Saturday, November 19, 2016

DeMoulin Brothers and Company, Greenville, Illinois.

The DeMoulin Factory - Riding the Goat: A Business is Born.

The founding of DeMoulin Bros. and Co. was the result of a chain of events that began when William A. Northcott, a local attorney joined Greenville's Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) camp and was soon representing the chapter at state and national conventions. 

In November 1890, Northcott was elected Head Consul of the MWA, the fraternal order's highest position. Faced with the challenge of boosting the organization's membership, he consulted his friend and fellow MWA member, Ed DeMoulin. This request set in motion a small fraternal paraphernalia and regalia business that eventually grew to become the nation's leading band uniform manufacturer.

Ed discussed with his brothers Northcott's dilemma and it was decided that they should create something based on "riding the goat," a prank in which a man was carried on a rail hoisted by two men. 

The idea quickly met with favor among the Modern Woodmen of America camps. Ed DeMoulin was in the unusual position of having a business but no manufacturing plant so he enlisted the help of his brother, Erastus. Putting his blacksmith talents to the test, Erastus made the earliest DeMoulin goats in his shop and then shipped them by horse and wagon to Greenville.

Wardrobe to Warehouse: 1892-1900
Starting in a side room of Ed DeMoulin's photo studio, the factory's early years saw it move frequently to meet production demands. In May 1894, Ed moved his operation into a brick building on 2nd Street in Greenville, Illinois – now the First Bank parking lot.

 As orders for Modern Woodmen of America products increased, so did the need for more space. February 1895 brought a move to the former Schlup Wagon building on 3rd Street – now site of the Bond County Senior Citizen's Center.

Orders grew dramatically as the factory expanded its work to the Woodmen of the World, Odd Fellows, and other fraternal groups. Purchasing the site of an old flour mill for $800, the DeMoulin brothers constructed a 35 x 72 three-story building with a basement and rail access.

Opening in September 1896, the new factory's first floor housed the stockroom and shipping department on the east side, and a machine shop at the west end. The second floor contained offices and a sewing room. The smaller third floor was home to the art department. A gas engine, located in the basement, powered the factory's equipment.

In October 1897, the DeMoulins purchased a St. Louis company that specialized in badges, seals, and other metalwork. The operation was relocated to the expanded basement of the Ed DeMoulin & Bro. factory. Further growth led to the spring 1898 construction of a three-story, 35 x 90 addition to the west and in 1901 a two-story, 20 x 16 addition to the south.

When Erastus DeMoulin moved to Greenville in 1901 to oversee the mechanical work, a blacksmith shop was built on the grounds. The brothers were employing 45 men and women in 1899 with an average monthly payroll of $1,000.

The Fire of 1907
On the afternoon of February 12, 1907, a fire broke out in the basement of the building when the gasoline line feeding the 16-horsepower engine operating the sewing machines burst. Ed DeMoulin was entering the front door of his residence when he heard the fire alarm. He ran to the factory and supervised the salvaging of office furniture, files, and the safe. Henry and Phil Diehl, brothers who worked in the office, plunged into the smoke-congested building to save records.

Employees connected the factory's fire hoses to the water main, but due to a lack of pressure had to wait nearly five minutes for the first stream. The pressure was so weak that the water sprayed only five feet. Someone suggested fighting the fire from above, and a hole was cut in the second-story floor. The plan was unsuccessful. The gusting wind pushed the blaze through the factory, and in less than an hour, the building was reduced to smoldering rubble. The loss was estimated at $67,000.
The nearby towns of Highland and Centralia attempted to lure the factory from Greenville, but Ed DeMoulin soon announced that a new factory would be built in the same location. For the next several months, the DeMoulin brothers would manage a makeshift operation from several buildings around Greenville.

Built for the Ages
Scrambling to find a temporary home for their factory after a devastating 1907 fire, the DeMoulins opened an office at the Thomas House hotel on south 2nd Street. Two buildings were leased from the Greenville Lumber Company and replacement machinery was rounded up. On February 25, thirteen days after the fire, production resumed. Ed and U.S. now turned their attention to building a new factory.
Hiring a St. Louis architect, the brothers decided on an "E" shaped building that provided more natural lighting. The new factory would extend farther to the south and the blacksmith shop, the only building to survive the fire, would be demolished. Plans also called for fire doors and a fireproof safe. The brothers broke ground in early May and construction was completed on October 12. From lighting and heating to sewing machinery, the new factory would feature the latest technology.
The building has survived a 1955 fire and a 2002 tornado and witnessed the shift from lodge initiation paraphernalia to band uniforms. And there have been expansions with the largest coming in 1964 – a 22,000-foot facility for the cap and gown division. Perhaps the most welcome addition was air conditioning which came in the 1970s.

Erastus DeMoulin

The oldest of the DeMoulin brothers, Erastus was born September 9, 1860, at Jamestown, Illinois. U.S. DeMoulin once described his brother as "strong and brawny" and "most considerate in every way." Unlike his brothers, "Ras" was content to run the family blacksmith shop in Sebastapol. It was there that the first DeMoulin lodge goats were made by the skillful Erastus.

