Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Antony Catalano, June 25, 1982

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Back to work at the Navy Yard

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Partial Transcript: We'll be alright. We're gonna get busy.

Segment Synopsis: Antony Catalano states the moment he left the hat business due to lack of employment. He then found work on the Navy Yard as a metalworker.

Keywords: G.I. (military); GI (military); Korean War; Military service; Veterans; Vets; Vietnam War

Subjects: Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: The Philadelphia Navy Yard
Map Coordinates: 39.893, -75.174
00:00:47 - His father's work at the Stetson Hat Company

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Partial Transcript: You say your father worked for Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano notes that his father, Angelo Catalano, worked in the sizing department at the Stetson Hat Company and Stylepark Hats, Inc. Catalano himself learned the hat making business at Stylepark. Explaining Stetson's unique and effective managerial structure, Catalano brings to life how much Stetson meant to the community, providing homes, holiday bonuses, and health care for his employees. Catalano describes what he believes was responsible for the inevitable decline of the hat industry: prominent men, such as politicians including Kennedy and Nixon, no longer wore hats and the fashion for no hats trickled down to the masses. He explains how the Stetson Hat Company eventually sold its name, with Stetson hats now in production by other manufacturers. He notes that there were families who worked together at Stetson and at Stylepark, recruiting other family members to the industry. Catalano recalls that it took him three months to learn the trade, doing piecework, before earning $12 a week.

Keywords: Angelo Catalano; Family; John B. Stetson; John F. Kennedy; John Katz; Kensington (Philadelphia, Pa.); Labor unions; Lyndon B. Johnson; Nancy Reagan; Piecework; Punch and Judy; Richard Nixon; Ronald Reagan; Sizing department; Stetson; Stetson Hospital; Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Employment; Families.; Fashion.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

GPS: Location of the John B. Stetson Hat Company.
Map Coordinates: 39.977, -75.143
00:05:31 - How his father started working at Stetson's

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Partial Transcript: Did your father then know--was he a hatter before he came over to this country?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains how his father ended up working for Stetson. Catalano’s maternal aunt lived in Philadelphia and was married to a barber, and his father had two siblings who had already immigrated to New Jersey. After emigrating from Catania, Sicily, Angelo settled in Philadelphia. His brother-in-law, the barber, cut the hair of the president of Stetson hats, and he asked him to get the recent immigrant a job at Stetson’s. Angelo was too old to be an apprentice, so he lied about his age, but was able to work for $4 a week. In the sizing department (the “backshop”), he worked with other Italians, Polish, and Germans.

Keywords: Apprenticeships; Bloomfield (N.J.); Bloomfield, New Jersey; Catania (Sicily); Catania, Sicily; Chain migration; Hod Carrier; Newark (N.J.); Newark, New Jersey; Orange (N.J.); Orange, New Jersey; Sizing department; Stetson Hat Company; Sweatshops

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:07:15 - Mechanization of the hat business

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Partial Transcript: In the old days, everything was hand work, hand work. Then as time went by, they got a lot of machines.

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains that the mechanization of the hat industry resulted in unemployment. A hat went through several departments during its manufacture: sizing department, finishing department, and trimming department. Due to the high quality required for every Stetson Hat, Catalano notes that hats deemed imperfect by an examiner would not be shipped for sale. As a result of the unionization of the hat industry, Catalano notes that it became quality over quantity, which caused increased prices. Catalano explains that the difference in the quantity of hat stores during his employment at the Stetson Hat Company and La Salle Hats. La Salle Hats, which relocated to Sun Berry, Pennsylvania, were the creators of the Champ hat. Lastly, Catalano notes that after the complete commercialization of the hat industry, one supervisor was all that was needed to oversee that machines were working correctly.

Keywords: Champ hats; Employee pensions; Examiners; Finishing department; Hot room; La Salle Hat Company; Machines; Philadelphia (Pa.); Seasonal work; Sizing department; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Employment; Fashion.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Technological innovations

00:14:30 - Seasonal work and the death of men's hats

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Partial Transcript: And then it became seasonal work.

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the gradual decline of employment in the hat business. Initially, he recalls being employed year-round. Then, as time went by, hat making became seasonal work, starting in September and ending by Christmas. From Catalano’s view, presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon and their tendency to not wear hats aided in the inevitable fall of the hat fad.

Keywords: Christmas; Hat fads; John F. Kennedy; Lyndon B. Johnson; Richard Nixon; Seasonal work; Stetson Hat Company; Trends

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Employment; Fashion.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:16:52 - Father’s switch from work at Stetson to Stylepark Hat Company

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Partial Transcript: How long did your father work at Stetson?

Segment Synopsis: Angelo Catalano worked at Stetson for 15 years before a friend convinced him to go and work as a hat finisher at Stylepark Hat Company. A hat finisher shaped the raw body of a hat, simultaneously applying different dyes to give it color. Finally, Catalano explains that Stetson, unlike other hat manufacturers, gave his employees a pension and paid them in gold and silver.

