John Stetson, the son of a hatmaker, was born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1830. When he was in his early twenties, Stetson was advised by his doctor to travel to the American West to cure his ill-health. At St. Joseph he joined a party of men that travelled to the gold fields of Colorado. He also spent time in the Rocky Mountains.
While living in the American West he began experimenting with developing headgear that would protect him from the harsh weather conditions. This included a hat with a wide brim to keep out the elements. He also gave it a waterproof lining that could double as a water bucket. The finished hat had a 6-inch high crown and a 7-inch brim. The hat could carry a half-gallon of water but acquired the nickname, the 10 gallon hat.
In 1865 John Stetson established a one-man hatmaking business in Philadelphia. He sold his Boss of the Plains hat to local shops. Although fairly expensive to buy, it was such a success that Stetson was able to build a factory to produce his Western-style hats.
The Stetson wide-brimed hat sheltered the cowboy from the sun and the rain. He also used it as a water bucket and for whipping his horse. He also used it at night as a pillow.
By 1886, John Stetson owned the worlds biggest hat factory in Philadelphia and employed nearly 4,000 workers. He was a good employer and as well as providing free health care he gave company shares to his workers. He also founded Stetson University in Deland, Florida, and built a hospital in Philadelphia hospital.
The Stetson factory in Philadelphia was producing about 2 million hats a year by the time John Stetson died in 1906.