The cowboy hat has come a long way since John B. Stetson punched his first hat out of beaver hair back in the 1860’s.
The western hat business is a highly competitive one; and because of this, the many hat companies are continually turning out newer and better products and designs. Take a look at the brand inside your bonnet and maybe this story will give you a better insight as to how your hat came into being.
The story of the “Bulldogger” is a success story of Jack Moore and a western tradition — the cowboy hat. This popular crease of the summer straws, along with a new hand-woven fabric from the Philippines, made a new million dollar annual business for the Moore Hat Company of Lawton, Oklahoma.
Right after World War II, Jack Moore and his wife, Laird, owned a small cleaning and blocking plant in Lawton. They blocked a new straw for an auctioneer and this was the beginning. In 1947, Don Ryon placed a sizeable order for the newly-patented “Bulldogger” crease and advertised it as the most copied hat in the world.
To move ahead in the summer straw production, Jack made trips to Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Philippines, Formosa, Japan, and Siam, and contracted buyers there for the hand-woven fabrics.
Native women do most of the weaving of the fabrics in their spare time.
Today the Moore Hat Company uses four main fiber bodies: the Panama, the most widely known; the Sisol fiber, the Formosan, and the Buntal which is the most recent fiber. The latter is lightweight, resilient and almost unbreakable. It comes from the inner bark of certain palms in the Philippines.
Color designs are often woven into the bodies, but for solid colors, the Moore Hat Company sends the bodies to a special dye plant in an eastern state. When they arrive back in Lawton, the rest of the hat transformation takes place.
One of the fastest growing hat manufacturers in the United States is Resistol Hats, Inc., of Garland, Texas. Makers of beaver westerns for men and women, Resistol is the largest manufacturer of quality fur felt hats exclusively for men.
Present facilities of the Resistol company include a straw hat plant in Plainfield, N.J.; a fur felting plant in Newark, N. J., and the main plant and factory site at Garland which is on a 44-acre area. This year they plan to build a three-quarter million dollar fur felting plant at Longview, Tex., and it reportedly will be the most modern of its kind ever constructed. This will also be the first major fur felting plant ever built outside of the New England area.
Harry Rolnick, president of Resistol Hats, Inc., is one of America’s leading hat designers, and he has probably custom designed hats for more famous personalities than any other man in the country.
Many of the 500 employees in the Garland plant are former cowboys and ranchers and their love of western hats is apparent. The exclusive “self-conforming” leather construction of the hats they make allows each hat to conform to the wearer’s head shape and lets the hat ride free.
Back in 1923 a young fellow named George Bailey was traveling for a St. Louis hat company called Caradine. When his travels took him to California, he knew he wanted to live there; and so he decided to go into the business of manufacturing and selling hats. He figured that California was far enough removed from the eastern market to make some sort of a good showing by manufacturing for the California market, and perhaps some of the other western states.
Bailey started to make all manner of hats then, but western hat production by Bailey started about 15 years ago. Today, the Bailey Hat Company employs 25 salesmen who cover a good part of the United States, but the largest part of their business is still Texas and the 11 western states. From these salesmen come many of the ideas for new hat styles.
George Bailey selects the materials for Bailey hats by traveling all over the world. He goes to the Philippines for Bangkoks and Balibuntals, to Ecuador for the finest Panamas, and to the Orient for many and various fiber straws. These woven straws then come into the Bailey plant ready for finishing into the various blockings. There are 125 persons working for the Bailey Hat Company — many of them with long service records. They all have ideas on hat styles and manufacture, and many of these thoughts find their way into the season’s line-up of new hats.
The Fox Hat Company of St. Paul, Minn., has been manufacturing hats since 1910. It wasn’t until 1946, however, that the famous Fox Western came into existence. One day a rodeo rider asked Sol Fox, owner of the company, to make a hat for him. Other rodeo riders saw the hat, liked it, and soon the orders came pouring in.
The Fox Western is not a stock hat but rather a custom-made product designed to the specifications of the buyer. When an order comes to Fox, a “raw” hat is made into a finished hat according to the size, brim width, crown height, type of crease, band width, and color desired by the customer. All work is done by hand.
Fine imported fur felt goes into the Fox Western hat and each one has a sweat-protected lining and leather band. Nine styles and 13 colors are available.
The Fox slogan, “Fox Westerns are a Western Custom, ” now has a world-wide application. Over 3,000 of these hats are shipped out yearly, and they have gone to all 48 states, Canada, Mexico, South America, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. All Fox Westerns are sold directly to the wearer, with no other retail outlets.
The latest hat making machinery and experienced labor are used by the American Hat Company of Houston, Tex., in the manufacture of their western style hats. Founded in 1915 by Sam Silver, the company is now owned by his son, M. J. “Bubba” Silver.
American has necessarily limited its easily recognized and distinctive styling. They credit this fine detail and styling, together with quality materials, for their constant growth in the past 39 years.
Last year the American Hat Company came out with a genuine Panama western hat for summer coated in clear plastic. The hand-woven hat is sealed in a permanent coating of resilient plastic that permits the wearer to wash or wipe it clean — no matter how dirty it gets. A hat with this plastic-aire process never needs professional cleaning or blocking.
This article was originally published in the May 1954 issue of Western Horseman.