Keywords: Employees; Gold; Hat finishers; Payment; Silver; Stetson Hat Company; Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.; Union

Subjects: Employment; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Labor unions; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:19:25 - Stetson after the death of its founder

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Partial Transcript: Did the company's reputation stay that high after he died?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the downfall of the Stetson Hat Company after the death of John B. Stetson [February 18, 1906]. Catalano notes that ultimately, the gambling issues of one of Stetson's sons led to the bank purchase of the John B. Stetson Company.

Keywords: Banks; Fires; Sales; Stetson Hat Company; Strikes

Subjects: Employment; Families.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Labor unions; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:21:17 - Industrial paternalism at Stetson

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember any of the, um, any of the cowboy shows or circuses or fairs they had?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the different services that John B. Stetson provided to his employees. As a child, he remembers seeing Tom Mix at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Catalano remembers attending Stetson’s annual Christmas parties held in the hall of the factory. Tours of the Stetson Hat Factory were given to the public. Finally, Catalano tells of the Americanization classes offered at Stetson and how his father gained citizenship after attending the night sessions.

Keywords: Americanization classes; Annual Christmas party; Citizenship; Corporate paternalism; Fairmount Park, Philadelphia (Pa.); John B. Stetson School; Stetson Hall; Stetson Hat Factory; Tom Mix; Tours

Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:24:14 - Life in South Philadelphia / Apprenticing in the hat industry

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Partial Transcript: What part of, um, the city did you all live in?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano talks about the different parts of South Philadelphia that he called home. Never living north of Morris St., he belonged to the St. Nicholas Parish at 9th St. and Pierce St. before moving to 11th St. where he joined the Epiphany Parish and remained for the rest of his life. As a child, Catalano’s mother wanted him to learn a trade. After serving as an apprentice in a local barbershop, Catalano coaxed his father into getting him a job at Stylepark Hat Company, where he began an apprenticeship at age 16. All of Catalano's siblings worked in the hat industry at some point in their lives. Catalano worked for Stetson from 1947 to 1949 before leaving due to its increased reliance on seasonal work.

Keywords: 2323 11th St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); 9th and Pierce St. (Philadelphia, Pa.); Apprenticeship; Barbershops; Churches; Hat manufacturing; Larry Catalano; Real estate; Seasonal work; South Philadelphia; St. Nicholas Church; Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.

Subjects: Childhood; Employment; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Religion

GPS: St. Nicholas Church in South Philadelphia.
Map Coordinates: 39.927, -75.161
00:27:50 - Stetson and its competitors

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Partial Transcript: Was there much competition between Stetson and the other hat manufacturers in the city?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the competition, or lack thereof, among Stetson and other hat manufacturers. Stetson hats were made from higher quality materials than their competitors. As a result, its product went unmatched. Having factories in Canada and Europe, Catalano recalls that Stetson purchased Mallory and Anderson Hats in an attempt to strengthen their position as the premier hat manufacturer.

Keywords: Anderson Hats; High quality; Mallory Hat Company; Stetson Hat Company

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Employment; Fashion.; John B. Stetson Hat Company

00:29:15 - Stylepark Hats Inc.

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Partial Transcript: Um, you worked for Stylepark?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the various times that the Stylepark Hat Company relocated. After a few decades at several Philadelphia locations, Stylepark then operated in New Jersey for ten years. Finally, it found a permanent home in Chester, Pennsylvania. The frequent moving, according to Catalano, was due to its attempts at benefiting from tax laws. Catalano mentions that, unlike Stetson who had a world-renowned sizing department, Stylepark purchased finished hat bodies from the Peix-McLachlan Company in Danbury, Connecticut.

Keywords: 15th and Wallace (Philadelphia, Pa.); 25th and Locust (Philadelphia, Pa.); 26th and Reed (Philadelphia, Pa.); Chester (Pa.); Danbury (Conn.); Finishing department; Hat finishers; New Jersey; Stetson Hat Company; Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.; The Peix-McLachlan Company

Subjects: Clothing and dress.; Employment; Fashion.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:31:33 - Life of a hat maker

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Partial Transcript: What was the reputation of a hat maker? That whole trade when you were a young man.

Segment Synopsis: Catalano describes the reputation and lifestyle of a hat maker. Being a hat maker at Stetson meant stability (before The Great Depression) and regularly occurring incentives which were provided by Stetson. When Catalano was a child, he recalls the closeness that once embodied his community. He remembers sharing a single bed with his two brothers for most of his childhood. Catalano describes how he had to go to the bathroom in the backyard while living at his first house, which consisted of only two rooms. He and his siblings knew that, despite their lower-class status, their parents provided the best possible life for them. Catalano states that both his brothers were drafted into the military during World War II. Finally, he expresses the enormous gratitude he had for his parents and their decision to emigrate to the United States.

Keywords: Button hole makers; Closeness; Community; Cramped living conditions; Hat makers; Home cooked meals; Larry Catalano; Military drafts; Mothers; Patriotism; Reputation; Stetson Hat Factory; World War II

Subjects: Childhood; Emigration and immigration.; Employment; Families.; Immigrants; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; World War, 1939-1945

00:38:38 - Politics and the economy during the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you a little bit of politics.

