Two Methodist ministers, George Studley and Charles
Robert, went to the Iroquois Theater with Kenosha, Wisconsin businessmen,
thirty-six-year-old Charles Fisher Cooper and his
older brother, forty-nine-year-old Willis W. Cooper.
All four would lose their lives as a result of
inferno that took over six hundred. The Cooper
brothers are discussed here. Despite their
demise at the Iroquois, the Coopers Underwear Company (previously known as
the Chicago-Rockford Hosiery Co.), survived to
become today's Jockey International.
Their father, Samuel Thrall Cooper (1824-1892), a
retired Methodist minister, led the family into the
hosiery and underwear business in 1876 when he
purchased six used sewing machines, hired sewing
operators and set up in a livery stable
manufacturing stockings in St. Joseph, Michigan
under the name S.T. Cooper & Sons. Two years later
the company acquired more equipment and took on an
investment partner, Abel W. Wells, changing the name
to Cooper Wells Company.
Most mills then sold through jobbers. Samuel
pioneered the practice of selling directly to retail
merchants. The company prospered when it began
producing high quality wool socks for lumberjacks.
Cooper's three sons, Willis, Henry S. (1858-1924)
and Charles, were employed at the company as well,
Willis in the office and Henry in the plant.
In 1894, after Samuel Cooper's death, Willis sold
the family interest to Abel Wells. Henry Cooper took
a job at Dow Chemical while Willis and Charles went
to work for Chicago-Rockford Hosiery in Kenosha
where they soon became managers and co-owners.
the company expanded into the men's underwear market
which proved successful enough that in 1900 the firm
was incorporated as Coopers Underwear Company.
they built a new manufacturing facility for White Cat union suits at 60th & 23rd
avenue in Kenosha that remains today as Jockey
International's headquarters. Willis served as
President and general manager while Charles was
1903 both Willis and Charles were admired in Kenosha
for their wealth and generosity. Willis was
instrumental in fund raising for Methodist Episcopal
ministries, in 1897 writing a book on the subject,
and Charles implemented a profit-sharing program for
employees. Charles was a dedicated Mason and earlier
in the year helped organize a Masonic Temple
Association in Kenosha.
Willis was survived by his wife, the former Anna
Goodenow of Ontario (1854-1928), and a twenty-nine
year old daughter, Maud Beachel (1874-1957).
Charles' wife, the former Flora Yocum of Ohio, had
died the previous year. Charles left behind two
children, twelve year old Ralph Y. Cooper (1891-1958)
and eight year old Carlotta (1895-1988). Henry Cooper
became the head of Cooper Underwear.
In the years after
Willis Cooper bequeathed
approximately $80,000 each to the Methodist
Episcopal Church Missionary Society and Lawrence
University, an Appleton school associated with the
Methodist church. It was widely reported that the
rejected the money because Cooper had died
in a theater and the Methodist Church was
theologically opposed to theaters. That story
was in turn widely disputed by Kenosha Methodists
who attributed the rejection instead to unspecified
"hard terms" imposed by the inheritance.
The church later explained
that the will specified the church manage the monies
and provide an income to Willis' wife and daughter
during their lifetimes. The church asserted
the moneys remaining after the Willis allowance was
inadequate for the effort required.