John Batterson Stetson

John Batterson Stetson (May 5, 1830 - February 18, 1906) was a U.S. hat manufacturer. He founded the John B. Stetson Company as a manufacturer of cowboy hats; the company's hats are now commonly referred to simply as Stetsons.


Born in Orange, New Jersey, the 12th of 13 children born to Stephen Stetson, a hatmaker. As a youth, the younger Stetson worked in the hatmaking business with his father until John was diagnosed with tuberculosis and his doctor predicted he would have only a short time to live. Given this dire prognosis, Stetson left the hatmaking business to explore the American West, afraid this would be his only chance to see it. [Kristin Palm. "Stetson Hat" [] Retrieved August 7, 2007.]

When Stetson traveled to the West in the 1860s to improve his health (suffering from tuberculosis in his early 30s"One Man's Crowning Glory; Top Hat: Stetson's keen marketing savvy made him "Boss Of The Plains" MICHAEL MINK. Investor's Business Daily.SECTION LEADERS & SUCCESS; NATIONAL EDITION; Pg. A03. October 12, 2004.] ) where he met many drovers and bullwhackers or cowboys.

Reportedly, in 1865 — "a time when almost everyone wore hats" — Stetson moved to Philadelphia to enter the "hat-making craft he'd learned from his father" and began manufacturing hats there suited to the needs of the Western cowboy. Reportedly, thanks to the time he spent with cowboys and Western settlers, he knew firsthand that they wore "impractical head wear, such as coonskin caps, sea captain hats, straw hats and wool derbies, while doing their work." Stetson decided to offer them something better — what became known as his Boss of the Plains cowboy hat. Durable and well-made from felt, its high, open crown and broad rim would keep the hot sun off their faces. Stetson didn't invent the style, which had been around for some 200 years, but he identified the cowboy's need for it. His hat, known as a Stetson, soon became popular headwear in the West and helped start the John B. Stetson Company, which became, under Stetson's direction, one of the largest hat firms in the world, producing about 2 million hats a year with the world's biggest hat factory in Philadelphia.

Stetson's hats won numerous awards, but his company grew, he "faced the challenge of developing a reliable labor force." Reportedly, "people working in the hat trade at that time tended to drift from employer to employer" and "absenteeism was rampant." Stetson, "guided by Baptist religious principles, believed that by providing for his employees he would lend stability to their lives and attract higher caliber ones." Unlike most other employers, Stetson decided to offer benefits to entice workers to stay. Stetson also made sure his employees had a clean, safe place to work, also building a hospital, a park and houses for his 5,000 employees. Stetson's unusual moves helped him build a factory in Philadelphia that grew to 25 buildings on nine acres. By 1915, nine years after Stetson's death, 5,400 employees were turning out 3.3 million hats.

The Stetson hat became a symbol of quality. Western icons such as "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Calamity Jane, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley,Pawnee Bill, Tom Mix, and the "Lone Ranger" wore Stetsons. The company also made hats for law enforcement departments, such as the Texas Rangers. Stetson's Western-style hats were worn by employees of the National Park Service, soldiers in World War I, and many U.S. presidents. In addition to the Boss of the Plains, Stetson made fedoras for city slickers.

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 was renamed (1889) 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 in 1906. The over 8,000 ft² masterpiece called John B. Stetson House is a mixture of Gothic, Tudor, and Moorish styles. Stetson is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.


External links

* [ Basic Information]
* [ Biography-West Laurel Hill Cemetery web site]

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