The story of Stormy Kromer, Mel Pearson and Michigan's novelty hats
Michigan coach Mel Pearson wore it behind the bench at Notre Dame Stadium on Jan. 5. As the players took off their gear and changed into their street clothes, they slipped it on as well.
It was a Stormy Kromer hat.
“It’s a unique cap,” Pearson said. “And a unique story behind the cap.”
The story began in 1903 with George Kromer — nicknamed “Stormy” — who was a semi-professional baseball player who later became a railroad engineer.
“We had to do a little research on it,” said freshman forward Nolan Moyle. “It’s got a little history message inside. It’s basically about Stormy Kromer, he’s kind of a railroad worker, whose hat kept falling off so they sewed the flaps onto the side, and it’s a pretty good old school look.”
After losing many hats to the wind on the locomotive he worked on, Kromer requested his wife to sew a hat that would not only stay on his head but keep it warm. So she took a baseball cap, sewed on a higher crown and added ear flaps to a pull-down earband.
The popularity of the hats pushed Kromer and his wife to take their small hometown production to a factory in Milwaukee, Wisc. with upwards of 30 workers.
The expansion took off and over 100 years later, it found its way to Ironwood, Mich. — a place not too far from Michigan Tech, where Pearson had spent years coaching.
“I spent a lot of years in the (Upper Peninsula),” Pearson said. “They’re very popular up there. They’re a very unique brand of cap and obviously a Michigan company.”
Upon returning from winter break, Pearson wanted to surprise the team with a present for the holidays as well as something special for the upcoming outdoor game in South Bend.
“Usually around that you get something different to wear,” Pearson said. “And I thought, hey you know what, give them sort of the Christmas gift and the outdoor ‘Let’s take it outside’ game. It’s amazing.”
On request, the company Pearson approached made it a priority to finish the product in time for the game.
“I found out that the general manager up there in Ironwood, Michigan considers himself the biggest Michigan hockey fan in the Upper Peninsula,” Pearson said. “So when they heard we wanted to do this, they really wanted to do this. They rushed them. They almost became a personal mission for them to see this through so it’s pretty exciting.”
Pearson had the block ‘M’ sewn on the side and the players’ numbers added to the front. On the bench and in the locker room, players and coaches alike donned the cap.
And with it, they took South Bend in style.