Top Hats and Plugs: The 1930s

Caroline C. Morris

Catalog Number: 2004.040.01   

Nothing says “special occasion” like a silk top hat; particularly one from the fashionable New York firm Rogers, Peet & Company. La Crosse resident and businessman Fred Kramer wore this hat as a member of the “La Crosse Plugs,” a men’s social organization committed to boosting La Crosse’s business interests. The club had been around as early as the 1870s, but had gone dormant by the early twentieth century. Several businessmen and public servants rebooted it in 1932, including Fred Kramer.

When in action, the Plugs dressed with excessive formality: top hats, coat-tails, and canes. The uniform was meant to grab attention, show respect to visitors, and give an impression of general prosperity. The Plugs’ self-professed purpose was to “boost the city,” but members made it clear in their founding documents that they also planned to include “rip-roaring-snorting comedy” and “fun-making” on occasion.  The uniform did both at once.

Circumstantial evidence suggests Kramer and his top hat made the trip to Rochester on August 8, 1934, to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and make him a member of the Plugs, too. The Plugs set out in the morning, in full “black and white uniform,” on a special train with a couple hundred of their friends, including the drum and bugle corps of post No. 52 of the American Legion. They marched in a parade, greeted the President with appropriate elegance, and showed up in the background of the newsreels.  In the words of the Chicago Tribune, the Plugs generally “evoked admiration” from those assembled. They even succeeded in making the President a member, through the efforts of Wisconsin governor A.G. Schmedeman. Not bad, for a small-town booster club.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on August 22, 2015. 

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