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 Mongolian horsemen of 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. Stetson's design was likely inspired by the wide-brimmed hats worn by the working cowboys (known as vaqueros) of Northern Mexico.
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.