Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Philadelphia Reflections (6)
New topic 2017-02-06 21:23:28 description


John Stetson

John B. Stetson started a hat factory in Philadelphia in 1865, and within a few years, The Stetson was synonymous with cowboy hats. The quality was good, and the image was perfect for the migration into the West which took place after the Civil War, urged onward by that myth of the noble cowhand so enthusiastically nurtured by Philadelphia authors, books and magazines. From time to time, a Stetson hat could be seen on a Philadelphia head, but for the most part, Stetsons were more a factor in Philadelphia commerce than Philadelphia styles.

Stetson Hat Factory

The matter came up recently when someone by that name was asked if he belonged to the hat family, and it turned out that was so. In one of those brief cocktail party encounters, he remarked that what ruined the Stetson hat factory, was John Kennedy appearing at his presidential inaugural -- hatless.

Aside from the fact that young Kennedy's hatlessness did not seem to affect the Texas factory which still makes Stetsons, there is the recollection that hatlessness was pretty stylish fifteen years before the Washington Camelot, both in men and in women. In fact, hatless young women were a Philadelphia style for quite a while before they were a national style.

It seems reminiscent of another fable about changing styles, attributed to Clark Gable. The movie star took off his shirt in a movie called "It Happened One Night", revealing bare skin. Undershirts, one is to believe, promptly disappeared from American life. There are those who recollect that undershirts suddenly got hard to find during World War II, and were replaced by T-shirts by the armed forces. There is a strong odor of Publicity Agent about both of these clothing stories, but things have got fairly advanced when even members of the manufacturing family are now repeating the folklore.

Originally published: Monday, June 19, 2006; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019

My great grandparents met and worked here in the early 1900s. She told me they worked as "Trimmers" making the hat rim and cutting out bows for four years. She told me she loved working here and didn't want to leave but was getting married and would soon start a family. She was very excited about telling me at Christmas time the factory at Christmas time gave out money, white gloves and candy to their female employees. I even have my great-grandfather Stetson hat hanging in my bedroom. Thank you for allowing me to know more about their past.
Posted by: AM Hogan   |   Aug 22, 2013 12:27 PM
What a wonderful site. I am pleased to find the location of the Stetson factory, in Philadelphia. According to family history, my great-grandfather worked as a hatter for Stetson in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. My great-grandfather never met my father (great-grandfather's first grandchild), but my father told me he found an apprenticeship contract my great-grandfather signed with the Stetson company. I am just starting work on my family genealogy and I plan on adding links to historical tidbits to the work, so the info on this site is a delight. Thank you!
Posted by: Mabel   |   Jun 27, 2012 7:22 AM