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The DeMoulin Factory

Riding the Goat: A Business is Born

DeMoulin Bucking GoatThe 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 blacksmithing 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 sideroom 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 – 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.

Lifting And Spanking MachineOpening 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 metal work. 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. 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 Age

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 which 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 fire proof safe. The brothers broke ground in early May and construction was completed 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.

Timeline

  • 1862   Edmond DeMoulin is born near Jamestown, Illinois.
  • 1887   Ed moves to Greenville, Illinois and takes over ownership of the Butler Photo Studio.
  • 1892   Ed receives his first patent, a camera attachment that allows him to do “trick photography.”
  • Ed begins his lodge regalia and paraphernalia business with the Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) as the sole client. William A. Northcott, a Greenville resident and friend of Ed’s, quietly invests in the business. Northcott is head consul of the MWA.
  • 1894   The first DeMoulin goats are manufactured by Erastus DeMoulin at the family blacksmith shop in Sebastapol, Illinois and shipped by wagon to Greenville.
  • 1895   U.S. moves to Greenville and becomes a partner. He purchases Northcott’s silent share of the company. The business is now named Ed DeMoulin & Bro.
  • The first DeMoulin catalog is printed for the MWA.
  • 1896   After operating in various buildings near downtown Greenville, a three story factory is built on south 4th Street on “the old mill property.” The site provides rail access. The business grows quickly and the factory is expanded in 1898 and 1901.
  • 1897   DeMoulin makes its first band uniform (for the Greenville Concert band).
  • 1898   The brothers obtain a patent on their Lung Tester, which will become one of their top lodge initiation sellers. (The patent is revised in 1902).
  • 1902   Erastus DeMoulin moves to Greenville and becomes plant superintendent.
  • 1905   The factory is incorporated as DeMoulin Bros. & Co. with Ed as president, U.S. as vice president/general manager and Henry C. Diehl as secretary. Diehl is the brother-in-law of both Ed and U.S. Although a stock holder, Erastus holds no formal title in the corporation.
  • 1907   A fire destroys the factory. A state-of-the-art brick facility is built on the same spot. This building is still in use today.
  • 1913   The company begins manufacturing military academy uniforms.
  • 1922   A practical joke by DeMoulin employees on a local railroad shipping agent involving a DeMoulin trick chair leads to a lawsuit that eventually costs the factory $5,000.
  • 1923   The company patents the last of its lodge goats, the Low Down Buck.
  • 1925   DeMoulin Bro. has added graduation caps and gowns to its diverse product list.
  • 1934   The factory has one of its biggest years for making circus band uniforms, outfits, and elephant blankets.
  • 1935   Ed DeMoulin dies of a stroke at his Los Angeles home. Ed had moved here in the late 1910s. U.S. had already been serving as company president.
  • 1936   Erastus DeMoulin dies from heart attack at home in Greenville.
  • 1947   U.S. DeMoulin retires and names his nephew, Leslie DeMoulin, as company president.
  • 1955   A fire does $400,000 damage to the woodworking department. The lodge paraphernalia business, which had been tapering off since the 1930s, is closed. Band uniforms and graduation caps and gowns are the focus.
  • U.S. DeMoulin dies from a heart condition at his Greenville home.
  • 1961   Spinning off into its own division, the Monticello Cap and Gown Company is formed. The cap and gown business enjoys continual growth over the next twenty years.
  • 1962   The employees vote in favor of joining the ILGWU Union.
  • 1963   Leslie DeMoulin dies after a short illness. His son, William L. DeMoulin, is the company’s new president.
  • 1982   The Monticello Cap and Gown Company is sold after receiving an unsolicited offer from a Chicago firm.
  • 1989   DeMoulin Bros. and Co. is sold to a group of local investors including Dick DeMoulin (William’s son.)
  • 1992   The company celebrates its 100th anniversary.
  • 1995   Bill Marsden of St. Louis buys the company, becoming the first non-DeMoulin to serve as company president.
  • 2002   Magician David Copperfield, a collector of DeMoulin lodge initiation gags, tours the factory.
  • A tornado lifts a portion of the roof. No one is injured.
  • 2004   The book “Three Frenchmen and a Goat: The DeMoulin Bros. Story” is written by John Goldsmith.
  • 2007   William L. DeMoulin dies after years of failing health.
  • 2010   The DeMoulin Museum opens in downtown Greenville.
  • 2015   The DeMoulin Museum welcomes its 5,000th visitor during Greenville’s Bicentennial Celebration.