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What do you think of first when you hear the name, DeMoulin Brothers of Greenville?
When I first heard that question posed, my answer was – band uniforms.
That was until the DeMoulin Museum opened in Greenville in March 2010. Located in the former American Legion headquarters at 110 W. Main St., the museum tells the story of DeMoulin Brothers in photos and exhibits.
The story of the three DeMoulin brothers is a fascinating one, and the story of DeMoulin Brothers, the company, which started in 1894, is equally interesting.
Sons of Elisha and Marie DeMoulin, Erastus, Edmond and Ulysses DeMoulin, were born in Clinton County, where their father was a farmer and inventor, holding a patent for a gang plow.
Erastus, or "Ras" as he was commonly referred to, was a blacksmith, like his father. Ed was the creative one, loved gadgets and opened a photography studio in Greenville in 1887. Ulysses (U.S.), who apprenticed as a blacksmith with his brother, Erastus, was the visionary and number cruncher.
Each of the three brothers had something to bring to the table for the formation of a company that has now been in operation for more than 100 years.
Edmund DeMoulin was the first to open a lodge supply business, with William Northcott as partner. They focused on lodge regalia for the Modern Woodmen, Knights of Pythias, I.O.O.F. (Oddfellows), Rebeckahs and Eastern Star.
Northcott, who later became Illinois’ lieutenant governor and leading Greenville citizen, sold his partnership to Ulysses (U.S.) DeMoulin on Feb. 13, 1895. The business continued under the name of "Ed DeMoulin and Brother."
To promote their business, the brothers decided a catalog would be the way to go rather than market to each camp. Within a short time of publishing their first catalog, $1,500 in orders came in. U.S. convinced Ed that they needed a factory.
In 1897, the company made band uniforms for the Greenville Concert Band free gratis. Fraternal lodges also had bands, so this was another marketing ploy to drum up business and create interest in the products that DeMoulins had to offer.
For the Modern Woodsmen’s annual convention in 1899, the DeMoulins built a 10-foot-tall goat as an entry in the parade. Within a month, they had received $10,000 in orders from various camps. Soon after the convention, DeMoulin Brothers became known as the “goat factory.”
A photograph of this goat is carried in the book, “Three Frenchmen and A Goat, The DeMoulin Bros. Story,” by John Goldsmith of Greenville. It was published in 2004.
In addition to various types of goats, from the "Rollicking Mustang Goat" to the "Practical Goat," the catalog featured collapsible chairs, lung and strength testers, and a long list of items that could either be attached to a magneto for an electric charge or feature the report of a .38 caliber blank.
John Goldsmith of Greenville inherited the interest in the DeMoulin brothers' company from his late mother, a long-time DeMoulin employee. Her interest in the history of the company encouraged her son. Thanks, in part, to her forays into the dumpsters at DeMoulins, she began a collection that would form the basis of the newest Greenville museum.
On a visit to the DeMoulin Museum at 110 W. Main St. in Greenville, one can trace the history of the brothers in photo as well in the colorful displays. Several of the goats, created by the factory in the early days, are featured along with other ‘trick’ initiation items dreamed up by the brothers, including a new exhibit, a Branding Iron.
The DeMoulin Museum is open Friday (1-3 p.m.); Saturday, (10 a.m.–3 p.m.) and Sunday, (2–4 p.m.). I forgot to mention, in addition to the wigs, masks and lodge regalia, the museum does have band uniforms on display.