Did you know that one of the most enduring symbols of the 'wild west' was designed and manufactured by a man from New Jersey?

John Batterson Stetson was born in Orange, New Jersey. His father was a hatmaker and he joined the business. Legend has it that Stetson contracted tuberculosis and traveled to the western part of the US. It has been suggested that he just wanted to see it before he died.

Whatever the reason, during his travels he noticed that the hats worn by the cowboys, ranchers, gold miners, and farmers seemed to be inadequate for protecting their wearers from the elements. 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. Tt 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 sill make hats. See their website here.

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