Ehrhardt Koch, the founder of New Era Cap Company, was an infant when he and his family migrated from Germany to the United States in the late 1800's. His family settled in Western New York on Erb Street in Buffalo, New York.
Ehrhardt began working in headwear manufacturing in 1902, at sixteen years old. His first job was with Miller Brother's Cap Company, where he mastered many different aspects of the craft during his 18 year tenure; eventually becoming the cutting department manager. After years of failed attempts at further advancement and responsibility at Miller, Ehrhardt decided that to get to the top he would have to start at the top, so he decided to launch his own headwear company.
In 1920, at 34, Ehrhardt persuaded his aunt to take out a second mortgage on her house in order to raise money for the start up of his brainchild. With $5,000, 14 employees and a promise to his aunt that her children would always have a job, Ehrhardt founded the New Era Cap Company on Genesee Street in Buffalo, New York.
New Era's entrée into the men's headwear market was with a fashion cap, the in-vogue, eight-panel constructed Pacer style, fitted cap, also known as the Ivy League or Gatsby. The Gatsby, made of 100% wool to match men's suits, was a high-end accessory distributed to Buffalo's leading menswear stores and sold as a finishing touch for the well-suited man. They sold for $3.98 per dozen.
One of Ehrhardt's principles for building a strong and successful company was including family in its foundation, and in 1925 his only child, Harold Koch, at 17 years old, joined New Era.
Ehrhardt believed that the only way Harold would truly learn and appreciate the cap business was from the bottom up. He taught his son every aspect of the New Era business, always driving home his belief that a superiorly produced, quality cap was the most important part of making the New Era customer happy; it would always keep the customer coming back for more.
In the 1930s, New Era was forced to reinvent itself when the matching wool Gatsby fell out of fashion. Recognizing the popularity of America's favorite pastime, Baseball, New Era began manufacturing baseball caps; a piece of headwear the Koch's believed would never go out of style! During the '30s and '40s, New Era manufactured caps under private label for equipment and uniform suppliers, such as Wilson and Spaulding.
During 1940s, Ehrhardt decided it was time for New Era to stand out on its own and he set out to sell directly to Major and Minor League teams, using the New Era brand name. Shortly after, Harold also began pitching New Era as the headwear of choice to high schools and universities; he always said, "If it's good enough for the Yankees to wear then it is good enough for your school players to wear."
Harold would make the long drive to the garment district in New York City to buy piece goods to fill the orders he had sold in the previous week. To make different color caps, off white wool was purchased, and Marion Koch, Harold's wife, would dye the material at home in her hand-cranked washing machine. New Era was the first company to offer caps in scarlet, kelly green and other colors.
In the early days New Era purchased used sewing machines and produced approximately 2,500 caps a week. While the manufacturing process has become more technologically advanced over the years it still takes 22 steps to make a New Era cap: a minimum of 22 different sets of hands touch every cap.
Ehrhardt died in 1954 at the young age of sixty-eight, but his passion and integrity have lived on for the three generations of the Koch Family that have succeeded him. The game of baseball and the thousands of New Era team members that have contributed over the years owe a great deal to our founder, Ehrhardt Koch, a true visionary.
Harold Koch, the second generation Koch to run New Era, like his father, was a visionary and ahead of his time. His creative insights led to many enhancements in cap manufacturing. Harold was a stickler for efficiency and as such he developed piecework rates that allowed the sewing operator to produce the highest quality caps while making a good wage.
An innovator, he developed and marketed the "no roll stitch," now known as the "Pro" or "Top Stitch," as well as the cotton cloth sweatband, which became the industry standard in all baseball caps; prior leather sweatbands were standard in all headwear. Harold introduced the cotton sweatband and stitched it in such a way that a bead of cloth would hang down a bit on the forehead. Later he added a thin clear plastic covering on the under side of the sweatband that prevented perspiration from soaking through the material on the outer face of the cap. Many of the nuances that Harold built into New Era's headwear were subtle, but the impact of his ideas always helped to keep New Era ahead of the competition.
In 1954 New Era developed a piece of headwear that has stood out from the rest for the past 50 years, the New Era 59FIFTY. Also known as a "Brooklyn style" cap, the 59FIFTY was developed as uniform headwear for Major League Baseball players and has stood for authenticity, quality, allegiance, and identity. Familiarly referenced as a "Fitted," the 59FIFTY set the benchmark by which baseball caps are made. Harold felt that there was a need for a carefully crafted fitted cap made of high quality, 100% worsted wool - one that would give baseball teams and players a distinct uniform look.
The style to beat, the New Era 59FIFTY, since 1994, has been the official cap of Major League Baseball, worn on the field of play by Major and Minor League Baseball players. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary the New Era 59FIFTY remains the undisputed finest quality fitted cap in the world today.
