plain hats sold for $1.50 and up, and all were of the highest grade. In the early days, Ezra made many styles of hats and sold them mostly via barter as money was scarce. He was not inclined to use the stagecoach, but rather pack his saddle on the horse with a few dozen hats and ride off to Norwalk where vessels departed for New York.
Ezra’s son Ezra A. left school at age 16 to work in the hat shop with his father. Unfortunately Ezra senior died in 1845. His son then moved the shop to Danbury Village. The first machine used by the company was for making naps. The machine turned out from 30 to forty dozen naps a day while a workman making them by hand could only produce maybe 18. Ezra also brought in one of the first sewing machines to his company, but it was a difficult sell with his employees. He eventually brought in other machines like mixing, blowing and forming machines, followed later by stretching, blocking and punching machines.
The younger Mallory also bought pelts from the Indians. He went to Canada, where he purchased beaver, muskrat and other skins. He also accepted goods for his hats as well as cash, as the formal cash system wasn’t adopted until 1850. In 1854, two years after the railroad went into operation, the Mallory plant was moved to the Montgomery shop on West Street in Danbury.
By 1856, E. A. Mallory Company had a capital of $20,000 and employed 95 workers. It annually manufactured 8640 dozen hats which were sold for $155,000. It was also somewhere around this time that the Mallory Company began the manufacture of soft hats as the demand for this type of hat became very great. The company suffered a major setback during the Civil War, which resulted in the loss of the southern hat market. As a result, Ezra A. lost everything. For a time, during the war, he sought employment in New York, but soon returned to Danbury and even though he was near age 60, he restarted the business.
Ezra’s oldest son Charles became actively associated with his father in the management of the business in 1872. As a result, the business name was changed to E.A. Mallory & Sons. Growth from this point on was fast, and Mallory hats were being made in all the various styles the fashions of the day demanded. It helped tremendously that now all the main cities of New England were now only a few hours away by train ride.
By 1886 the enterprise had grown such that the company reputation preceded itself, and travelling salesmen were selling Mallory hats all over. Ezra A.’s younger son, William E. Mallory, was admitted to membership in the firm. His older brother Charles continued to be active in the operations of the company while William became the sales manager as well as treasurer. In 1893, Harry B. Mallory, Charles’ son, joined the Mallory Company, and in 1908 he was admitted to the partnership.
Their father, Ezra A., continued to supervise the business in general until his retirement in 1897. In the same year, Frederick T. Joy joined the company in a minor capacity, but never missed an opportunity to learn. In 1904, when the partnership was incorporated into the Mallory Hat Company, Frederick became a stockholder and director in the firm and then eventually vice president.
Machinery continued to replace hand labor in many operations of hat making. Under the guidance of Charles Mallory, the company was transformed from a shop to a factory. At this point, hats were made almost all by machine as opposed to the way his grandfather made all his hats which was by hand mixing the furs.
The E.A. Mallory & Sons Company continued to grow until it was the second largest manufacturer in the country by the earliest part of the 20th century. By the early 1920’s, Mallory employed hundreds of men and women in many buildings. The binding room at the Mallory Hat Factory made up 20 percent of the work force in the city’s hat shops. The sprawling enterprise consisted of 21 brick concrete and frame buildings varying from one to six stories in height. The company was also very strong financially. A company balance sheet on October 31, 1925 showed total assets of $2, 166, 759.62 with 14252 shares of common stock outstanding and 7500 shares of preferred stock outstanding. This was most impressive for a company that was controlled by Ezra Mallory and his descendents for more than a century.
A press release from The Hat Institute at 358 First Avenue, New York City dated June 9, 1932 showed Frederick T. Joy, vice president of the Mallory Hat Company, as president of the organization. On November 23, 1943, a letter from Harry B. Mallory to the stockholders in advance of the annual stockholders meeting on December 1st states that “company sales have trended downward since 1936”.
As a result, E.A. Mallory & Sons was sold to the Stetson Hat Company in 1946. Mallory also owned Emerson Hats as a division at the time it was purchased by Stetson, and the first shutdown once the takeover was complete was of the Emerson plant in 1949. The closing of the Mallory front shop in 1957 created a controversy with the United Hatters Cap and Millinery Workers International Union. The union was adamant that Mallory could not close the shop in the middle of a contract. Finally, with the help of an arbiter, it was ruled that the company had to put up $100k for severance pay and the union had to stop threatening to call a strike in the main Stetson plant in Philadelphia. The last sign of the company was the termination of Mallory back shop operations by the John B Stetson Company in July of 1965.