He officially joined his brothers in their lodge paraphernalia business in October 1901 when he accepted an offer to be the factory superintendent. Erastus' family moved to Greenville the following year. When the company was incorporated in 1905, Ras and his brothers were elected directors, but he held no formal title in the corporation and preferred to work behind the scenes.

Erastus married Leonie Malan in February 1886 and they had three children: Oradelle, Lillie, and Leslie, who would later become the factory president. His granddaughter, Elizabeth DeMoulin Pirtle, fondly remembered Erastus as "one of the sweetest men in the whole world." James McDonald called his grandfather "a very gentle soul." Erastus was the tuba player in the Greenville Concert band.

When Erastus died on March 27, 1936, the pallbearers at his funeral were DeMoulin employees Charlie Lipple, Phil Diehl, Charlie Gum, Ernie Streiff, Joe Clare Sr., and Alvin Watson. It was a fitting tribute to the man who preferred being in the woodworking department to the office.

U.S. DeMoulin
Born two months premature on October 3, 1871, at Jamestown, Illinois, U.S. DeMoulin was saved through the efforts of a Dr. Gordon who rubbed the infant with olive oil, wrapped him in cotton batting, and placed him in a basket in the family's oven. This makeshift incubator must have worked because U.S. lived for 84 years.

U.S. joined his brother Ed in the lodge paraphernalia business on Friday, February 13, 1895. DeMoulin selected that day to prove that he was not a superstitious man. U.S. held patents on several lodge initiation pieces including the Lung Tester, Traitor's Judgment Stand, and the Lifting and Spanking Machine. He served as vice-president of the company until Ed's death in 1935, at which time he assumed the duties of president. U.S. remained company president until his retirement in 1946. He continued to visit the office for the remainder of his life.

Ed DeMoulin
Born June 11, 1862, at Jamestown, Illinois, Ed DeMoulin learned the family blacksmith trade. He may have soured on the vocation when at age fifteen he nearly lost his thumb in a sawing mishap. DeMoulin developed an interest in photography and opened a studio in Greenville. His reputation grew as an outstanding photographer and artist. His first patent was issued in 1892 for a camera attachment that created seamless, dual images of a subject in a single photograph.

Ed became involved in Greenville's fraternal orders including the Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) where he became acquainted with William A. Northcott. The Bond County State's Attorney, Northcott had been elected national president of the MWA in 1890. Seeking to increase membership, Northcott sought the input of Ed DeMoulin who then consulted his brothers. The DeMoulins soon found themselves creating lodge initiation paraphernalia for the MWA and other lodges.

Like his brothers, Ed was a member of the Greenville Concert Band and was often praised for his French horn solos. Technology was perhaps his true love. He was the first person in Greenville to own an automobile, having purchased a two-seat Oldsmobile in 1902. In the summer of 1892, Ed and two other men invested in a steam-operated "merry-go-round and panorama" they toured southern Illinois. In 1899 he spent $300 on a 12 disc music box that automatically changed them after each tune.

DeMoulin, a four-term Greenville mayor (1897, 1899, 1903, and 1905), was instrumental in the community's industrial growth. He also championed infrastructure improvements like electric street lights, a new water tower, and the oiling of streets. He later purchased a home in Los Angeles, California and by 1920 was living there permanently.

Ed's first wife, Constance, died in 1899 after a brief battle with influenza. They had five children: Gladys, Horace, Eric, Adele, and Lillian. Later that year he married Anna Diehl, the sister of U.S. DeMoulin's first wife, Emma. Her brothers, Henry and Phil, would be long-time DeMoulin employees.

Ed DeMoulin died October 29, 1935, at his Los Angeles home. His body was returned by train to Greenville for burial at Montrose Cemetery.

At an early age, he developed an interest in music and played the baritone for decades in the Greenville Municipal Band. DeMoulin was known as an outstanding marksman and co-founded the Greenville Gun Club in 1902. Perhaps his greatest legacy is Greenville Regional Hospital which was built upon land donated by U.S.

His first marriage, to Emma Diehl, ended in divorce when he refused her request to have children. Emma's alleged affair with a St. Louis streetcar conductor was cited as the reason for the break-up leading to the St. Louis Post Dispatch printing the headline "Goat Maker Sues Wife." DeMoulin's second wife, Cora, apparently agreed to his wish to have no children and the couple enjoyed many years together.

He was an avid reader and considered himself well-versed in many topics. U.S. embraced his role as Greenville's elder statesman and was later remembered as tall, dignified, and always dressed in a white shirt and tie.

DeMoulin built his home on 4th Street in 1900 at a cost of $5,000. Greenville's first tennis court was constructed on the grounds in 1912. A garage was added in 1921 and a sunroom in 1925. U.S. lived there until his death on July 11, 1955.


The DeMoulin Museum 

With permission from the Demoulin Museum.
Edited by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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