John Batterson Stetson was born on May 5th, in East Orange, New Jersey. His father,
Stephen Stetson was a successful hatter who ran the No Name Hat Company. The company
was known for their superior quality hats and John B. learned the trade as a child.
It is said that the No Name Company made hats for George Washington.
John B. headed west to recover from tuberculosis, which he developed as a young
man. He decided to try his luck and venture to Pike’s Peak to seek a fortune
in gold. Roughing it in the wilderness, John used primitive felting techniques to
create water repellent blankets and the first hat to protect him from the elements.
This was the original “Boss of the Plains”; a Western hat that would
become the cornerstone of Stetson’s hat business and is still in production
Stetson did not strike it rich as a gold miner and so headed back East to start
a hat manufacturing company—the only trade he knew. With only $60 dollars
loaned to him by his older sister Louisa, he purchased tools and fur, rented a small
room in Philadelphia and took on two workers. To differentiate his products from
the competition, he sent a “Boss of the Plains” hat to each South-Western
dealer with a letter asking for an order of a dozen. By the early twentieth century,
Stetson owned the world’s largest hat factory.
Notable people who wore Stetson hats in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries
included Colonel William F. Cody “Buffalo Bill”, Calamity Jane, Will
Rogers and Annie Oakley.
JBS dies of a brain aneurism at the age of 76 shortly after a Board of Trustees
meeting at Stetson University
The 25 building factory covered 9 acres of ground, employed 5400 people and was
producing 3,336,00 hats annually. These were supplied to 10,000 retail merchants
and 150 wholesale distributors. Roughly 1125 of the retail merchants were in foreign
countries that year.
Stetson began making personalized hats for Senators and Presidents; a tradition
that still continues to this day. Stetson hats were a favorite with Tom Mix – Hollywood’s
first Cowboy superstar. Tom Mix not only wore Stetson hats, he carried a dozen of
them when travelling internationally. He gave them to officials and dignitaries
he met. Stetson named a hat after him in honor of his role as unofficial brand ambassador.
Stetson acquired a substantial interest in the Wolthausen Hat Corporation in Brockville,
Ontario. It was the first time Stetson hats had ever been produced outside of Philadelphia.
Other foreign branches were soon opened in Mexico, Australia and elsewhere.
The Stetson Company begins producing women’s hats. The selection included
the Cheviot beret as well as pillboxes and tricornes styles. In the summer months
and for outdoor activities, women preferred classic styles like the cloche.
Men’s hats didn’t change so much during the war years. Snap brims remained
in style. The biggest change was in color. Gray, brown and black hats were being
replaced with rainbow hues and somber black hatbands were replaced with bands of
color and pattern.
At the height of WWII, Stetson, like many other American manufacturers, threw their
hat in the ring and took on government defense contracts to support war efforts.
Stetson’s factories began producing parachutes and heavy webbing for parachutes
& safety belts. Stetson ran a series of ads during this time with the patriotic
mantra “Keep it under your Stetson” and “Let’s bring him
home quicker!” to discourage espionage and show our military support overseas.
Post-war prosperity meant you had to have a hat to get ahead and a Stetson was the
hat. Hollywood was no exception where familiar figures like Gene Autry, James Dean,
John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were some of the most visible Stetson wearers.
Stetson advertisements are published featuring notable actors such as Bing Crosby,
Bob Hope, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Ray Milland, Robert Young, George Montgomery in
Life Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, Time, Look, and
Men’s Reporter The most successful line of ladies hats was created. Stetson
collaborated with Dorothy Lamour, Carole Landis and Susan Hayward.
The world’s most labor intensive and most expensive western Stetson hat was
created. Forty-three workers spent a year assembling this hat; it was worth $1,500
at the time. It was made of beaver felt and was trimmed with a sterling silver band
in the shape of a double rope strand. A solid gold longhorn steer head was added
for ornamentation. It toured Australia, Columbia, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand and
On a frigid day in January 1961, the newly elected President John F. Kennedy took
the oath of office and spoke to the nation hatless. Many cite that as the moment
when the hat became an optional accessory rather than a requirement for proper dress.
Hat sales suffered and many hatters went bankrupt.
After a decade of youth-driven pop culture and rebellion, personal style and accessories
were amplified to incorporate bell-bottoms, platform shoes, wide collars, and anything
that would make a dramatic statement of individuality. Stetson added colorful hat
bands, funky shapes, and wild feather arrangements to fit the bill.
Stetson closes its last factory and begins working with licensing partners to make
its hats. The company adds fragrance, eyeglasses and luggage to its product mix.
Hit movies Raiders of the Lost Ark and Urban Cowboy fueled a spike in hat sales
– seemingly everyone had to have an Indiana Jones or a slick cowboy hat.
Stetson partners with the Friedrich W. Schneider Hat Company, a company founded
in 1913, to distribute Stetson hats throughout Europe. FWS soon becomes an official
licensee and began to design, manufacture and distribute fashion hats & caps made
exclusively for the European markets.
Stetson launches men’s and women’s apparel and footwear.
Stetson becomes the Official Hat of the Quarter Horse Congress.
Stetson works with Albertus Swanepoel – a favorite milliner of fashion insiders
and a true talent in headwear design – to create a small fashion hat collection
that is a commercial and critical success. Stetson collaborates with CFDA award
winner Billy Reid on its first hat line for the designer. Fall 2011 is now in the
works. Stetson signs on new partners to bring Stetson belts, wallets and home textiles
to market in 2011.