Did you know that John Batterson Stetson was born today in 1830? He was the inventor of the cowboy hat!!! When he was young, Stetson was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Thinking that he only had a short time to live, he went to explore the American West. There he met cattlemen, cowboys, fur trappers, and bullwhackers. He noticed the hats they wore were hard to keep clean, fragile, or impractical. He designed a hat that was durable, waterproof, and had a wide brim that would protect the wearer from the sun, wind, rain, and snow. His hat was instantly popular.
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The name of the hat Stetson designed was instantly popular and called “Boss of the Plains”. It had a high crown to insulate the top of the head and a stiff brim to provide protection for the wearer’s face, neck, and shoulders from the sun, wind, raid, or snow. The hat was made from waterproof beaver fur-felt.
The Stetson became very well known in the West. Eventually, it also became part of the image of an American cowboy. Icons such as Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley, and the Lone Ranger all wore Stetsons as well as National Park Service and US Calvary soldiers.
It took 42 beaver pelts to make a Boss of the Plains hat.
The tight weave of the Stetson hat made it waterproof enough that it could be used as a bucket. The flexible brim could form a spout to direct the water when pouring it out. There were many stories of cowboys using the hats to carry water for their horses or themselves. One story featured a cowboy who had a canteen that leaked; he saved his water by catching and saving it in his Stetson hat.
Today’s cowboy hat has remained basically unchanged from the hat designed by Stetson in 1865.
Stetson also believed in philanthropy. He built schools, colleges, YMCAs, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and more. Some of the universities he helped to build were Temple and Stetson University.