The Stetson factory in Philadelphia manufactured hats for American soldiers in World War I

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Hospitals, libraries, computers, cupcakes, candy corn, botanical gardens, the street address system, this entire nation… Add another to the list of notable American things that got their start in Philadelphia:

Cowboy hats.

Intertwined with legends of the Wild West, popularized by Hollywood Westerns, and preferred today by countless country-western stars, the wide-brimmed head-topper is generally not considered an East Coast thing. But it was in Philly that the accessory got its now-familiar size and shape.

It’s all thanks to John B. Stetson, the son of a New Jersey hatter, who spent time out west and was inspired by the sombreros he saw on Mexican vaqueros.

Once he came up with the iconic Carlsbad model, things took off. The Stetson company grew to be the biggest hatmaker in the world, with more than 5,000 employees.

Scroll through the thread below for details on how it happened — and where to find a Stetson storefront sign today.

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Avi Wolfman-Arent

Avi Wolfman-Arent is a host on 90.9 FM and an education reporter with WHYY News, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the Chronicle of Philanthropy and education technology...