Stetson Hats – An American Legacy
Since 1865 Stetson Hats has been the powerhouse of hat manufacturers. They’re credited with the creation of the American cowboy hat, and pioneering the hat industry we all know and love today. John B. Stetson founded the company with only $100. He rented a small room, purchased all the necessary tools and $10 in fur; that’s all it took to bring the famous “Boss of the Plains” Stetson cowboy hat to life.
How a Stetson Hat is Made – The Felting Process
The making of these legendary hats starts out at the Stetson Hat Making Facility in Longview, Texas. Stetson uses a variety of quality furs, such as rabbit, hare and beaver fur to make the fur felt material for their weather resistant and durable hats. Stetson still uses a century old felting process to turn the fur into fur felt, and most of Stetson’s machines still used today are original antique equipment. With old equipment, comes worn out parts needing frequent repairs. Stetson has warehouses specifically to house old equipment, which is used for blueprints and parts to repair their machines.
Mixing the Fur
The process starts by creating a mix of the furs. After, mixing they run the furs through their blower to separate the longer hair from the shorter hairs. The longer hairs are disposed of, and the shorter hairs, referred to as down are what they use to make the fur felt. The fur is weighed out for each hat and run through the former to begin the fur felting process.
Forming the Fur
Inside the former, the fur is sucked onto a cone shaped mold with a vacuum inside. The hair is very loose and fragile at this point in the manufacturing and must be handled with such care. The cone shape is about eight times the size of the finished hat, as it will shrink significantly throughout the rest of the felting process. Large strips of burlap are then wrapped around the cone, and a secondary protective cone is placed on top and dropped into 160 degree fahrenheit hot water. This is where the felting process begins as the hot water starts shrinking and tightening the fur fibers. Much like velcro interlocks, the fur fibers act the same and the barbs on the raw fibers of the fur lock together.
To continue the felting process, pressure is applied to the hats using rollers. This will cause the hat to shrink several inches as the fur felt becomes tighter. The hats are run through this machine a half dozen times, and to avoid a pointed hat, the worker has to ensure the tips are not stuck together. Various techniques are used with hot water and pressure until a desired hat size is reached and then it’s off to the next process of manufacturing.
Dying and Shaping
The hats are then placed into the pressured dyers to give the felt its color and coated with shellac, which is beetle saliva from the lac bug. The shellac helps stiffen the hat, without shellac the hat is very soft and flimsy. Once the shellac is completely dry, the hat goes through the tipping and brimming processes.
The hat is then stretched and pulled to achieve the hat’s shape. It starts with the crown, and then the brim. The brimmer has brass fingers which push the bottom of the cone out. The hat is placed on a form on the blocking machine and submerged in 160 degree water again, where the fingers pull hat to shape. Finally the hats are placed on racks to dry overnight, then they are shipped off to the Stetson finishing factory.
Each Hat Becomes a Stetson – The Finishing Process
Once the hats arrive at the Stetson Finishing Factory in Garland, Texas, the hats will begin to take a final form and be ready for shipping to retailers worldwide. Every hat is handmade one at a time, which gives each Stetson hat its quality finish and craftsmanship they are known for.
To shape the crown, wooden blocks are pushed into the crown of the hat which gives the taper and the shape of the crown, as well as the head size. The brim is pulled out from the body and is trimmed down later in finishing. The hats are shellacked, dried and shaped one more time.
In the finishing process the hat is sanded down to remove the roughness from the hat body and to give the hat its smooth finish. After sanded down, powder is is worked into the felt and the hat is compacted. To form the dent in the crown, the hat is fitted with a rubber plug and placed under 80 pounds of pressure to give the crown its signature shape.
The edge of the brim is beveled and a 275 degree press is used to give the brim its curved shape that Stetson cowboy hats are known for. The hat is inspected, cleaned and ready for trim.
The hat is finished with a genuine leather sweatband, satin lining and the Stetson iconic image inside the crown. After careful inspection, the Stetson hat is boxed and ready to be sold and enjoyed by the masses for years to come.
Stetson’s hats are well-known for their quality and craftsmanship, and their manufacturing process shows the meticulous detail put into every Stetson hat. When you own a Stetson, you know IT’S A STETSON.