[Ads-l] Kings of the Dudes

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 28 17:56:09 UTC 2022

I’ve recently posted some pieces on my blog that may interest people who have followed Barry Popik’s and Gerald Cohen’s work on “Dude” over the years.  I’ve made a few contributions to their work as well.  One of my contributions was a biography of the man who coined the word, Robert Sale Hill.  I’ve posted a version similar to the one that appeared in COE last year.


I’ve also written biographies not related to the origin of the word “Dude,” but to people identified with one specific use of the word, which started early in the history of the word – and continued for a few years.

Newspapers manufactured the concept of a “King of the Dudes,” who embodied all of the best (worst) aspects of what it meant to be a Dude.  A man named Evander Berry Wall, heir to a fortune built on rope manufactured in Brooklyn, was named the first “King of the Dudes” in the summer of 1883, about six months after the word first appeared.  He is the most famous “King of the Dudes” and the only one generally remembered by history.

One of the most colorful aspects of his career as “King of the Dudes” were several Zoolander-style fashion battles he is said to have had with contenders for his throne – involving wearing outlandish clothes, or many changes in a day, to prove fashion superiority.  I do not believe that any of those purported battles ever happened – just “fake news” designed to sell papers, promote careers, or sell more clothing.

The other “Kings of the Dudes” were:
Tomascito Onativia a Spanish-American (or Cuban or Brazilian or Puerto Rican; it’s not clear) who was heir to a fortune built on imports from the Caribbean, most notably sugar from Puerto Rico;

Oliver Teall, a self-made millionaire who built his fortune in part with ranching operations in Arizona and other meat packing, processing and shipping interests); and

J. Waldere Kirk, a cigar with business contacts in Chicago, California, Kansas City, St. Louis and other spots out West.  He also made a brief splash in New York City, where he was announced as “King of the Dudes” upon arrival, but quickly renounced as a poor pretender from the Wild and Wooly West.  He also made headlines in New York for shooting the husband of a woman in his hotel room.

I recently posted bios of each of the three men, who each embodied what it meant to be a “Dude” during the early days of the word.  This post gives an overview of the Kings of the Dudes – with links to separate biographies of each of the contenders and pretenders.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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