Historical Research Courtesy of: Shirley Woodlock, Chairman, Texas Treasure Business Award Committee, McLennan County Historical Commission.
Article: 'Standard Hat Works, a Texas Tradition Since 1915' (Aug. 21, 2023)
A Tradition Born from Hungarian Roots
Standard Hat Works has a rich history dating back to 1915. Our story begins with William Gross, a skilled hatmaker born in Hungary on December 13, 1885. At the tender age of 13, Gross began his hatmaking journey as an apprentice in Budapest, Hungary. He honed his craft for 4 ½ years before immigrating to New York.
From Budapest to Manhattan
In 1909, at the age of 23, he embarked on a journey to America, arriving in New York aboard the vessel "Cleveland" on July 25, 1909. Gross quickly established himself as one of the most sought after hatmakers in the bustling metropolis. In the heart of Manhattan, he rose through the ranks and became a foreman at one of the world's largest hat firms. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to peddle hats on the bustling streets of New York City, even stacking them upon his head.
The Rise of the Hat Industry
In the early 1900s, New York was a hub for the hat industry, with abundant fur-bearing animals and a flourishing fur trade. Hatmaking thrived as people sought protection from the harsh northern elements. However, industry mergers and disputes in the early 1900s began to change the landscape. Major hat companies like Ivy Hat Company and Rossman Hat Company faced bankruptcy, creating opportunities for newcomers like William Gross.
As overcrowding and expansion beckoned, the hat industry saw a shift westward. William Gross, already an accomplished hatter, received an enticing offer to become the foreman of a new hat manufacturing venture in Waco, Texas. In 1914, he left New York, leaving behind his young family, including his wife, Szerena, and their children.
Challenges and Conflicts
Upon arriving in Waco, Gross encountered challenges, including conflicts with local clothier W. J. Mitchell, who had been selling "Texas Hats" despite them being produced in New Jersey. These conflicts forced Gross to consider new business opportunities.
The Birth of Standard Hat Works
In 1915, Gross seized the opportunity to open his own hat manufacturing business in Waco. It was a bold move, considering the industry's challenges and recent bankruptcies. He may have chosen the name "Standard Hat" to distinguish his brand from earlier disputes over the name "Texas Hat." Regardless of the name's origin, "Standard Hat" quickly became synonymous with quality.
A Legacy Takes Shape
Standard Hat Works was established at 125 N. Fifth Street in Waco, Texas, and rapidly gained recognition. Its reputation for craftsmanship and quality quickly spread throughout the United States and even reached international markets. Thousands of men and women proudly wore Standard Hat Works' creations.
Continuing the Legacy
William Gross's dedication to his craft and entrepreneurial spirit laid the foundation for Standard Hat Works. His legacy lives on today in the fine hats produced by our brand, a testament to the enduring tradition of quality and craftsmanship that defines Standard Hat Works.
1900s - 1920s: The Early Years
In the early 20th century, the story of Standard Hat Works began in Waco, Texas. On Monday, March 8, 1915, an advertisement was placed in the Waco Morning News, introducing "The Standard Hat Works," located at 125 N. Fifth St., sharing a space with Acme Tailors. The very next day, another notice followed, announcing the opening under the ownership of William Gross, a skilled craftsman who had honed his skills in the bustling hat shops of New York City.
The initial focus of Standard Hat Works was re-blocking and remodeling both men's and women's hats. William Gross, with 15 years of experience and a background in some of New York's most prominent shops, had brought his expertise to Waco, laying the foundation for a Texas tradition that would endure for over a century.
By March 28, 1915, Standard Hat Works expanded its services to include the design and reconstruction of Panama hats, showcasing their commitment to quality craftsmanship. The year 1915 marked the official beginning of Standard Hat Works, with William Gross at the helm.
