History of Stetson Cowboy Hat

Stetson is a name for the wide variety of hats made by John B. Stetson Company. Company was founded by one John B. Stetson, son of Stephen Stetson, a hatter. John was born in 1830 in Orange, New Jersey and he worked in his father’s hatter shop until he was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1854 and told that he has not long to live (tuberculosis was then a disease that was hard to cure). On his doctor’s advice he goes West in a hope he will get better. After some time he settled in a trading post of St. Joseph, Missouri from where were sent expeditions to Pike's Peak and similar destinations. In 1860 he tries to enlist in Civil War but because of his tuberculosis that still ailed him, he was refused. He decides to go to Pike's Peak expedition himself. During the travel he noticed that symptoms of his illness slowly disappear.

Man with Cowboy Hat

Confronted with natural conditions of rain and sun Stetson made himself his first hat from beaver felt. It was a Prospector’s hat with unusually wide brim and of simple construction, made from materials and with technique that were available to him in the wild but it worked and, although his travel companions laughed at him he wore it until the end of the traveling because it was practical, it had an insulating pocket of air above the head and, because it was waterproof it protected from the rain and could be used to carry water. Legend says that laughter stopped after some passing bullwhacker from Mexico approached Stetson and offered him five dollar gold nugget for the hat.

When his health got better in 1865, Stetson returned to east and with $100 for tools he opened a small hat making business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the beginning he made hats that were copies of the modern hats at the time but then he decided to use his experiences from his western traveling and made a hat called “Boss of the Plains”. It was a hat with four inch flat brim, crown with straight sides, rounded corners and symmetrical on all sides without creases. It had a sweat band to protect inside of the hat and a hatband that helped adjusting the size so the hat could stand firmly on the head. The hat was durable, waterproof and lightweight and despite its high cost it became very popular among the cowboys because of those qualities. Soon Stetson started mass production of his hats and his company lasts to this day.

All Stetson “Boss” hats looked the same when they came out of the factory. What gave them individuality and helped wearers identify with certain subcultures were creases. Hats could be modified in hot steam and then dried and cooled. Treated that way, felt would the keep the shape it was molded in. One of the popular creases is Cattlemen. It is made by creasing the center of the crown and denting the crow on each side. Some other creases are rodeo crease, the “bull rider’s” crease, the quarter horse crease, and the tycoon.