BY JIM MERCIER
What is one thing that police officers, firefighters, miners, postal delivery workers, food service workers and the military all have in common? Well, they all relied on a Racine firm to provide them with water-resistant rain gear for their respective professions. That Racine firm was none other than Rainfair, Inc. which was a Racine-based manufacturer for more than 100 years. Rainfair was one of the oldest apparel manufacturers in the U.S. before they closed, and provided rubberized protective clothing products to a variety of users. So, let’s move on and see how all this came about!
Rainfair had its beginnings way back in Chicago, when in 1878, the Chicago Rubber Clothing Company was organized to produce rubberized clothing for industrial workers. Starting with only two employees, the company soon began to prosper as the market for their products began to increase. However, in 1886, they moved to Racine and continued to make rubberized protective clothing for the industry. Their Racine factory was located at 1501 Albert St. (on Racine’s Northside), near Belle City Malleable, Hartman Luggage and the Horlick Athletic Field.
It was actually their waterproof apparel, including raincoats and the more dressy rain topcoat that made the name “Rainfair” well-known throughout the nation. During World War II, Rainfair made waterproof apparel for our armed forces, and earned the coveted Army-Navy “E” award for excellence. The “E” award was presented to companies during the Second World War who provided a constant supply of vital material for the war effort. As a matter of fact, it was in 1944, during the war, that the firm’s name was changed from the “Chicago Rubber Clothing Company,” to simply, “Rainfair.”
In 1935, the company expanded into a line of sportswear, which was sold in department stores throughout the nation. Rainfair even made coated material for sporting equipment, including footballs and basketballs! Employment peaked at around 400 workers during the 1950s through the 1980s, and was made up mostly of women. Manufacturing and assembly operations in the plant were very labor-intensive.
A quick glance at one of their old letterheads indicates a variety of products manufactured here in Racine, including…”rubber surface clothing of every description, police and fire coats, miner and contractor’s coats, raincoats of all kinds, work clothing, military raincoats and capes, storm suits, ponchos, blankets, acid aprons, laboratory aprons, wash aprons, and hospital sheeting.” However, when people mention Rainfair, they usually just think of raincoats!
Now, let’s check if you know the meaning of two of their older products, whose names were painted on the side of their building. Ready? Here goes…”Macintosh” and “Gossamer.” I’m sure you all know the answers, but just in case you know someone who doesn’t, here they are: a “Macintosh” is actually a waterproof raincoat made of a rubberized fabric. It was first sold in 1824, and was named after its Scottish inventor, Charles Macintosh. A “Gossamer” is a very light, “see-through” and very sheer gauze-like fabric, used mostly for decorating purposes. (By the way, in case you were wondering, I personally had no clue as to their meanings!)
In 1968, Rainfair was acquired by Koracorp Industries, and in 1993, moved to the Olsen Industrial Park on Racine’s far Southside. That building is still standing, although their original site on Albert Street has since been demolished, to make way for the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility.
On a personal note, my mother worked at Rainfair during the war years, making raincoats for our troops. She made so many good friends during that time, and continued those friendships for well over 60 years, often referring to “getting together with the Rainfair girls.”
Local historian Jim Mercier is an avid collector of Racine historical memorabilia. Some of his collection is in the Racine Business Center’s Spirit of Racine Entrepreneur’s exhibit.