Segment Synopsis: Catalano describes his disinterest in politics. Hinting at Senator William Scott Vare and his 1926 Senate scandal, which involved thousands of illegal paper ballots, Catalano states that he never looked to politicians for help. During The Great Depression, Catalano recalls almost losing his house. Lucky to have worked for three months a year, he remembers when his brother, Larry, paid off their parents' mortgage with the bonus check he received after leaving the military. Angelo Catalano passed away in 1943.

Keywords: Angelo Catalano; Bonuses; Congressman William Scott Vare; Illegal paper ballots; Larry Catalano; Senate scandal, 1926; The Great Depression

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Politicians; Politics and government; World War, 1939-1945--Veterans.

00:40:50 - Impact of the Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember when the, uh, market crashed? When The Depression--

Segment Synopsis: In 1928, Catalano left Stylepark Hat Company after his supervisor refused to give him a raise. Along with a few friends from Stylepark, he started working at the La Salle Hat Company, known for its famous Champ Hats. From 1928-1929 he "lived large" making $60 a week, triple his pay while at Stylepark. After the stock market crashed in 1929, Catalano struggled to find employment and his wife lost $100 that she kept in the bank, only to get about $30 dollars a few years later. Catalano recalls the upward trend of the economy once President Franklin Roosevelt implemented the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration.

Keywords: Champ hats; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Great Depression; La Salle Hat Company; Public Works Administration (PWA); Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.; The New Deal; Unemployment; Works Progress Administration (WPA)

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Franklin Delano), 1882-1945

00:43:05 - Keeping the union at bay

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Partial Transcript: Did you, uh, at that point, prefer piecework to--

Segment Synopsis: Catalano explains the dominance of piecework in the hat business. Employees had quotas on how many pieces they were allowed to make each day. Once a quota was met, employees were often sent home, as employers attempted to keep as many people employed as possible. Unless you had a special job at Stetson, such as a timekeeper, hourly wages were non-existent. Hourly wages came as a result of unionization, which, as Catalano explains, was deterred by employee incentives such as offering company shares. When employees had a stake in the company, they would be more reluctant to go against managerial motives. The Katz family, which owned Stylepark, ran a strict shop. Lastly, Catalano talks about the company's desire to employ entire families, or groups, so that they would be more hesitant to question their employment.

Keywords: 15th and Wallace (Philadelphia, Pa.); Hat business; Hat making; Hourly rates; John Katz; La Salle Hat Company; Piecework; Quotas; Securities; Shares; Stylepark Hat Company; Stylepark Hats Inc.; Unionization

Subjects: Employment; Families.; John B. Stetson Hat Company; Labor unions; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.

00:51:38 - Career changes during and after the Depression

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Partial Transcript: Did the Depression hit the, uh--I, you know, had heard that men stopped--started to stop wearing hats during the Depression.

Segment Synopsis: Catalano remembers the hat industry declining between 1930 and 1932. As he recalls, things got so bad that instead of taking the trolley car to work, he walked so that he could save about 8 cents. If there were orders, they’d work, if not, they’d be sent home. Once World War II started, Catalano left the hat business and became a barber, working for nickels and dimes. In 1939, he started working as a general helper at the Navy Yard. After some time, he went to school on the yard and became a sheet metal worker. After a heart attack in 1973, Catalano retired.

Keywords: Great Depression; Metalworkers; Philadelphia Navy Yard

Subjects: Depressions--1929; Employment; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; World War, 1939-1945

00:54:58 - Remembering political events

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember the Al Smith--

Segment Synopsis: Catalano remembers the 1928 presidential election between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. He also recalls Smedley Butler, Philadelphia's director of public safety during Prohibition. Catalano has respect for law enforcement, and notes that his son was a police officer and also was drafted into the Air Force. He recalls how he and his wife raised their grandson when his son and his wife could not do so, noting some of the challenges the family has faced.

Keywords: 1928 Presidential election; Al Smith; Catholicism; John Dewey; Military service; Smedley Butler; United States Air Force

Subjects: Employment; Families.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Politicians; Politics and government

01:00:57 - Memories of Antony's childhood

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Partial Transcript: One final question for you. Can you remember any stories, jokes, um, anecdotes when you were a kid that, that really caught your fancy?

Segment Synopsis: Catalano recalls going to the movies as a child, hanging around on street corners, and going to dances. He views his childhood as safer than at the time of the interview. He notes that he learned lots of dirty jokes as a kid, but is unwilling to say them. He remembers when Charles Lindbergh returned from his transatlantic flight. He recalls his first automobile, a 1934 Chevy, and then a 1935 Ford V8. He concludes the interview by stating what his grandchildren are doing.

Keywords: 1934 Chevy; Charles Lindbergh; Discrimination; General Electric (GE); Glassborough State College; Granddaughters; Lindbergh kidnapping; Pennsylvania State University; Safety

Subjects: Childhood; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social conditions.; Philadelphia (Pa.)--Social life and customs.