BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — New Era made its first fitted baseball cap in the early 1930s. In 1954, the cap was redesigned to be more of a uniform piece for the sport. Now, 69 years later, they are celebrating with the first-ever official 59FIFTY Day.
“The 59FIFTY is basically a platform for other brands, like the New York Yankees or Supreme or Fear of God, all these boutique brands,” New Era historian and archivist Jim Wannemacher said. “We’ve always kind of been that and it opens it up to tons of creativity.”
He said there are over 6 billion different ways to make a cap, given colors, logos, and styles.
“We’re just trying to celebrate the day,” Wannemacher said. “(The cap) has been around for a long time and it’s a unique piece that we’re very proud of. It’s the top-of-the-line cap for us. Everything that we do other than it is kind of below it; the number is 59FIFTY and you’ll notice on all of our other styles, they go 49FORTY, 39THIRTY, they all go down from there.”
Wannemacher spoke to the icon status of the cap and its growth over the past 69 years.
“It’s something that athletes wear, celebrities, anybody who wants to kind of represent something specific,” he said. “It’s a great way to show off your pride.”
Wannemacher said the day has been celebrated in the past, but New Era decided it was time they took ownership of it and did it right and did it big.
Tuesday’s event included the release of limited edition caps — including many that were Buffalo-specific, special deals, cap customization, a DJ, a coffee bar, and a new art installation of mini 59FIFTYs.
“The mini cap display we have upstairs in the lobby is a showing of creativity,” he said. “They’re funny little hats that we did years ago to try to commemorate some stuff and to be able to take it and put it in a display like that is really neat. But again, it shows the endless amount of ways you can do a 59FIFTY and what you can do with it and how it can touch people in different ways.”
In anticipation for the event, people began lining up outside New Era’s flagship store on Delaware Avenue early in the morning.
“When we moved in here in 2006, we opened up that store. Understand, that’s the only store in the U.S. that we own — our Flagship store,” Wannemacher told News 4 in the company’s basement archive room. “We have somewhere around 4,000 stores globally, but in the U.S., the only store we have is upstairs.”
Wannemacher said New Era used to get lines like that all the time and it was great having that element back, saying that over the past year, it has happened a few times with different old-school Bisons releases.
“Our security guy and our building guy were getting upset because there were people out there at 4 in the morning camping out, so it was like, ‘What’s going on?'” he recalled. “And they would get mad and try to stop it, and it’s like, ‘You can’t stop this, this is what happens when Nike drops a high-end sneaker, you want this kind of line and enthusiasm.’ So it’s great to see it back and you can feel the excitement in the building because of it.”
The celebration will conclude for many New Era employees watching the Bisons game together Tuesday night. Wannemacher said the Buffalo community and the local teams have been great to work with and added that the Bisons’ stadium is where the old New Era factory was.
“They actually knocked the factory down to build the stadium, which I think is kind of a funny story.”
And the company historian’s favorite cap?
The 59FIFTY Low Profile, one of five styles of 59FIFTY New Era has done.
“I love this hat,” he said, pointing to the Yankees cap on his head. “It’s comfortable, I like it, so that’s what I’d say is my favorite cap. I’ve been here 23 years, so I’ve got quite a few of them.”
He said next year will not only be the 70th anniversary of the 59FIFTY, but the 90th anniversary of New Era making baseball caps, culminating in an even larger celebration for 2024.
“This year we just wanted to see what we could do,” Wannemacher said. “And we’re looking forward to how it’s going to look next year.”
Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.