The story of Wells Lamont goes hand in “glove” with the story of America’s coming of age. In the fertile valley of Aberdeen, South Dakota, William Orson Wells (known as W.O.) started the Wells Glove Company in 1907. The initial $500 W.O. had to begin his venture set him up in production with five sewing machines and a small amount of cotton cloth. To insure the company’s success, he decided that they would manufacture a premium line of buggy whips (a popular item in the day) along with gloves. By 1910, W.O. had phased out buggy whips because he believed there wouldn’t be a very bright future for them. Wells Glove Company would henceforth concentrate on gloves and only gloves. It would be this kind of marketing foresight that would carry Wells Lamont forward to this day.
W.O. was both a good businessman and an excellent salesman. On a selling trip through Wyoming in 1912 he visited Kemmerer, a small town in the southwest corner of the state. There he met a department store client who was to become a major customer and a life long friend, James Cash Penney. For the next half century, W.O. would call on Penney at least twice a year and by the late 1950’s J.C. Penney had become Wells Lamont’s largest customer.
As Penney’s business grew during the early years, so did the Wells glove business. During these early years W.O. met a young man about his age named Maurice Lamont. The two men became close friends and spent hours talking about business, discussing farming, and planning the future of Aberdeen. In 1914, W.O. asked Maurice to join him as a partner in the glove company. Maurice accepted, and W.O. immediately changed the company name to Wells Lamont Corporation. Just six months later, Maurice Lamont was tragically killed in a hunting accident.
By 1916 the business was growing so fast that Wells Lamont Corporation had exceeded Aberdeen’s limited resources. To keep the company thriving and expanding, the decision was made to move to Minneapolis which was closer to leather supplies and other raw materials produced in the area. W.O. always seemed to be a step ahead of his competitors. As he expanded his business, he developed dozens of trade brands for every class of Wells Lamont work gloves and ardently promoted and sold each one. Wells Lamont’s most famous glove brand came about as a result of a 1930 train trip W.O. made from St. Louis to New Orleans. As W. O. pondered what he should call his top quality leather-palm glove he suddenly noticed a herd of ten to twelve Missouri mules. Not that the sight of that many mules was so unusual during the days before most farms had tractors, but these mules were white, every one of them. Finding even one mule that was white was rare, let alone a dozen. The light went on - he would develop a leather-palm glove with the brand name White Mule. The White Mule went on to become the most prominent, best selling leather palm glove in the United States. The mule image would become significant as well as it was added to the Wells Lamont logo with the tag line “Stubborn about Quality”, which is still in use today.
Over the subsequent years, Wells Lamont continued to grow and prosper, even during the difficult Depression years of the 30’s. Eventually, Wells Lamont was relocated to the Chicago suburb of Niles. In the ‘60s Wells Lamont merged with the Hammond Organ Company, which was later purchased by the Marmon Group of Companies. In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway purchased a controlling interest in Marmon Holdings and Wells Lamont is now part of the Berkshire Hathaway family of companies.
W. O. Wells passed away in September, 1976, but his legacy as founder of Wells Lamont continues to live on. The basic principles that W.O. founded the company on are still in practice today: