This week y’all saw a special Resistol cowboy hat, once worn by the son of Denison, Texas, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Acquired from the illustrious Ray Bentley Collection, this beige hat has a gold-embroidered sweatband with Eisenhower’s name. The display case in our Museum is strategically situated next to the bust of President Ronald Reagan, in what one could call the “presidential corner” of the lobby.
Besides the facts discussed in the first episode we released on TikTok, there’s not much to discuss about cowboy hats, right? Well, you’d be wrong there. A Dallas news headline reads: “Cowboy hat photo ops are a presidential tradition.” From John F. Kennedy to George Bush to Donald Trump, many presidents have clicked photos donning a Stetson cowboy hat in the East Room of the White House.
Why Stetson? Known as the “Boss of the Plains,” John B. Stetson created a flat-brimmed open-crown hat that would evolve over time into a final design that was synonymous with the American West in 1865. His company is one of the most established hat companies; in fact, it is the world’s largest hat maker, producing more than 3,300,000 hats each year in a 9-acre factory.
The hats given to the presidents are often gifts from the governor of Texas or presented as part of a product showcase from all 50 states. It’s intended to make the leader of our nation look more like a son of the soil.
John F. Kennedy was so afraid to put on the cowboy hat he was given upon his arrival at the LBJ Ranch that he told onlookers twice: “I’ll put it on in the White House on Monday. If you come up there, you’ll have a chance to see it then,” and “I’ve just been presented this hat, but I don’t have the guts to wear it just yet.” He finally mustered the courage to wear his hat, saying “I’m going to wear this in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston.”
Certainly, cowboy hats are symbols of the West and stand out as uniquely American. By wearing one, you declare that you have arrived and that you mean business. In fact, Jeff Bezos wore a cowboy hat to Blue Origin’s manned launch on July 20 which caused a bit of a buzz on social media.
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