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Danbury, Connecticut, a Hat Making Capitol of Yesteryear

Submitted by on October 6, 2012 – 10:57 pm One Comment

Men make hats in this Library of Congress photo from 1936. At one point, nearly 50% of all the hats made in the U.S. came from Danbury, Conn.

From before the American Revolution until the mid-point of the 20th century, the center of hat making in the United States was Danbury, Conn. We arenÔÇÖt talking a quaint little cottage industry. This was the birth place of millions of hats shipped around the country every year.

In her incredible book, ÔÇ£Hat Talk,ÔÇØ Debbie Reynolds explores the history of hat manufacturing in this country and talks with the surviving factory workers and executives from a time when nearly every man, woman and child didnÔÇÖt leave the house without a proper piece of headwear.

Although the remains of the industry have scattered to the four winds, here are some interesting Danbury hat facts from ReynoldsÔÇÖ book:

  • In 1801 Danbury was exporting 20,000 fur felt hats a year
  • By 1859 it produced 1.5 million hats a year (2 years before the Civil War)
  • By 1880 the city was making 4.5 million hats a year from dozens of private companies.
  • In 1885 31 of the nationÔÇÖs 63 hat manufacturers were based in Danbury
  • Executive Bob Doran of hat maker Doran Brothers in Danbury began an extensive study in college that tracked the demise of hat wearing (and all menÔÇÖs outer wear) to the rise of the automobile, with gradual declines in hat production gaining momentum after 1903.

These days there are only a small handful of companies making hats. Stetson and Dobbs moved to Texas. Bailey has a factory in Pennsylvania. However, little remains of what was once a gargantuan hat industry in Danbury.

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