Wednesday, January 25, 2023

John B. Stetson--The "Boss of the Plains"

by Jennifer Uhlarik


In my household, we have a plethora of hats. Most are my husband’s ball caps, though a few belong to my son. I’m not much of a baseball cap sort (though I do own one and wear it on occasion). Me…I’m far more of the cowboy hat sort! Doesn’t matter where we go, if they have cowboy hats, I find I have to stop and look, try them on, and ponder whether I need another. None of mine are particularly special—none are made by name brands or bought from specialty stores. In fact, most were picked up from the hat racks in souvenir shops while on vacation somewhere, but I love them nonetheless.


But for true cowboy hat connoisseurs, there’s one particular brand that has withstood the test of time—The Stetson. This brand goes all the way back to the 1860s and still endures today.


Eastern Roots to a Burgeoning Western Icon

John Batterson Stetson

One of twelve children, John Batterson Stetson was born in Orange, New Jersey in1830, the son of a hatter. John left school early in life so his father, Stephen, could teach John hat-making as he grew up. He worked in his father’s shop up until his health faltered, making it necessary for him to move west for better air quality.


John set off to Colorado, where he eventually tried his hand at prospecting. While on a hunting expedition with new friends, they discussed the merits of beaver felt vs. tanned hides in hat making, and to prove his point about beaver felt, John created a hat without having to tan a single hide. By hat standards of that day, it was a rather odd-looking piece of headwear with its tall crown and wide brim, his own take on the sombreros the Mexican vaqueros wore. Regardless of what other thought, John quickly grew to like it. The hat had a wonderful ability to shade him from the sun and keep the rain out of his eyes, plus could carry water for his horse if turned upside down. It became his hat of choice—and he later dubbed the style the “Boss of the Plains.”


Return To The East


In 1865, his health had improved enough that John could return East, so he set up a small hat repair shop in Philadelphia. However, word spread quickly about his skills, and he soon needed to expand his one-room shop into a larger space in the same neighborhood. He also moved from just repairing hats to manufacturing his own.


On the Manufacturing Floor of
the Stetson Hat Company

He was intent on turning out only the highest quality headwear at good prices, and he set out to do so with his employees’ welfare in mind. He began using traveling salesmen to sell his wares and soon saw his hats being sold in nearly every retail stores in Philadelphia. He also sent samples of his “Boss of the Plains” style hats to the Southwest, asking retailers who wished to carry the item to purchase a minimum of twelve. By 1869, he again needed more space, so bought twelve acres of land on the outskirts of the city to set up his new facilities. Eventually, his operation grew until his manufacturing headquarters consisted of several five and six-story brick buildings with sprinkler systems and other measures in place to ensure the safety of his factory workers. Such standards were unheard of at the time. Within twenty years, Stetson’s hats were known globally, and his company was turning out two million hats per year, in both the traditional western style and in dressier styles.


Stetson Gives Back


Dedicated to the success of his employees, their families, and those in the area around his twelve-acre site, Stetson set up a very generous apprenticeship program with high wages and plenty of employee perks, including a series of meeting rooms in his buildings where people could host civic, social, and religious gatherings. He also opened a clinic on the property to treat injuries and ailments—and charged just $1.00 for three months of treatment. For any who couldn’t afford that rate, service was provided for free. Only a few years later, the clinic became a full-fledged hospital that served the larger community. 


Stetson Hall @ Stetson Univ.
In the mid-1880s, John took a trip to Florida to visit his friend, Henry Deland, and
fell in love with the burgeoning town his friend was helping to build. For the next twenty years, Stetson wintered in Deland, Florida, where he built a mansion, became active in business, and was soon seen as a leader in the community. His friend, Mr. Deland had built the Deland Academy a few years before John’s visit, which started as a lecture room for a local church. However, once John Stetson came to town, he infused the simple meeting room with an endowment of cash, and it grew into a full-fledged college, offering instruction in music, business, and liberal arts courses of study. In 1889, the school was renamed John B. Stetson University, and in 1900, Stetson University’s College of Law opened its doors, the first official law school in the state of Florida.


A Continuing Legacy


John Stetson passed away in 1906, but for years afterward, his son G. Henry Stetson continued to run his father’s business, even expanding into women’s hats in the early to mid-1900s. It was only after World War II, as times changed and hats became less fashionable, that sales dropped to the point the younger Stetson had to rethink their business model. By the early 1970s, he closed the Philadelphia manufacturing operations, licensed the company’s styles to be manufactured by several other hat makers. He then set his sights on other items. Today, the Stetson brand is not only known for its iconic western and fashion hats, but also colognes for men and women, clothing, belts, handbags, footwear, eyewear, luggage, and even bourbon.


It's Your Turn: Have you heard of the Stetson brand, and if so, what item(s) do you know it from? Did you know this brand originated all the way back in the 1860s? PLEASE VISIT THE BLOG TO COMMENT ON THIS POST.




Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies.



Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik


A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family


When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?


Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.


Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.


Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?







  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year!! I do know the Stetson brand and mostly associate it with hats. I think I've heard of Stetson boots though. I love hearing about these business owners who are ahead of their time in treating their employees well. It's never a given, even in modern times.

  2. This is an interesting bit of history. Refreshing to see an entrepreneur take great care of his employees, support the area, and give to areas beyond. Ordered "Love's Fortress" and am looking forward to your story.

  3. I've definitely heard of Stetson hats, other than that, I think I've only heard of Stetson cologne.