Made in America – A Hat History or What Do Yankee Doodle and Brad Pitt Have in Common?

The Pilgrims who landed on Plymouth Rock were wearing hats. Hats that they, obviously, brought with them from the old country. In those days, a hat was an integral part of every man and boy’s daily wear. Europe was dependent on Canada to supply many of the beaver pelts used to make fur felt hats. This New World was rich with the natural resources needed for hat making: fur and water. So it should come as no surprise that by the early 1700’s, hat making was a thriving cottage industry in the colonies.

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Hat manufacturing grew at such a pace in the 1800’s that before the end of the century, five million hats a year were being produced in 30 factories in Danbury, Connecticut and millions more in neighboring Norwalk. By 1904, almost 25% of America’s hats were made in “Hat City” (Danbury). In the 1970’s, hat production in both these cities had ceased to exist – a byproduct of economics and changes in fashion. Danbury is no longer The Hat Capitol of the World.

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Travel a little further east from Danbury and Norwalk today and you will find two hat companies in Pennsylvania that survived the ups and downs of the economy, labor disputes and fickle fashion trends. Bollman Hat Company has been making hats from start to finish by American hands with American sourced materials since 1868, making this Adamstown hatter quite possibly the oldest hat maker in America. A global leader in design, manufacturing and distributing, Bollman supplies top brands and private labels to retailers around the world. For a visual hat history of the Bollman Hat Company and a look at historically accurate hats for each decade of the 140 years of Bollman history, check out the Bollman Collection here.

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Just around the corner, in Denver, Pennsylvania, is F & M Hat Company. In 2012, F & M celebrated 100 years in business, but before that Great-Great-Grandfather Fichthorn operated another hat company that can be traced back to the late 1700’s. You could say that hats are at the heart of this family-owned business. Still operating out of the original location on Walnut Street with some of the same equipment used in the 1930’s, the F & M family continues to make hats with the same care and American pride that Great-Great-Grandfather did. Recently, the Village Hat Shop introduced a line of classic men’s hats, all made in America by F & M. See the Jaxon Classics collection here.

Come inside the F & M factory and hear more about the company in this video:

Bollman and F&M started as “hatters” , making finished felt hats for men but were also major contributors to the ladies’ hat world. Bonnets may have been the most common hat you would see women wear, but the well-to-do society lady at the turn of the century was keen on keeping up with the latest fashions out of Paris and London. Milliners in New York relied on American hat companies to supply the wool felt bodies for them to embellish. In the mid 20th Century, American milliners such as Mr. John and Lily Dache became world famous in the fashion world and their original designs continue to inspire milliners today – such as Arturo Rios from Los Angeles and Kathy Jeanne Hats in New Jersey.

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As the wagon trains rolled westward in the 1800’s, all manner of hat styles went along. Would you be surprised if I told you the bowler or derby was the most popular hat in the American West? Not the cowboy hat? That wide-brimmed, tall-crowned hat worn by working cowboys who tamed the wild west did not garner general popularity and the name ‘cowboy hat’ until 1865 when John Batterson Stetson ‘invented’ it. John’s father was a hatter in New Jersey. John worked in his father’s factory until he moved west for health reasons. On a hunting trip, he fashioned a hat out of cloth made from fur – a prototype of the hat he later created and manufactured out of his own factory back in Pennsylvania. In later years, the Stetson Hat Company would also make women’s hats and men’s dress hats but the original “Boss of the Plains” hat made Stetson synonymous with cowboy hat. Although, no longer owned by the Stetson family, they continue to manufacture the Stetson brand, still in cowboy country , in Texas.

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Panama hats from Massachusetts? It’s true. Korber Hats began in New York around 1919 specializing in blocking and trimming quality Panama hat bodies imported from Ecuador . They soon moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, where today they continue to put the finishing touches on fine straw hats, in addition to wool felt hats, for men and women. With an inventory of over 1,000 aluminum hat molds and the ability to create new molds based on current style trends, Korber has carved out a unique niche in the Made In USA market for hats.

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Hats became less of a fashion necessity in the mid 20th Century. We can blame hair spray, automobiles (hard to get into a sedan wearing a top hat) and John F. Kennedy. It was a tough time for hat manufacturers. In spite of this, new hat companies were still popping up across the country: Bailey Hat Company (founded in Los Angeles in 1922), Henschel (founded in St. Louis in 1947). And in the 1970’s, Head N Home opened in Freedom, CA, specializing in unique styles from western to retro-future (steampunk), while in a New York City apartment, Makins Hats was born (a favorite of Brad Pitt and Snoop Dog).

From 1776 to 2013, from sea to shining sea – hats Made in America and hats finished in America (see Panamas) are keeping American manufacturing going strong in the global economy. The Village Hat Shop is proud to represent a long tradition of hatters and milliners in America.

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So stick a feather in your hat and celebrate Independence Day with us.

VillageHatShop.com is having a USA CELEBRATION SALE!

Take 15% off all Hats Made in USA when you use the coupon code: FIREWORKS15 at checkout. OFFER ENDED July 5, 2013 at 11:59 PM (PST).  

FYI – we don’t make a habit of spilling the beans on sales and promo events. However, there is a way that you can be sure that you do not miss out on future sales and discounts – sign up for our email list.

USA! USA! USA!

About the author

Viki Spector Viki Spector has worked at Village Hat Shop since 1999 as Manager of the Old Sacramento store and in recent years, General Manager of all the 'brick and mortar' stores. Now turning her knowledge of the hat industry and retail to writing and editing for the online channel. Born in the Missouri Ozarks and landing in northern California via Chicago with a background in art, advertising and raising 3 kids, Viki brings a unique perspective to this side of the business. And people have always told her she looked good in hats.

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