Canadian Fashion Connection – Berlin Felt and Rumpel Felt Companies

Born in Saxony on May 10, 1850, (Johann) George Rumpel completed his schooling at the age of fourteen and then apprenticed as a shoemaker with a three year  indenture. George then followed his two older brothers example & immigrated to Canada, settling in Hamilton, Ontario in 1868. He found employment at The John McPherson Co., manufacturers of boots and shoes, and in 1872 married Wilhelmine (Minna) Hartmann.

In 1875 the couple moved to Berlin, Ontario and for two years George worked at the Berlin Felt Boot Company, which had been founded in 1871 by Jacob Shantz in the basement of a button factory at King and Railway (College) streets. In 1879 George bought out the felt business and relocated it to a former tobacco manufacturer at Victoria & Waterloo Streets to be nearer the Grand Trunk Railway station.

Berlin Felt Boot Company, c. 1892

In 1886 Rumpel exhibited a pair of felt knee-high Wellington boots at the ‘Colonial and Indian Exhibition’ in London, England. A few years later he presented examples of his ‘lumberman’s socks’ in Paris (these were felt boots, worn as liners with rubber boots.) In 1903 George travelled to Germany to study advances made in the manufacture of felt and purchased machinery & equipment to expand his production.

On 16 February 1904, disaster struck the Berlin Felt Boot Company when fire consumed two of the factories. As the buildings collapsed, smoldering embers were blown across town, but a heavy snow covering on roofs kept the fire from spreading. Only two buildings of the Berlin Felt Boots Company remained – a small factory, and a large storehouse.

Rumpel was a well-known Berlin citizen. His home at King and Cameron streets was considered one of the finest in Berlin, and he was a member of town council for eight years before serving as mayor of the town of Berlin in 1898.

Rumpel sold his business in 1909 to a Montreal investor who created The Consolidated Felt Company from the amalgamation of the Berlin Felt Boot Company, Kimmel Felt Company, and Elmira Felt Company. Rumpel stayed on as president until 1912 when he left to create the Walter G. Rumpel Felt Company for his son Walter. The company made felt for a variety of purposes – boot liners, saddlery, insulation… The following year Rumpel created The Oscar Rumpel Shoe Manufacturing Company, which specialized in felt slippers, for his son Oscar. George Rumpel died in 1916, the same year Berlin’s name was changed to Kitchener.

Rumpel Felt Company, built 1912/13

By the time Walter’s son John Rumpel took over the business after Walter’s death in 1944, the business had been renamed the Rumpel Felt Company. In 1966, John’s son David joined the business. The company was closed shortly before John’s death at the age of 92 in 2008. The 1912/13 factory built by George, near the original 1879 location, was purchased by the Region of Waterloo and has been given a heritage designation.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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