What’s in a label: The Genealogy of Ely & Walker
April 21, 2012 § 2 Comments
Frank Ely was born August 8, 1842 to Benjamin and Martha Washington Allen Ely in Carrollton, Missouri. His mother died in 1853 when Frank was 11, and his father passed in 1860. Frank was raised by his half-brother, Lewis Bell Ely, and went to work for him as a clerk in his store, Hill & Ely, rather than go to school. He enlisted in the Confederate Army as a young man, but left soon thereafter due to illness. Frank spent two years in New York, whereafter he returned to St. Louis and began working as a clerk for the dry goods firm, Crow & McCreary (which later changed its name to Crow, Hargadine & Co.)
In 1864 he was given partnership in the firm, and in 1873 Frank married a Kentucky girl named Clara Crow Daniel, daughter of Vivian Daniel and Vitula McCreary, and niece of Senator James B. McCreary. In 1878 Frank started his own firm, known as Ely, Janis & Company.
In 1879 Ely, Janis & Company formed a partnership with one David Davis Walker, and the rest, as they say, was history. The resulting alliance was named Ely-Walker & Company.
Now, much has been written on David Davis Walker. Known as D.D., he was born in 1840 in Bloomington, Illinois. His career trajectory similar to Frank’s in many ways, D.D. began work in 1857 at Crow, McCreary & Co. as an office boy. In 1862 he married Martha A. Beakey, and in 1865 he was given partnership in the firm. He left Crow, McCreary in 1878.
Ely-Walker & Company was, in short, a raging and long-lived success. By the end of their first year, their business volume exceeded $2.5 million. In 1883 they incorporated under the name of Ely & Walker Dry Goods Company.
Tragedy struck, however in the year 1890. On a visit to New York City, after three weeks of relative health and safety, Frank was suddenly seized with a chill on January 22nd while eating dinner. Clara was immediately sent for by telegram, and she arrived in this fair city on January 25th to nurse her ailing husband. At first her ministrations were effective, and Frank seemed to rally, but the rally was short-lived and Frank soon relapsed. Cause of death was pneumonia. He died at the Murray Hill Hotel at 1:45 am on the morning of February 14, 1890. Frank was 47 years old. Clara accompanied his remains back to St. Louis for burial.
Clara died in 1922.
Despite the loss of his partner, D.D. Walker carried on. The name Ely & Walker was so well known by the time of Frank Ely’s death, that the firm retained the name and, under the direction of the Walker family, continued to flourish. By 1893, Ely & Walker had 65 salesman covering 17 states, including the areas in the “wild west,” in what was then known as Indian Territory. Both J.C. Penney and Sears Roebuck each purchased as much as one third of their inventories from E&W. E&W owned many factories by this time, producing goods under the E&W name.
In 1902, ill health convinced D.D. to retire from E&W. His son, William H. Walker took over, but his tenure only lasted a brief one year due to a major disagreement with his father, who retained his board position, over William H.’s “personal financial interest,” which conflicted with the interests of the firm. William H. Walker resigned. The E&W trademark was filed in 1909.
William H.’s brother, George Herbert Walker, known as “Bert,” was also employed by the firm. Together Bert and D.D. built a summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for the family to escape the hot Missouri summers. There D.D. passed away on October 19, 1918.
Where the Elys were staunch Baptists, the Walkers were decidedly Catholic, and, ironically, Democrats. D.D. had great hopes that Bert would become a Catholic priest. Instead, in 1875 Bert married a Presbyterian named Lucretia “Loulie” Wear, became a Republican, and spurned the dry goods firm in favor of building a financial empire that produced him an enormous wealth of his own. Bert’s firm was known as G.H. Walker & Co. After D.D.’s death, Bert inherited both Kennebunkport and the E&W wealth, forming the foundations of a dynasty that continues to effect our country in unimaginable ways.
Bert and Loulie gave birth to a daughter in 1901, who they named Dorothy. In 1921 Dorothy married one Prescott Sheldon Bush. Their son, George Herbert Walker Bush, was born in 1924, and in 1945 he married a lady named Barbara Pierce. In due time this couple produced a son named George Walker Bush. And the rest, as they say, was history.
The Ely & Walker Quality trademark was filed in 1918. The “Plains by E&W” trademark first came into use in 1941, and a trademark was filed in 1952.
In 1956, ready to retire, the small group of shareholders owning a controlling interest in Ely & Walker sold their factories to Burlington Industries, who continued to produce the E&W brand shirts. In turn the E&W division was then sold to Washington Manufacturing Company of Nashville, Tennessee in 1964 (founded in 1840 by Robert Wickliffe Comer (therestorationmovement.com), which also produced shirts under the Dee Cee brand.
(It is interesting here to note that Muriel Deason, aka Queen of Country Music Kitty Wells and wife of country music star Johnnie Wright, dropped out of school and worked at the Washington Manufacturing Company in 1937, folding and ironing shirts to make ends meet.)
Johnny Wright and Kitty Wells with one of Johnny’s Nudie Suits
(via Heart of Texas Country Music Association – Bringing Traditional Country Music to You!)
The Ely Cattleman trademark was first used in commerce in 1967, and the Ely trademark was filed in 1973. The Ely Plains trademark came into use in 1980. In 1988 Washington Manufacturing Company filed for bankruptcy, and in 1995, Oxford Industries acquired the assets of Ely & Walker Company. Oxford continues to manufacture Ely Plains and Ely Cattleman western shirts to this day.
Bush genealogy and family history websites – just google it.
The Ely ancestry : lineage of Richard Ely of Plymouth, England, who came to Boston, Mass., about 1655, & settled at Lyme, Conn. in 1660, collected by the late Moses S. Beach
“Oxford Industries Acquires Ely & Walker,” PR Newswire, June 6, 1995.
National Registry of Historic Places Registration Form, Ely & Walker Shirt Factory No. 5, Kennet, MO.Textile Industry History, http://www.textilehistory.org.
Vintage Ad Browser, http://www.vintageadbrowser.com.
Ely shirts on sale now at Vintrowear!