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London Fog and a City College kid


LONDON Fog, an internationally known raincoat maker with Baltimore roots, is much in the news these days -- most of it not good. It appears the company may close its three remaining Maryland plants, with 700 jobs.

Such a move would bring to an end one of Baltimore's best business success stories.

A success that's due at least in part to Baltimore City College, Broadway showman, Billy Rose, and a cold Thanksgiving eve, according to Baltimorean Israel Myers, a former company president and chairman.

While a student at City in the 1920s, Mr. Myers met Billy Rose. Rose, before becoming a showman in the late 1940s, traveled the country as the "world's fastest" shorthand stenographer to promote Gregg, the shorthand school and system.

The Rose appearance at City College captivated Mr. Myers. He quickly learned shorthand and two months before his graduation left City to take a job as a stenographer with the relatively new Londontown Manufacturing Co. (He would graduate from City in 1923 by reporting in every Tuesday, picking up new assignments and dropping off completed ones.) He quickly moved from Londontown's front office to its sales force.

fTC Mr. Myers, who recently reminisced about his early days with the company, cites Thanksgiving eve 1938 as a turning point for the company and his future with it.

He was returning to Baltimore from some sales calls in Williamsport, Pa., for the company when the heater in his car prompted a thought: with the invention of car heaters people would not need heavy overcoats in the winter.

"That's when I began to realize that what the country would want was a lightweight coat that would double as a raincoat," he said.

Upon returning to Baltimore, Mr. Myers said he began experimenting with a then-new, water-repellent fabric, Dacron, for use as rainwear.

In 1951, his dream was realized: He produced a lightweight, water-repellent coat with a zip-out lining so the wearer could adjust the coat's weight to suit weather conditions.

The coat, known as the London Fog, caused a sensation, propelling the company to become the nation's largest raincoat manufacturer, which it still is today.

Today, London Fog is among the most famous brand names ever to come out of Baltimore. Not a bad feat for a 17-year-old kid from City College who learned shorthand from Billy Rose.

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