It may be one of the enduring symbols of the great American West, but the cowboy hat has its roots in…..New Jersey!

John Batterson Stetson was born on May 5, 1830, in Orange, New Jersey.

The family business was hat making and John joined his father in this pursuit until he developed tuberculosis. He traveled out west, legend has it, to improve his health. While there, he noticed that the hats being worn by ranchers, farmers, gold miners, and cowboys didn’t seem to offer much protection from the elements.

He decided that there was a vast untapped market for a hat uniquely designed for the needs of the West.

Upon returning east, he set up new hat making business outside Philadelphia, the JB Stetson Company. He started producing the “Boss of the Plains” hat. It eventually became so successful that he built a nine acre manufacturing plant to mass produce them.

Variations of the hat proved popular, too, including the Ten Gallon hat prized by Texans.

Stetson University (named for its benefactor) says both Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane wore Stetsons, as did movie star cowboys like Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson. By 1906, Stetson’s company was the biggest hat making business in the world, selling almost 2 million hats a year.

Stetson has diversified since then. They now sell fragrances, bourbon, and luggage, for example, but they closed the Philadelphia factory in 1971. Of course, they still make hats, some of which go for over $900. See their website here.

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