In 1917, Inman Roberts, known as "Roberts the Hatter," purchased a half interest in Standard Hat Works. The two establishments, Texas Hats and Standard Hat Works, maintained separate retail locations but consolidated their renovation work at Standard Hat Works. This partnership brought about new opportunities and prospects for the business.
1920s: Growth and Partnerships
As the 1920s dawned, Standard Hat Works was growing steadily. The business relocated several times during this period, from its original location at 125 N. Fifth St. to 131 N. Fifth St. and later to 119 N. Fifth St. Despite these moves, the business continued to flourish.
In 1920, the company purchased land on the south side of Washington St., signaling its intention to expand. This land would soon become the location for a new manufacturing plant for Standard Hat Works.
However, in the mid-1920s, William Gross faced legal disputes and financial challenges. These struggles eventually led to the dissolution of the partnership with Inman Roberts in 1923.
Undeterred, William Gross continued to build the Standard Hat Works brand and successfully settled legal matters related to his previous business ventures. By 1924, the company was back on track, and Gross had gained recognition for his contributions to the hatmaking industry.
1930s - 1940s: Stability and New Ventures
By the 1930s, Standard Hat Works had firmly established itself as a trusted hatmaker in Waco. William Gross and his wife, Szerena, were actively involved in the business, which had become a staple of the local community.
In 1945, Edward Danzeiser became a partner with William Gross, until Gross later sold his share of the company to Bill Martin.
In 1946, William Gross ventured into a new business endeavor, opening a mending shop specializing in fine linen repair. While this venture did not last long, it demonstrated his adaptability and entrepreneurial spirit.
1950s - 1960s: Transition and Legacy
In the 1950s, William Gross relocated to California, where he joined his brother Andrew Gross in the hatmaking business. This marked a transition period for the Gross family, as William's children had grown and started their own families. He continued to be involved in the hat industry until his passing in 1969, leaving behind a legacy of craftsmanship and dedication.
1970s - 1980s: New Ownership and Evolution
The 1970s saw a change of ownership, with Bill Martin taking over Standard Hat Works. During this time, the business adapted to evolving fashion trends and remained a prominent presence in the hatmaking industry.
In September of 1980, Doug Eastland joined Standard Hat Works, the Martin's son-in-law, and learned the trade from his father-in-law, Bill Martin.
In 1988, due to the decline of downtown Waco and the need for renovations, Standard Hat Works relocated to 422 W. Waco Drive. Despite the challenges, the business continued to thrive.
1990s - Present: Innovation and Resilience
In the 1990s, the business faced a major setback when a fire destroyed most of its hatmaking machinery. However, the team at Standard Hat Works, under the ownership of Doug Eastland beginning in 1992, demonstrated resilience and innovation. They acquired new and vintage hatmaking equipment, allowing them to resume crafting custom-made hats.
In 1997, Richard and Lorraine Dick became owners. They hired Lenny Lawson after an injury ended his bull-riding career. In 2006, after working under the Dicks for nearly a decade, Lenny Lawson purchased the company - he was determined to restore Standard Hat Works once again to offer custom made hats and succeeded in doing so.
Over the years, Standard Hat Works remained an iconic name in hatmaking. It crafted hats for numerous celebrities and musicians, including George Strait, Garth Brooks, and many others. The business expanded its reach beyond Texas, serving customers across the United States and even internationally.
In June of 2013, Standard Hat Works was located at 1826 Circle Road location. Waco native, Cameron Morris, who has ties to the Martin and Eastland families, purchased Standard Hat Works.
In 2016, the business relocated to its current location at 1304 N. New Road, Waco, expanding its offerings and preserving its rich history. Today, under the ownership of Cameron Morris, Standard Hat Works continues to produce high-quality, custom-made hats, honoring the tradition and craftsmanship established by William Gross over a century ago.
As of 2023, Standard Hat Works is not only a Texas tradition but also a thriving and respected establishment in the world of hatmaking, recognized as the "Best of Waco." Its commitment to producing the world's best hats lives on, and its legacy remains as strong as ever.