During my recent visit to the Hamilton shirt factory one great part about being on the company’s home turf was all of the historic material in their showroom. If you were going to create a fake old company you would probably try to dream up a heritage like Hamilton’s. Take for instance the above photo of Gene Autry leading the 1942 parade for the Houston Rodeo with Hamilton’s sign and shop in the background. For me, it really doesn’t get much better than that. History is something I am inherently interested in and it is also something that drives the content here on ACL. So when a company is still making an original product today, something that has a distinct connection to the past, it is a home run. Well, it isn’t always a home run, but it certainly is in the case of Hamilton. One look at the photo of R.H. Hancock (pictured at the end of this post) and I was sold. Speaking with David and Kelly Hamilton about the company’s history and some of their more memorable customers was worth the trip to Houston alone, the shirts and the factory was icing on the cake.
A brief history of Hamilton Shirts from a 1948 edition of the Houston Chronicle:
A chance meeting on a train in the early spring of 1883 between two Virginia gentlemen on their way west to raise sheep and another traveler also on his way west to open a men’s furnishing store, resulted in the founding of one of Houston’s oldest stores, the Hamilton Brothers. The prospective sheep raisers, two brothers, Edward J. and J. Brooke Hamilton stayed on in Houston with the young firm after their friend and partner, John Mason, had left for the Colorado nines. The store which the three founded was located on the site of the present Rice Hotel not far from its present location.
Mr. Mason sold his interest to a captain of the Houston Light Guards who in turn sold to Williams E. Hamilton, Jr., and then the store became Hamilton Bros.
A few years later, a shirtmaking factory was added to the business after Edward J. Hamilton had learned the trade in St. Louis. Bernard J. Hamilton, who joined the firm in 1891 and was made a partner in 1906, took charge of the factory. He is the only founder of the firm still active in the business and is, in fact, still working at his old job.
In order to properly finish the shirts it seemed necessary to open a laundry. So, the first steam laundry of Houston, know as Troy Laundry, was established by the partners.