Mallory hats, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Note: This is an encore post from 2014.
Not many companies in the United States can claim over 100 years in business, especially clothing manufacturers, who must deal with so many unique variables, and in particular, constantly changing styles. Two purveyors of classic, quality clothing, Brooks Brothers and Levi’s, have been operating more than 100 years. One, Mallory Hats, constructed quality, classic men’s and women’s hats for more than 142 years before ending production in 1965. Here is their story.
The brochure/book, “A Century of Hats and the Hats of the Century,” published in 1923, relays the history of the industry surrounding the manufacturing of hats by the Mallory family in Danbury, Conn. The text claims the first hat manufactured in the United States came out of Danbury in 1684. Ezra Mallory established his own hat manufacturing concern in 1823 to construct beaver “stovepipe” hats. Mallory supervised the making of hats, and ventured to neighboring towns and stores to sell his wares, and by 1825, took steamboats to New York promoting his stock. His company slowly grew in number and reputation, adding new styles to their output. They produced roughly twelve hats a week.
Wallace Reid in “Nice People,” courtesy of Mary Mallory.
In 1845, Ezra A. Mallory took over the firm from his father, and continued the expansion. As the booklet states, “It was Ezra A. Mallory who brought to the Danbury region the first sewing machine used in the hatting industry. …The modern era had finally begun, and the sewing machine was followed by mixing, blowing and forming machines, and later by stretching, blocking and pouncing machines… .” By 1856, E. A. Mallory & Co. had a $20,000 capital, employed 95 workers, made 8,640 dozen hats during the year, and earned sales of $155,000. A collector absconded with funds as the Civil War started, and his Southern accounts were confiscated, but Mallory resuscitated the company from its near extinction. Not long after war’s end, the concern commenced manufacturing women’s napped hats.
By the 1880s, E. A. Mallory & Sons operated a factory churning out hats, which traveling salesmen sold all around New England and New York. The company continued growing and earning, incorporating itself as the Mallory Hat Co. in 1904. Per the booklet, output multiplied 56% between 1888 and 1905, and 260% between 1905 and 1923. Mallory Hat Co. was the “second largest Quality hat business in the United States.”
Mallory began placing advertisements in local newspapers during the 1870s promoting their product, but as business stories in the mid-teens reported, the Mallory Co. relied on its “long established reputation for the wearing quality of its product.” The company focused on quality, not style. Mallory smartly realized the value of allowing Universal Manufacturing Co. to produce a 1913 documentary called “Wheels of Commerce,” demonstrating the manufacturing process of Mallory hats at the Danbury, Conn., plant.
The company deduced it could broaden its market and name recognition in 1922 by buying national advertising promoting its brand and stylish look. Executives quickly surmised that a motion picture tie-in would generate much free publicity for their hats, beyond what ads in magazines or newspapers could provide. They negotiated a deal with Paramount Pictures in 1922 to promote Mallory hats in a national campaign showing actor Wallace Reid wearing a Mallory hat in advertisements for his film “Nice People,” to run specifically on the film’s opening day.
Courtesy of Mary Mallory.
The July 6, 1922, Film Daily stated, “A national tie-up has just been effected by Paramount with the Mallory Hat Co., Inc., in connection with ‘Nice People.’ The Mallory concern, which is among the largest manufacturers of high-grade men’s hats in the world, is going to open its fall retail sales campaign with an advertising campaign run simultaneously in the rotogravure sections of 15 leading newspapers on Sunday, Sept. 3. The advertising prepared in collaboration with Charles E. McCarthy, Paramount publicity manager, will consist of a quarter-page display dominated by a portrait of Wallace Reid, who heads the cast of the de Mille production. Reid wears one of the new Mallory hats of exclusive model and underneath the portrait, well displayed in a panel, is the simple text, “Wallace Reid, the famous Paramount star in ‘Nice People,’ wears Mallory hats.” The portrait and inscription are surrounded by a Ben Day and block panel border.
“The significant thing about the tie-up is that this advertisement will appear on the very day of the day and date release of the picture. In addition to this newspaper space, the advertisement will run simultaneously in quarter-page size in the “Saturday Evening Post” and in nearly full-page size in the September issue of the “American Magazine.”
“The Mallory Co. is now getting out a handsome four-page folder, 15,000 copies of which are to be sent to dealers throughout the country, as well as 4,000 window cards rounding out the campaign.”
Local exhibitors pulled stunts beyond the ad to help co-promote both Mallory products and the film, “Nice People,” as in this story from St. Louis related by the Sept. 19, 1922, Film Daily. “Skouras Brothers staged a little performance in the window of Browning, King & Co., which sold throngs of shoppers for “Nice People” playing at the New Grand Central. A well-known store kept a valuable window heavily curtained all day displaying only a sign reading, “At Noon Friday We Will Show in This Window Something That Will Interest All the ‘Nice People’ of St. Louis.”
Courtesy of Mary Mallory.
‘This teased an audience which gathered at 12 o’clock to see the curtains part on a display of Mallory Hats tying up with the co-operative Wallace Reid card… .”
High-end stores carried Mallory hats. Such magazines as “Glamour” and “Harper’s Bazar” (1920s spelling) displayed ads for women’s Mallory hats sold at places like Saks Fifth Avenue for $12 and up. Mallory men’s hats sold at places in the Los Angeles area like James Smith Co., Scott Brothers, Mullin & Bluett, the May Co., and the Broadway. Brand’s Hats adjacent to the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard also sold Mallory hats.
In 1946, Stetson bought out Mallory Hats, but continued manufacturing hats under that name until 1965, 142 years after the first one had been sold. Stetson continued operating the Mallory Hat plant to produce other products until 1987, when it was shuttered and finally torn down in 1998. Mallory had been the oldest hat manufacturer in the United States, and supposedly the creator of the fedora hat as well.
Although the company is long gone, gorgeous hats can still be acquired at vintage clothing sales or through eBay, Etsy, and other outlets. Advertisements, hat boxes, and other materials also turn up, displaying beautiful lithographic art and style not found in current publicity/advertising materials.