In the early 1960s New Era opened its second manufacturing location in Derby, New York. This location became the exclusive manufacturing facility for the fitted 59FIFTY, while New Era's Buffalo location concentrated on adjustable styles; producing specific styles in designated facilities allowed the sewing operators to gain greater efficiency and the ability to produce superior quality caps.
With the advent of the plastic strap, the adjustable cap was poised to take over the headwear market, but New Era continued to manufacture the fitted 59FIFTY knowing that the new one size fits all adjustable cap was not as comfortable a fit for all heads.
In New Era's 84 year history it has developed and introduced many different innovative concepts and pieces of headwear to the market and is proud of its heritage; setting the standard in product development and headwear manufacturing technology.
In 1972, nearly 20 years after beginning his tenure at New Era, Harold's only son, David, was appointed President of the company and Harold took the position of CEO. In that same year David's wife, Valerie Koch, accepted the position of Secretary and Treasurer for New Era. For the past 30 years, Valerie has been an integral member of the New Era team; over time she has been entire marketing and design departments, writing catalog copy, and managing the design and embroidery of all logos.
In 1982 Harold Koch passed away and under David's sole direction, New Era began to branch out, becoming a significant player in the headwear industry. David's goal was to consistently sell all Major and Minor League clubs annually; making New Era an authentic name in the sports industry.
In the 80s baseball fans became interested in wearing the identical cap worn by their favorite players; the 59FIFTY. The trend caught fire and became a huge business that has grown exponentially for New Era. New Era's 59FIFTY quickly became the American sports fan's favorite fitted cap.
In 1991, the company's multi-decade relationship with Major League Baseball evolved into New Era becoming the co-exclusive supplier of caps worn on the field of play. In the same year, New Era worked with Major League Baseball to add the MLB silhouetted batter logo to the rear of every Authentic Collection (formerly called Diamond Collection) cap.
New Era has supported Major League Baseball's strategy to build their own brand by only allowing the Club mark and the MLB mark to be visible on the outside of the Authentic Collection caps and in 1994 New Era became the global manufacturer, distributor and marketer of the Authentic Collection headwear. This exclusive agreement has been in place ever since and both parties have enjoyed the fruits of this partnership.
Christopher, Ehrhardt Koch's great-grandson, was appointed president of New Era in 1992 and David took the position of CEO. In 1996, under his direction, the company developed and launched a new corporate identity and embarked on the brand-building journey that is still in place.
In late 2002 New Era was faced with the passing of David Koch and Chris Koch became the CEO of New Era Cap Co. With great shoes to fill, Chris has instituted his vision of making New Era the global leader in branded headwear, providing licensed and non-licensed products under brand names that are recognized and command a premium in the market.
Built from a small shop in Buffalo, New York, today, New Era conducts business internationally; with offices in Canada and Europe, it has brought the brand to fans all over the world.
New Era expanded its corporate presence into Europe in June 2003, after a long standing distribution presence and an increasing demand for New Era's quality licensed headwear in the region. Led by Chief Operating Officer Peter Lee, New Era Europe manages product development for many of New Era's European licenses, including MLB, NBA and NHL, in addition to European Football teams Manchester United, Barcelona, Juventus and England. The company also designs, manufactures and distributes headwear for 17 Premiership, 12 Championship and 15 Bundesliga teams.
The headwear of choice around the world, New Era is found in virtually every walk of life. When Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' long held, season home run record in 1998, he wore a special commemorative cap by New Era. Spike Lee and Fred Durst have longstanding relationships with New Era and sport its caps religiously. New Era has invited the likes of Rappers Fabolous and Dizzee Rascal, Snowboarder Marc Frank Montoya, Actor Danny Masterson and Fashion Designers Marc Echo and Wale Adeyemi, to name a few, to do collaborative designs with the company. Its reach is endless, from coast to coast and around the world.
During the past eight decades New Era has produced the highest quality headwear in the market, making it the only licensed headwear that is recognized by name. A privately held company for 84 years, the company's shares are held by Christopher Koch, Valerie Koch and Glenn Koch: the family is committed to maintaining its current status as a privately held company that reinvests in its future and its employees.
New Era provides employment to 400 Western New York families and has a total of 1,500 employees around the world. A Category A member of the Fair Labor Association, New Era is currently the only licensed headwear company that operates manufacturing in the United States and only began off shore production three years ago.
New Era headwear is developed to serve its many core markets; Action Sport, Children, Corporate, Fan, Performance, Suburban, Urban and Women - enabling the company to meet the demand for headwear for the most unique individuals in the world, each wearing it to express their own style.