A tip of the Bollman hat: More jobs, pride coming back home to Adamstown

By on November 24, 2015

 

Bringing it home; making it here

They’re b-a-a-a-a-ck.

The same machinery your great-grandparents handled has been shipped back after decades of being in Chinese hands.

Even though Bollman Hat Company in Adamstown is the oldest hat factory in the America, it is on the cutting edge by also bringing back jobs to the United States from China.

“Some of the machinery is over 100 years old,” said Don Rongione, president of the company. “We’ve had to maintain them because there is no industry that is making machines for the hat industry. In the 1920s, 30s, 40s, hats were part of the everyday attire. Men and women didn’t leave the house without a hat.”

Photos by Michele Walter Fry Top hats are placed in wooden blocks to keep their distinctive shape.

Photos by Michele Walter Fry
Top hats are placed in wooden blocks to keep their distinctive shape.

Stepping into the factory is like a time warp back to 1935.

At one time, more than 1,000 people worked in the factory on Main Street. Many were let go because of the onslaught of foreign production. Manufacturing supports seven million jobs less than it did in the 1970s.

Rongione is leading a trend in reducing U.S. dependence for loans from other countries by keeping American money here.

“When Americans build things here, we are able to be self-sufficient and not dependent upon other countries for our survival and security,” Rongione said.

This year, the company added more than 40 full-time employees in the factory and will expand operations with at least another 40 in 2016 while retaining some 175 current jobs.

Bollman is also bringing manufacturing of its British Kangol-brand hat line from China to Adamstown. Nearly $400,000 in new machines is needed to make the hats which celebrities such as Samuel L. Jackson, Nicole Kidman, Madonna, and Michael Jordan wear.

Luckily, bringing back jobs was made easier by the state. Bollman received financial incentives from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development that includes a $60,000 Pennsylvania First Program grant, $82,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits, and $18,450 in WEDnetPA funding.

Holding the American Made Matters logo are (from left) Sean Leon, Tim Johnson, Don Rongione, Bob Overton, Starla Overton, and Audrey Saint.

Displaying the American Made Matters logo are (from left) Sean Leon, Tim Johnson, Don Rongione, Bob Overton, Starla Overton, and Audrey Saint.

Bollman will be looking for operators in the factory for knitting, linking, mending, felting, dyeing, and sewing. Starting wage might be able to sustain a budget-conscious two-person family. Workers can take pride in their craftsmanship of making durable American-made products-here.

American Made Matters

“There’s a powerful importance of buying products being made in the U.S.A.,” Rongione said. “The reasons are compelling, including our jobs, our economy, our security, independence, our safety, our communities, and strengthening the American dream.”

Nov. 19 celebrated the third annual American Made Matters Day.

“Consumers who make the biggest impact are those that tell retailers they won’t buy an item if it’s not made in the U.S.,” Rongione said. “They tell them they are not buying it and why they’re not buying it. They also tell the retailers positive comments on why they are buying US-made products.”

It may be in Adamstown, but Bollman is a world leading designer in hat wear. The United States Olympic team paraded in Bollman hats for six Olympic Games.

A unique perspective of Adamstown from the factory.

A unique perspective of Adamstown from the factory.

The hat company was founded in 1868 by George Bollman. The barn which housed the horse that Bollman used to transport the hats to the railroad stations still stands.

Bollman prides itself on being a family-type business with multiple families working together inside the factory.

Chris Fitterling was born and raised in Adamstown. He worked in the factory as a student in high school, took a break to pursue another line of work, then came back to Bollman.

“My mother (Leonore Fitterling) was the first female manager,” said Fitterling, executive vice president. “My grandfather retired from here. My father worked here before World War II. We treat all our employee owners not just as employees but as owners of the company.”

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

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