NOTICE: The Central Parking Lot will be CLOSED on Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4 for The Friends Bag of Books Sale.

Folz, Samuel

The Clothing King

“Sam Folz, as everyone already knows, is big-hearted, broad-minded and noble spirited, and is always foremost in any movement that has for its purpose the betterment and upbuilding of Kalamazoo, commercially, socially or morally. He is generous, kindly, charitable, and a friend worth having–a man who is “on the square” 365 days in the year and whose heart is in the right place. His friends are too numerous to mention and what few enemies he has only serve to make him the more popular. Would that Kalamazoo had a thousand more like him.”–Kalamazoo Gazette 5 January 1906, p.4:3

Known as the “Clothing King”, Samuel Folz could be remembered for any number of contributions to the vibrant life of Kalamazoo’s Gilded Age and Progressive Era. As a successful entrepreneur and civic leader, Folz played a significant part in the molding of the young city’s commercial, political and cultural landscape. By the time of his death in 1924, Folz’s resume was as robust a document as any of Kalamazoo’s foremost citizens.

Born in Hillsdale, Michigan on 18 September 1859 to German immigrants, Joseph and Esther, Folz was first drawn to the commercial trade of cigarmaking. With the death of his father around 1872, the thirteen year old Samuel was forced into finding work.

“The family finances were such that at that early age he became largely dependent upon his own resources. He became a newsboy for the Detroit Daily News, and also worked as a tobacco-stripper. He eventually learned the cigarmaker’s trade, and in 1875 he came to Kalamazoo, where he followed his trade five years, or until his impaired health necessitated a change of vocation.”–Historic Michigan: Land of the Great Lakes, V.3, p.312

Upon his arrival in Kalamazoo in 1875, Folz continued for a short time making his living in the cigar industry before transitioning into the apparel trade. His first foray into the clothing business began when he clerked at the H. Stern Company (Herman and Leopold Stern), located at 108 Main Street. By 1884, Folz had left the H. Stern Co. and ventured out on his own.

‘Folz’s Corner’

Folz was not the first or the last apparel merchant in Kalamazoo, but for a time period stretching from the mid-1880s through to the 1910s, he was the city’s largest. Given the store’s beneficial corner location in the Humphrey block (E. Michigan Avenue and Portage Street), which he moved into in 1892, Folz’s clothing and furnishings store saw significant growth. His success was widely known, even beyond the city limits, with many of his customers coming considerable distances to shop for such items as a pair of pantaloons, a Derby hat, or fashionable necktie. The interior of the store was elaborately decorated with wooden cases, apparel displays, mirrors and 80 electric lights that hung around the large plate glass windows. According to a report published in the Gazette, the 1892 grand opening featured an orchestra stand where the Academy and Clement’s orchestras played in the afternoon and evening to approximately 20,000. Folz also made a name for himself by advancing the one-price model, a relatively novel approach at the time, that subsequently put an end to bartering between customer and seller.

Local Politics & Society

Elected mayor in 1903 (only the 4th Democrat to do so at the time) and serving in that capacity for a year, like so many men of the Gilded Age, Folz was active in local politics, civic organizations and philanthropy while engaged with commercial pursuits. Folz was a member of Temple B’nai Israel, the Reform Jewish congregation, the German Workingmen’s Benevolent Society (A.U.V.), the Cleveland Orphan Jewish Asylum, and the Alemania Club. He was the president of the Kalamazoo Humane Society for many years, and participated in an array of fraternal orders and lodges, including the Order of Knights of Pythias. He held stock in the Puritan Corset Company, the Kalamazoo Paper Box Company, the Merchants Publishing Company, and the Kalamazoo Beet Sugar Company. He also carved out time to be director of the Lee Paper Company in Vicksburg. He was a member of the Board of Education and the Kalamazoo Board of Trade. At the time of his death, he had been serving as postmaster since 1916, appointed by President Woodrow Wilson. In 1890, he wrote an open letter in the Gazette expressing gratitude for what affluence he had earned, and hoped that a contribution to a local welfare organization would help underprivileged children during the holiday season.

