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The Cowboy Hat
How did that happen ?

The Boss of the Plains
Musicians from Bob Dylan to Lyle Lovett have sung about their John B. Stetson's . Jack London, Harold Bell Wright, Courtney Riley Cooper and Ralph Cummins have written about them. Why? Because he was the one who is credited with 'inventing' the cowboy hat - almost as a joke (in the beginning).

Colorado and Pike's Peak
St. Joseph, Missouri was a trading post where parties of men made provisions for the long trek to Pike’s Peak and Rocky Mountain gold. Early in the summer of 1862 one such party invited Stetson to join it. With high hopes, he accepted the invitation, setting out on foot for the Rocky Mountains.

This is the time of year when the weather in Colorado can fluctuate wildly and while it started out mild enough for sleeping under the stars, it rapidly turned to snow. The 12 members of the party quickly made tents of animal skins to shelter them from the weather and just as quickly they were ruined from the snow and rain. Each new storm meant more work and lost hides.

John Batterson Stetson
Stetson knew the age-old process of felting which takes advantage of the 'scales' found in fur pelts. When fur is matted together, the scales interlock. By alternately dipping in hot water and then squeezing, the compressed scales form a dense - and weather impervious - “felt.”

Stetson used his skill, and a limited amount of fur, to make a felt and turn it into a big hat with rather outrageous proportions (initially as a joke); a four-inch brim, a four-inch crown and a strap for a hatband. While it looked foolish, his compatriots were impressed. It protected the wearer from sun and snow and rain.

Traits in such a hat weren't needed in the East, but here in the 'wild' west it was destined to become the icon for American Cowboy.

Stetson called this first hat “The Boss of the Plains” and he wore it on the remainder of the trip. It isn't clear as to whether he named this hat while on the trip, or later after starting the Stetson Hat Company. The name he chose was a brilliant marketing idea, which fit well with the goal of making his hat a symbol of authority and elegance.

His companions may or may not have laughed at this large homemade hat, but they saw that it protected him from the sun and weather. The story is told that later, while wearing the hat he met a bull whacker (or a rancher, or a cattleman, or a horseman) who wanted the hat as soon as he saw it.
Stetson sold it to him for a $5 dollar silver (or gold) piece.

By 1865, John Batterson Stetson took the $100 he had and bought the tools needed - and $10 worth of fur - and started his business - making Cowboy Hats. He recognized the immediate appeal of such a hat to those who lived in the west. He moved back to Philadelphia to set up his manufacturing 'factory' and one year later the "Hat of the West" or "Boss of the Plains" was born. Stetson's became the hat of choice and the standard of durability and quality.

Recognizing that there was a new class in the west - the cattle kings – Stetson fashioned his hat as a modified Mexican sombrero. The cattlemen responded quickly as they needed a hat with those very things built into the original to cope with the Colorado weather.

It didn't take long for the Stetson to become the best-known hat west of the Mississippi River. They were worn by wealthy ranchers, storekeepers, preachers and U. S. marshals. Even the Texas Rangers adopted the Stetson.

In 1906 when John B. Stetson died his company was worth a remarkable fortune and produced about two million hats a year.

Before Stetson?
Before Stetson, all types of headgear were worm by the cowboys and ranchers of the plains. From formal top hats and derbies, to leftover remnants of Civil War headgear, tams and sailor hats, these were the 'hats' of the day.

Today's cowboy hat is a timeless icon in American history and continues to represent the spirit of independence.

The Old, the New, the Wild, and the Real West. It is uniquely and immediately recognized around the world.

There is an old Cowboy saying,
"Your hat is the last thing you take off and the first thing that gets noticed."