For the past 101 years, New Era has stood the test of time as one of the oldest, most iconic companies in American history. Founded by Ehrhardt Koch in 1920, with a loan from his sister Rose, the Buffalo-based company began its rise by producing Gatsby-style hats before Ehrhardt’s son, Harold, revolutionized the fashion hat industry by blending the country’s love for baseball into the fashion hat industry. To celebrate the occasion, we are paying tribute to the Koch family’s cornerstone contribution to the world, the 59FIFTY.
From their earliest beginnings with Major League Baseball, New Era made its benchmark in 1934 with their classic, crushed wool cap for the Cleveland Indians. But it wasn’t until the 1950s when other teams began to take notice by shifting their hat allegiance to the now famous hat brand. With the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and Indians now under contract, Harold began to tinker with the shape of the crown and interior webbing of each hat to give ballplayers a much more contemporary-looking cap to wear on the field. In 1954, the 22 step 59FIFTY was born.
In 1972, Harold’s son, David, took over as president of the company, and by 1974, 20 of the 24 Major League teams were rocking New Era caps each season. However, it wouldn’t be until 1980, through an advertisement in The Sporting News, that hats would be available through mail order to baseball fans throughout the country. Around this same time, college teams, Minor League Baseball teams and even international baseball leagues jumped on board with New Era, making them one of the largest and most popular hat manufacturers in the world almost overnight.
Pleased with the company’s growth, Major League Baseball reached out to New Era and formed an exclusive partnership prior to the start of the 1993 season. Even though all New Era-contracted team hats had been affixed with it the previous season, 1993 would be the year in which every team would be outfitted with the now-famous “batterman” logo, to signify this long-term partnership.
In 1996, New Era made their second noticeable addition to the exterior of each hat when the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees squared off the World Series that season. The now-famous side patch made its debut during the fall classic, and was so alluring, that film director Spike Lee personally called then-president, and David’s son, Chris, to get a one-of-a-kind red Yankees hat featuring the 1996 World Series patch made for himself. Having never done anything outside of the teams’ colorways, Chris then made a call to Major League Baseball to get approval for the project. After getting the greenlight, Chris and New Era produced and delivered the hat to Lee before the end of the Series. The custom 59FIFTY was born.
Over the next 25 years, New Era expanded their scope beyond just Authentic Collection hats. The demand for custom 59FIFTYs exploded almost overnight, ushering in a new era of hat enthusiasts all over the world. Like other famous brands, New Era introduced their iconic “flag” logo in 1997, and it wouldn’t be until the 2016 MLB postseason, that it would appear on every hat produced by the company.