The History of the Devil May Care Clothing Company
(As interpreted from the journal of Mr. William Howard and research done throughout Montgomery County)
The story of Devil May Care Clothing Company began in February of 1897 in Norristown, Pennsylvania - an industrious town just outside of Philadelphia. A place for both production and commerce – the already bustling town was made even busier when recently electrified trolleys helped bring even more shoppers to the area. Norristown was ripe with factories - among them there were two of particular interest in this story. Located next door to one another - on the banks of the Schuylkill River between Swede and DeKalb sat two textile mills – one belonging to Mr. William Scott and the other belonging to Mr.William Howard. These two men shared the same first name, the same family enterprise and the same desire to see the other fail. In what became known locally as “the war of the Williams” these two clothing manufacturers were bitter rivals – some even said the two men personally hated one another. What began as simple friendly competition with these two escalated over the years to become an all out battle. Fistfights between factory workers in saloons were frequent - fires were set – pigeons and rats let loose – items stolen - though no charges were formally brought on either man the whole town knew what was going on.
One evening in a dark corner of the saloon in the Hotel Hartranft these two men found themselves at opposite ends of a poker table – and this is where the story really began. Hours went by and money exchanged hands – from one to the other and back again. The intensity of the two Williams was thicker then the black smoke from the spectator’s cigars and pipes – and even of that which bellowed from the surrounding mills. Opponents came and went losing their money in the process. As the night grew late (or the morning grew early depending on your perspective) and the game seemed to be coming to a close a voice came from the entrance to the saloon “Mind if I join you?” While these two men could never see eye to eye on anything neither man could help but notice the peculiarity of the new comer – they sat slack jawed at what stood before them. A tall thin fellow, the man was fitted head to toe in black. His grin was neatly framed by his mustache which curled ever so perfectly on each side. He walked with a shiny black cane adorned with some sort of silver horned animal head though neither man could make out what it was. The oddest thing about this man was not his clothes, nor his accessory, nor his manicured facial hair. The oddest thing about this stranger was that the man who stood before them was blindfolded. Scott and Howard looked at other in disbelief. They shrugged their shoulders – they couldn’t understand why or how a blindfolded man was to play cards but neither man was burdened with an abundance of moral fiber and free money was free money. “Mr. Hamelin is the name – it’s a pleasure gentlemen.” He stated and had a seat at the table. Hand after hand Mr. Hamelin sat blindfolded - his head never so much as tilted down towards the table yet somehow he knew every card he had. He knew what to get rid of – he knew what to keep and as the night went on both men soon found themselves tired and full of regret for letting this intruder sabotage their rivalry. Their pockets were empty - only a few pennies sat on the table between Scott and Howard – a large pile of money and jewelry sat in front of the new comer. “How about one last hand for the fun of it - just as a friendly gesture?” Hamelin said. Both men begrudgingly agreed and the cards were dealt. Trying to disguise his joy Mr. Scott peered down at a miraculous hand. His impetuous pride taking charge, he proposed “While I don’t seem to have any money to bet I propose a winner take all hand – I will put up my mill as collateral!” Knowing he couldn’t let Mr. Scott appear to be more courageous Mr. Howard hesitantly agreed to do the same. Hamelin grinned as he brushed his mustache with his thumb and forefinger. ”Well who am I to deny a man the chance to win his money back?” Hamelin remarked. Mr. Scott confidently laid his cards down on the table – diamonds blazing – and announced “a straight flush king high.” Astounded Mr. Howard laid his cards down – again the phrase “a straight flush king high” – hearts as red as his weathered cheeks. The men stared at each other in amazement only to be quickly interrupted by Hamelin - “That certainly is something!” he says with a chuckle ”One might wonder if there were a cheater at the table with two hands like those” Scott and Howard stared at each other still in disbelief. “Although …” Hamelin continued, “One might only wonder that if he had lost.” He said as he laid down his cards – a royal flush. “I bid you a good night gentlemen. I’ll send someone by in the morning for the deeds to my factories.” Hamelin remarked “And remember gentleman – the devil dances in an empty pocket.” In what seemed like one motion the blindfolded stranger gathered his money and was exiting the saloon. Scott and Howard were dumbfounded. “Something is not right here.” Said Howard. They quickly got up and followed Hamelin out the door. No sooner did the door slam behind Hamelin did Mr. Scott open it only to find an empty street. Not a soul to be found.
They both sat on a stoop – the shock of the nights events replaying in their minds. His head down and ever so slightly shaking from side to side Mr. Howard remarked “We certainly made a mess of this didn’t we?” Mr. Scott replied ”Indeed we did.” These were the two most rational statements the men had ever exchanged. Maybe it was the exhaustion, maybe it was face that this was the first true sense of defeat either man had ever felt - but for the first time in their lives Scott and Howard were able to just sit and talk as any two men would. Their rivalry was overlooked and the men sat and talked the night away – the steam pouring from their lips they forgot about the frigid air and the hours passed. Just as the first light of dawn was approaching Mr. Howard stated, “You know … differences aside – there are no greater clothing makers around here.” Mr. Scott noted “I heard that there is a factory for sale not far from Chatlin’s department store. Separately we may not have the money to open new factories – but maybe together … interested in having a partner?”
A few months later – in early May of 1897 the Devil May Care Clothing Company was born. The two men began to design clothing the likes of which had never been seen before. They were major contributors in popularizing the blazer in the area. They helped make the tea gown popular outside of the home. Pants, shirts, dresses and hats - they were innovators in every project they took on. Among these unique ideas was their attempt to turn the t shirt into a piece of fashion. Previously only worn as an undershirt or for manual labor - they decorated the t shirts with words and drawings and tried to market this new idea across town. Unfortunately for Mr. Scott and Mr. Howard the concept of the fancy t shirt was too far ahead of its time – no one could understand the idea of an undergarment being high fashion and the idea quickly flopped. Despite this minor set back the factory was very successful for many years but eventually fell victim to the Great Depression and closed in 1933.
No one knew for sure what happened to Mr. Hamelin. He sent a courier to retrieve the deeds and was never seen in Norristown again. Both mills mysteriously caught fire not long after that and the land still sits vacant today. Becoming almost a hobby, both men tried for many years to track down the stranger but found little.
In 2010 Scott Brady and Trevor Walz discovered these t shirt designs in an old chest in an attic along with the journal of William Howard. Devil May Care Clothing Company is back in business. Damn what a difference.