Bollman Hat Company is the nation’s oldest hat maker, renowned today for its iconic designs and popularity with celebrities. Its history has spanned over 150 years, and it’s still known today for making what are arguably the world’s finest straw and wool felt hats.
How did this hat maker get its start, and what continues to make this brand so unique? We went in-depth to explain the rich history behind Bollman Hat Company so that our customers can appreciate the product even more.
The Hat Maker’s Humble Origins
George Bollman founded Bollman Hat Company in 1868, right after the civil war. Its original factory is located in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, and it continues to produce hats there today.
At the time, hat making was a thriving industry in Adamstown due to the city’s plentiful water supply, which was used to run mills and power machinery. This meant Bollman Hat Company was up against heavy competition. To last until the present day, they needed technological innovation, a stringent commitment to quality, and excellent customer service.
In the 1970s, when tariffs and restrictions on imported clothing and textiles were lifted, Bollman was hard-hit and forced to downsize significantly, but even through these tough times, they were able to push American-made quality and maintain the company’s reputation for unparalleled service.
Bollman is a true American success story — in fact, the welcome sign for Adamstown still proudly states that it’s been the home of Bollman Hat Company since 1868.
Bollman’s Unique Company Structure
Bollman’s company organization lends to its superior reputation. Three generations of the Bollman family have owned the company, and it was a pioneering effort in every regard. When family interest in the industry diminished, the company was sold to a group of managers who had been working for the company at the time.
In 1982, they brought in Don Rongione, current president and CEO of the company, and requested that he develop a succession plan for the hat maker. Rongione proposed to the managers that Bollman Hat Company should become an employee-owned business — a plan that was later adopted in 1985.
Currently, up to 70% of the company is a part of the employee stock ownership plan whereby all the company’s USA-based employees have a stake in the company’s stock. A group of six managers working at the company owns the remaining 30% of the classic hat maker’s stock.
The inspiration behind this approach was the company’s long-standing history of providing for its employees. During WWII, for example, the Bollman family’s third-generation shared their wage dividend equally with former employees serving overseas. Their commitment to their employees’ wellbeing has been one of the trademarks of this brand for generations.
International Expansion and Celebrity Acclaim
Bollman took a step forward with its acquisition of Bailey Hat Company in 1986, the first of many famous brands to join the collection.
The acquisition of Bailey began a trend towards widespread celebrity appeal. Bailey Hat Company’s popular Western collection was a favorite among famous country singers like Roy Rogers, and is still appreciated by modern country music stars like Kenny Chesney today. Their Bailey of Hollywood collection was also a favorite among recognizable stars of the day, including Humphrey Bogart of Casablanca.
Bollman Hat Company’s next major acquisition was the British brand Kangol in 2001. Kangol has a rich history of supplying armed forces during WWII, and today, it garners attention from contemporary celebrities in the music and movie industries, like Eminem, LL Cool J, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Helen Kaminski joined the growing list of top designer hat makers brands acquired by Bollman in 2007. Helen Kaminski specializes in fashion accessories, including classy bags, hats, and scarves. Today, Bollman has a collection of around ten brands, including Betmar, Country Gentleman, Eddy Bros Hat Company, and Pantropic.
Since Bollman took off, their hats have been worn by the likes of icons such as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, and Gary Cooper, and more recently, Nicole Kidman, Brad Pitt, and Missy Elliott. Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, and Bruno Mars have shown their love for Bailey brand hats, and you can find Bailey’s collection at high-end fashion boutiques like Nordstorm and Neiman Marcus.
While Bollman is proud of its American heritage and remains headquartered in Pennsylvania, its international reach means it now sources 65% of its hat-making products globally. Bollman Hat Company now operates across four continents and distributes products in 77 countries.
What Makes Hats from This Iconic Hat Maker Stand Out?
In terms of fashion, Bollman is known for its unique, contemporary takes on classic styles. They sell a little bit of everything, like 1930s Trilby, a softened take on the Fedora, an 1880s top hat, an 1870s fez, and gorgeous wide-brimmed boater hats. When you think “classic hats,” the first thing that comes to mind is the Bollman collection.
True to their roots, they are the only hat maker in the world who still manufacture their hats from the raw wool to the finishing touches in Adamstown. Bollman also operates as a private label hat maker for several major fashion designers, including Cabela’s Sporting Goods, and Marc Jacobs.
Today, this iconic hat company continues to innovate with unique hat designs, constructions, and finishes that have been mimicked, but can’t be replicated.