What comes to mind when you think of a cowboy? Cowboy boots and lassos, horses and rodeos? Of all the things associated with life on the range, perhaps none is more classic than the cowboy hat.

Although men on horseback have been wearing broad-brimmed hats as far back as the 13th century, John B. Stetson invented the modern-day American cowboy hat. Stetson’s hat, nicknamed “Boss of the Plains,” was first manufactured in 1865.

The hat had a straight-sided crown with rounded corners and a flat brim. It was lightweight, waterproof and adjustable.

Legend has it that Stetson’s invention of the cowboy hat started as a joke. During a hunting trip, Stetson amused fellow hunters by making a cloth from the fur of animals they captured.

By dipping the fur in boiling water and kneading it with his hands, he created a sort of smooth, soft felt, much like the material that most cowboy hats are still made of today.

When Stetson finished making his fur felt, he made a very large hat with it, which he wore for the remainder of the trip as a joke. He soon realized, though, how well the hat protected him from the rain and harsh sun.

He began to think about marketing his newly invented accessory, and the cowboy hat was born!

Modern cowboy hats have pretty much remained the same as the original design, although some wearers modify their hats. By applying hot steam, one can change the shape of the brim and crown of the hat.

As the hat cools and dries, the felt retains its new shape. In some places, people can identify where a person is from or what ranch they work at based on the shape and creases of their hat.


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    • That’s some pretty smart thinking about the weather, Elizabeth! Paper and cardboard cowboy hats like the ones found by clicking on the links in this Wonder of the Day® are just for fun. Wonder Friends would probably only want to wear them inside or outside if it was sunny! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your personal connection to this Wonder of the Day®, Maddie! We bet your cowgirl hat is AWESOME! :-)

    • Hi Deborah! Some cowboy hats could get damaged if they’re not protected from water! Have you worn a cowboy hat before? Thanks for WONDERing with us! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented the cowboy hat?
  • What are cowboy hats made from?
  • Are all cowboy hats the same?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

You don’t have to know how to ride a horse to wear a cowboy hat. You don’t even need to own a pair of cowboy boots!

You can make your own cowboy hat from paper and decorate it. Whether you’re king of the rodeo or a prairie princess, you’ll be dressed for the job.

Ready to saddle up your horse and round up some cattle? It’s a tough job that requires an even tougher hat!

Grab an old box and use this guide to create your very own cardboard cowboy hat. Before you know it, you’ll be hollerin’ “git along little doggies” in true cowboy style.


Still Wondering

What do cowboy hats have to do with fairy tales? Find out when you visit ReadWriteThink’s fun and imaginative Cowboys and Castles: Interacting with Fractured Texas Tales activity!


Wonder Categories/Tags


accessory  brim  crown  hat  lasso  saddle  trot 

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