The Stetson Hat was created by John B. Stetson. During the Civil War in 1862, Mr. Stetson, having no desire to die an untimely death, headed for Colorado to pan for gold long after John Sutter’s fabulous discovery of gold in California. He’d been working as an apprentice milliner but had grown weary of the work. After not finding much gold, Stetson tried his hand at trapping and found it to be a bit more profitable. It would turn out to be the genesis for an idea that would make him rich.
Stetson made himself a large, wide-brimmed hat from beaver pelts sewn together. It was a utlilitarian hat in that it not only provided a large, sombrero-like cover that shaded the entire face, but it doubled as a water bowl (and some say, was often used for hot stew).
The hat became popular with some of the miners and trappers, so after selling a few, he left Colorado for Philadelphia where, with a mere $100, he started making hats in earnest. But, that first year was pretty dismal and he neary went bankrupt since he only managed to sell about a dozen hats.
Suddenly, Stetson’s hat caught on with the cowboys who spent all their days under blistering hot suns, and with the gold miners who sweated under the hot sun day after day, and he found himself deluged with orders. The hat became known as the “John B.” or as it was popularly called, “The Boss of the Plains,” and his hats became as popular as the Colt revolver. At his death in 1906, the company was selling hats internationally and sales were reported in excess of 2 million hats a year. Beaver top hats became quite the rage in New York City and even in Paris and London and other European cities.
Today, the company pulls in more than $200 million a year in sales.
Below is a video that shows some rare, vintage film of the making of a Stetson hat, circa 1920’s.