John Batterson Stetson was born May 5, 1830 in New Jersey.
His father was a hatter, and John worked with hats until his father’s death, then moving to St. Louis, Missouri.
Then John was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told he only had a short time to live.
Given this dire prognosis, John left to explore the American West.
Out West, he met cowboys, bullwhackers and drovers.
John, as a former hat-maker, turned his critical eye to their impractical headwear such as flea infested coonskin caps, sea captain hats, straw hats, and wool derbies. He wondered whether fur-felt would work better for a lightweight, all-weather hat suitable for the West.
Then, in 1865, John moved back east to Philadelphia to once again enter the hat-making craft he had learned from his father.
Soon, John began experimenting with hats he felt would be suited to the needs of Westerners.
Stetson settled on a “Boss of the Plains” style he had developed during a trek to Pike’s Peak.
He designed this new cowboy style hat from durable waterproof felt, with a high, open crown and a broad rim to help keep the sun off faces, necks, and shoulders.
These lightweight cowboy hats were natural in color with four inch crowns and brims. Initially, he used a plain strap for the band, and the cowboy hat was born.
Each and every hat had “John B. Stetson Company” embossed in gold on every hatband, thus people began to call the hats “Stetsons.”
Stetson’s Boss of the Plains cowboy hat achieved instant popularity in the West.
As noted by one cowboy:
“It kept the sun out of your eyes and off your neck. It was an umbrella. It gave you a bucket (the crown) to water your horse and a cup (the brim) to water yourself. It made a hell of a fan, which you need sometimes for a fire but more often to shunt cows this direction or that.”
Stetson went on to make the “Carlsbad” style hat, easily identified by its main crease.
The Stetson Cowboy Hat became intimately associated with the cowboy image and a symbol of the highest quality.
Soon, Western icons such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Calamity Jane, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley, Pawnee Bill, Tom Mix, and even the Lone Ranger were wearing Stetsons.
Stetson went on to make special hats for law enforcement, the Texas Rangers, and U.S. Cavalry soldiers.
While Stetson profited from his business, he also wanted to give back to his community. Near the end of his life, Stetson began donating almost all of his money to charitable organizations.
He built grammar and high schools and helped build colleges, including Temple and Stetson Universities.
He also helped establish the YMCA in Philadelphia.
Stetson donated generously to DeLand University (in DeLand, Fla.), which has been renamed John B. Stetson University.
In 1900, Stetson created the first law school in Florida: Stetson University Law School.
John Stetson owned a mansion in DeLand where he died February 18, 1906.
His John B. Stetson House was a mixture of Gothic, Tudor, and Moorish styles.
Stetson is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
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