As a boy, Ehrhardt Koch emigrated with his family from Germany to Western New York. Koch worked for the John Miller Cap Co. for 18 years, but he dreamed of having his own company. In 1920, at the age of 37, he borrowed $1,000 from his family and started the E. Koch Cap Co., working out of the back room of a rented property on Genesee Street in Buffalo. A couple of years later, he changed the name to New Era Cap Co. The company’s first product was a fashion cap known as the Gatsby that had a small bill in the front of its eight-panel dome. With 14 employees, the company produced 60,000 fashion caps its first year.
Early in the 1930s, the growing company moved to the back of a tailor shop at 723 Jefferson. Ehrhardt’s only son, Harold, joined the business in 1932. But fashion, even in baseball caps, is fickle, and the demand for Gatsby caps waned.
The Kochses needed a new market. Capitalizing upon the popularity of baseball, they came up with the idea of building relationships with baseball teams and selling them team caps. Ehrhardt modified the shape and structure of the Gatsby cap, widening the bill and making other subtle changes to suit players. In that era, there was no exclusive licensing of team logos as there is today, so hat and sportswear companies competed for each team and league’s uniform business.
The company produced its first professional baseball caps in 1934—a cap that sported a big “C”, for the Cleveland Indians. New Era went on to produce caps for local colleges as well as other major and minor league baseball teams. Needing more space, the company moved in 1938 to the fifth floor of the Artcraft Burroughs building at 86 Ellicott Street and later expanded into the building across the street.
Hard times struck in the 1940s, when World War II made it more difficult to obtain materials, especially colored fabric. To assure they had the fabric they needed, the Kochs obtained plain cloth wherever they could get it and dyed it themselves in their home washing machine. Later in the decade, the original hat model was refined to include an adjustable back.
By 1950, the company was the only independent manufacturer to supply baseball caps under private label agreements to Big League baseball teams, including the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers. After Ehrhardt Koch passed away in 1953 at age 68, Harold Koch continued running the company with his father’s passion, integrity and originality, updating the fitted cap’s design to give it a more contemporary look. Harold’s son, David, joined the company in 1958. That same year, the company moved its headquarters to Derby, N.Y. but continued production in Buffalo.
The 1960s and 1970s marked two decades of growth and innovation. In 1969 the company provided special handmade caps for the Apollo 11 moon mission’s splashdown team, and continued to supply caps for all future Apollo recoveries. By 1974, 20 of the 24 Major League Baseball teams had signed with New Era. Direct marketing efforts to fans began at the end of the decade.
Harold Koch was named CEO in 1972, and David Koch became the company’s president. David’s son, Chris, joined new Era in 1976. As the company continued to expand in the 1980s, leadership remained in the Koch family’s hands. After Harold passed away in 1982, David Koch became the company’s leader. Chris Koch was named president in 1993.
In the ‘90s, New Era became the exclusive supplier of on-field caps for Major League Baseball. Then, in 1996, the company received a special request that would launch a major expansion into the consumer field. Filmmaker Spike Lee ordered a customized, red New York Yankees cap. It became Lee’s trademark, and his appearances wearing the cap started a fashion trend. Lee directed New Era’s first commercial in 1997 and has worked with the company ever since.
After the turn of the new millennium, the company opened offices in Europe, Japan and Australia. In 2001, Chris Koch was named CEO. His father passed away the next year. Five years later, the company decided to move its corporate offices back to downtown Buffalo, and in 2006, it occupied the former Federal Reserve Bank Building.
New Era has now partnered with the National Football League as exclusive producer of on-field headwear and introduced a technologically advanced baseball cap that keeps the wearer cool and dry. Those knit caps you see coaches and players wearing on the sidelines of professional football games? They’re made by New Era as well. The company’s caps, apparel and accessories have made their way from the playing fields and sidelines into millions of American homes and wardrobes around the world.
Like New Era, Buffalonians are proud of their ability to reinvent themselves, even into their retirement years. They’re not about to stop living, learning and being active participants in this vibrant city.
For folks who want to remain close to Buffalo’s urban heart, Canterbury Woods Gates Circle is the perfect home base. Now under construction and scheduled to open in the fall of 2017, this unique continuing care retirement community is accepting applications for the Priority Wait List for its luxurious, convenient apartment homes. For more information, please call 716-929-5811 or request more information here.
For those who want to be within easy reach of Buffalo’s world-class sports, entertainment and cultural attractions but wish to live a bit farther away from the center of town, Canterbury Woods Williamsville offers comfortable, resort-style accommodations and first-class health care in a suburban setting. To learn more, please call 716-929-5817 or contact us here.