“Being truly thankful for all the good that has come to me during the year about to close, and recognizing that there is a large field here for willing hearts and hands in charitable  work, I contribute my mite toward the good cause with much pleasure mingled with grateful feelings for the privilege of aiding however little the unfortunate in our midst, believe me, sincerely yours, Samuel Folz”–18 December 1890, Kalamazoo Gazette

Sam Folz’ Colored Giants

(researched and written by staff member Keith Howard under Baseball in Kalamazoo: Black Teams)

In April 1899, local players gathered at the Odd Fellow’s Hall and reorganized the Kalamazoo Stars, with William Stewart as the new team captain and manager. The roster that year would include Bert Hackley, James Bell, Foster Meyers, George Tillman, Lester Bolden, Dave Perry, Walter Jackson, Elmer Bolden, Robert Hackley, William Stewart, Clarence Outland, William “Willie” Hackley, and L.L. Gilbert. The team was officially dubbed the “Colored Stars.”

Hiram “Hi” Wilson, c.1894 WMU Archives

Local entrepreneur Sam Folz took over sponsorship of the Stars in May, and named his new semi-pro team the “Big Corner” after his downtown Kalamazoo clothing store. But the Folz “Big Corner” team was soon re-branded as the Sam Folz Colored Giants, most likely to capitalize on the success of other contemporary African American “Giants” of baseball; the Cuban Giants (1885), the Columbia Giants (1899), and of course, the Page Fence Giants.

Hiram “Hi” Wilson, a feisty thirty-year-old local sign painter and a clerk at the Folz clothing store, was recruited to manage the Folz team, C.E. Waters was brought in from Fort Wayne to pitch, and several former members of the famous Page Fence Giants were hired, including Fred Taylor and William “Will” Bird, catchers; Fred VanDyke, second base; Charles Smith, first base; and William McCullough, substitute. Members of the previous year’s Kalamazoo Stars completed the new lineup, including pitcher William Stewart, second baseman Lester Bolden, shortstop Bert Hackley, right fielder Robert Hackley, centerfielder Duce Bell, third baseman Foster Meyers, and left fielder Elmer Bolden.

The Folz Giants opened the 1899 season in June by challenging the Kalamazoo High School team and the clerks from Folz’ “Big Corner” clothing store, but success was slow coming. By mid-summer, however, the Folz Giants were on the road, barnstorming their way across Michigan and Indiana with brand new black uniforms, battling teams from Niles, Fort Wayne, South Bend, Kokomo, Elkhart, Dowagiac, and Otsego.

The following year, Sam Folz shifted his primary sponsorship to a completely different (all-white) team, which then joined a newly formed amateur city league in Kalamazoo. Though they were no longer on the road, Folz did keep his former Giants active through the 1900 season, by occasionally taking on local and regional teams with a familiar roster of players; Schultz, Myers, Johnson, Whaling, Wilson, Outland, Stewart, the Hackley brothers, and manager Frank Evans.

Beginning around 1893, Folz resided in the James Clapham Octagon House located at 628 S. Rose Street along with his wife Jennie and their three children (Jospeh, Harry, Ralph). Jennie was the daughter of Emil and Zerline Friedman, the earliest known Jewish residents to have immigrated to Kalamazoo County (c.1846). Jennie was active in charitable groups focused on the welfare of children. Folz died on 16 May 1924. He was buried in the Jewish plot in Mountain Home Cemetery.

Article written by Ryan Gage and Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff, March 2023


“Samuel Folz”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 June 1929

“Sam Folz’s clothing store hailed in  1892 as one of largest and most elaborate in state”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 30 January 1949


Yes, there were Germans in Kalamazoo, Elizabeth M. Mayer (H 325.243 M468)

Historic Michigan: land of the Great Lakes (1924), Charles A. Weissert (H 977.4 F9654 v.3)

Kalamazoo illustrated (1892), Frank C. Dayton (H 977.418 D276)

Local History Room Files

Name File: Folz, Samuel (1859-1924)

Share: Facebook Twitter