Western & English Today

Summer 2016

W&E Today provides retailers and manufacturers with education and ideas that provoke innovation in the Western and English markets.

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SUMMER 2016 Western & English Today 21 popular f ction novels about hard-working young lads who rose from humble beginnings to middle-class security through their courage, honesty, and perseverance. Nearly a half-century af er the author's death, a true-life Alger story began: that of the Hochster lads, founders of Westmoor Manufacturing. Among all Western apparel — and most of the general popula- tion — Panhandle Western Wear, and its iconic character Panhandle Slim, stands as one of the most beloved and well-known brands for the American cowboy. Few, however, may know that it's been a family business for 70 years, since its inception in 1946 as Westmoor Man- ufacturing. Fewer still know the dramatic true-life tale of how this iconic brand came to be, and the true grit of its founders. Imagine yourself, if you will, as a teenage boy in 1936 Nazi Ger- many: Persecution of Jews had become a stated Nazi policy in 1933, and Adolf Hitler had become Führer in 1934. Under Hitler's rule, the pace of persecution escalated quickly, and by 1936, Jews were forbidden to hold any professional jobs — ef ectively barring them from earning a living in such f elds as educa- tion, industry, medicine, and politics. T e Hochster family was determined to escape Nazi Germany while they still could, and, fortunately, they did. Sixteen-year-old Martin and his 14-year-old brother Ernest made it to safe harbor on U.S. shores in 1936, along with their parents, Sol and Meta, and Meta's mother, Amalie Bloch. Good thing, as by 1938, the year of the T ird Reich's infamous Kristallnacht, 125,000 applicants would queue up outside U.S. consulates vying for 27,000 visas. A year later, the number of applicants would swell to more than 300,000 under the same quota — merely foreshadowing the horrors to ensue. Even those fortunate enough to obtain a visa to immigrate to the U.S. would endure a lifetime of wrenching heartbreak by leaving loved ones behind: T e $188 cost of passage to America, adjusted for inflation, would be about $3,200 per person in today's dollars — a darned-near prohibitive fee when you're barred from all professional f elds. Once in New York, Martin took a job selling ladies' apparel, and Ernest found work at Excello, a men's shirt company, as assistant production man- ager. T ey moved to Minnesota in 1946. T e Hochsters' adopted city of Minneapolis and its sister city St. Paul straddle the Mississippi. At the time, f our mills and sawmills dotted the Twin Cities, which brought an inf ux of farmers to mill and ship their grain — many of them German immigrants and their descendants — and a f ood of loggers as well, hauling lumber from northern Minnesota's vast virgin forests to the sawmills. With the production skills Ernest honed at Excello, Martin's sales experience, and the knowledge that Midwestern farmers and loggers would be in need of sturdy, well-made shirts, the brothers convinced investors to back them in launching a men's shirt company. T ey began production in 1946, naming the company Westmoor and focusing the bulk of their business on conventional, well-made casual apparel that would have broad appeal to their rural market. T ey also seized on the emerging category of sports shirts and developed a few of shoot lines, such as House of Westmoor and Westmoor Sportswear. Meanwhile, in Denver, Jack A. Weil was igniting what would become an inextinguishable Western shirt trend, using snap closures instead of buttons. Cowboys loved 'em: If it caught on a branch, a snap shirt might pop open but it wouldn't throttle you or get torn up like button-ups would. Plus, you could snap and unsnap one-handed. Around 1948 or 1949, Westmoor introduced its f rst Western shirt, T e Gambler, with a three-button cuf and a long tail that would stay tucked while the rider was mounted. T e Gambler sold well across the South and Southwest, but salesmen told the brothers it would do even better with snaps. Ernest, not willing to sacrif ce an existing market for a new one, decided to do the shirt both ways and give customers a choice. T e shirts came in wool or rayon gabardine and hit the bull's-eye with the Westernwear customer. Still, the burgeoning new line needed an evocative personality, something with a more authentic Western ring to it than simply af xing "Westmoor" inside the collar. For suggestions, Ernest called salesman Ed Gassman, who happened to be in Amarillo, Texas, at the Ernest Hochster founded Westmoor Manufacturing with brother Martin in 1946, three years later introducing the Western shirt label Panhlandle Slim. PHOTOGRAPHY: CO U R T E S Y W E S T M O O R MA N U FAC T U R I N G

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