John Stetson’s Business Brain Made Him A Top Hat

John B Stetson

John Stetson had a head for hats.


But it was his creative, adventurous spirit and shrewd business sense that made the New Jersey native a beacon on the American Plains and around the world.

Stetson’s original felt cowboy hat, the Boss of the Plains, came out in 1865 with a wide brim to keep out the sun and rain, and a generous, lightweight, waterproof crown.

And talk about versatile — a horse could drink from a Stetson hat. Some cowboys even folded their Stetsons into pillows for a fireside snooze. In the late 1800s, the Stetson became a must-have accessory for cowboys. The firm grew into one of the biggest hat makers of all time.

More than 2 million hats a year rolled out of Stetson’s Philadelphia plant during the 1890s. Buffalo Bill wore a Stetson. Annie Oakley had one, too.

Stetson’s Keys

  • Created the Boss of the Plains cowboy hat, called the Stetson.
  • Overcame: poor health and lack of schooling.
  • Lesson: Always look for improvement, and expand on what you know.
  • “There is no advertisement equal to a well-pleased customer.”

Lasting Product

Stetson’s hats stayed popular long after his death in 1906.

One particularly big fan was President Reagan, who sported a Stetson and even gave one to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Fashion designer Sue Wong says that the nearly 150-year-old Stetson cowboy hat — which now retails for around $100 and is made in Garland, Texas, by apparel company Hatco — will continue to be a good fashion investment.

“A single hat encapsulates the story of how the West was won,” Wong told IBD from her company’s Los Angeles headquarters. “The Stetson hat has become an iconic item.”

Sidney Johnston, grants manager at Stetson University, the DeLand, Fla., school that the hat king helped build, said: “Stetson was all about innovation and creativity.” Stetson (1830-1906) invested heavily in the college during his retirement years, steered by his passion for knowledge and exploration.

Stetson was born in Orange, N.J., the seventh of a dozen children of Susan and Stephen Stetson, the owner of a hat workshop. The dad expected nothing but the best from his shop. Discipline, he pressed, was the best thing for a child, and John became an apprentice early in his life. He had a quick wit, a big imagination and longed to see things far beyond the walls of his father’s shop. As for his mom, each night after the kids finished their work, she pulled out stacks of schoolbooks.

Little John read up on Egypt, England and the westward expansion of America. He dreamed of being part of history. But he knew that the family business needed him. He vowed to give his brain and hands to hats.

Checkout the Stetson Hats from Bernard Hats:

Original price was: $39.00.Current price is: $29.00.
Original price was: $49.00.Current price is: $33.00.
Original price was: $249.00.Current price is: $199.00.
Original price was: $149.00.Current price is: $99.00.
Original price was: $49.00.Current price is: $29.00.

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