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Railroad Ties Iconic Michigan Brands Together

by Lisa Diggs

With such a deep automotive heritage in Michigan, it’s sometimes hard to remember how reliant the nation once was on locomotives. In fact that rich rail history ties two strong Michigan companies together: Carhartt and Stormy Kromer.

Hamilton Carhartt was born in 1855 in Macedon Lock, New York, but he grew up in Michigan. He was drawn to entrepreneurship and initially established a furnishing business. Before long, with some helpful advice from his first potential buyer, he realized in order to succeed his products had to be special.

After a conversation with a railroad engineer, he created an overall garment specifically geared toward railroad workers. It had never been made before, and it became the foundation for the namesake company he launched on August 27, 1889.

Carhartt started out with only four sewing machines and about five employees. The first products manufactured were overalls in denim and the now famous duck fabric. To build his brand he traveled from town to town, visiting each railroad division. Eventually Hamilton Carhartt established a brand that has stood the test of time.

A little over a decade after Carhartt started his business, a railroad worker named George “Stormy” Kromer, rather accidentally started a business of his own. Working outdoors in tough climates can take its toll. Eventually, Kromer grew weary of having his cap blown off repeatedly from the locomotive where he worked.

One day he came home to his wife, Ida, and asked her to make him a special cap. The idea was to fashion a baseball cap with a higher crown, a pull-down earband to keep it snug, and a soft, cloth visor. The warm hat became the envy of his fellow engineers and the legendary 6-panel Stormy Kromer cap was born.

Now, more than a century later, the Stomry Kromer facility has become an institution in Ironwood, Michigan, so it’s not surprising that Dearborn-based Carhartt would turn to this other iconic Michigan brand to help celebrate the company’s 125th anniversary.

The result of the collaboration is a limited edition 125th anniversary cap that brings together both Midwestern heritage brands – each with over a century’s experience providing hard-working folks with the gear they need to survive harsh winters and tough adventures.

“Over a century ago, both Carhartt and Stormy Kromer began by making products to service the needs of railroad workers. Hamilton Carhartt created a durable overall to protect the worker’s backs while George ‘Stormy’ Kromer, a railway brakeman, crafted a functional cap that stayed on no matter the task,” said Tony Ambroza, senior vice president at Carhartt. “Today, the legacy continues as we team up in celebration of Carhartt’s 125th anniversary to bring our consumers an original Stormy Kromer cap handcrafted from Carhartt’s legendary brown duck fabric and all made in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”   

The commemorative cap combines the recognizable silhouette and earband of the classic Stormy Kromer Cap with the rugged brown duck fabric for which Carhartt is known. A collector’s item in the making, each cap will be carefully handcrafted in Stormy Kromer’s Ironwood, Michigan factory for one season only.

The partnership with Stormy Kromer isn’t the only way Carhartt has chosen to celebrate its landmark anniversary. In September they joined forces with a leader in one of the state’s rising industries, New Holland Brewing Company to create The Carhartt Woodsman.

The celebratory libation is a Barrel-Aged Pale Ale that employs Michigan-grown Cascade hops to bring a brightness, along with malt sweetness and toasted oak that combine for a smooth, refreshing finish.

While the tasty beverage was fermenting, a plan for a unique road trip was also brewing. The Road Home to Craftsmanship tour was a nearly 1,300-mile journey from Detroit to Denver that acted as a national release party for The Carhartt Woodsman.

There were no trains in sight this time. Instead, the team headed out in New Holland’s newly-renovated 1949 Spartan trailer to host a series of events on their way to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Colorado to show off this tribute to craftsmanship and hard work.

If you missed the tour, there’s still a good chance you can find The Carhartt Woodsman at an establishment near you by using the New Holland brew finder.

It’s not easy to survive, let alone thrive in this global economy. Yet, one hundred and twenty five years later, Hamilton Carhartt’s dream is still going strong. With over 4,400 employees, the company is still in the hands of his family, and its products can be found on the backs of rugged, hard-working people all around the world.

With a tip of our Stormy Kromers and a sip of a Carhartt Woodsman, we salute Hamilton Carhartt and all those who have kept his engine rolling for well over a century.


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