Sunday, October 17, 2010

Crofut & Knapp, Innovators

So how does a company go from one man working out of a cow shed to the second largest hat company in America? (They did eventually become the largest, but that wasn’t until after 1970 and the closure of the Stetson factory in Philadelphia.)

The short, and perhaps overly obvious, answer is through a lot of hard work and dedication. Success becomes much more likely to happen when you throw innovation into the mix, and this is the case with Crofut & Knapp. Add in the talent of promoting your employees into positions where they can do the most for the company, and you have a recipe for success. Two key components went hand in hand with their success. First, they offered a high-quality product at premium prices. While the premium price created a hurdle to overcome with consumers, the second component dealt very well with that hurdle: marketing and advertising. In this, Crofut & Knapp were innovators, setting a standard of excellence that left the other hat companies playing catch-up.

The hatting industry underwent a monumental change in the first half of the nineteenth century due to the transportation revolution and the industrial revolution, just as most American industries did. The hat factory evolved from a small, locally-owned shop into a much larger facility employing ever greater numbers of people.

Prior to the industrial revolution, hat manufacturers worked out of small shops and sold their hats locally. The shop was run by a single craftsman, or master, who might employ up to perhaps as many as four apprentices. Each craftsman performed all of the required steps to make a hat from a handful of fur to a finished, wearable product. Each small shop served a town, or perhaps a county, but their market did not reach much beyond that.

With the advent of the industrial and transportation revolutions, machinery aided in the manufacturing process and the concept of division of labor meant that workers began specializing in different parts of the production process. Some factories only performed one part of the process, such as the forming of felt bodies, and left the finishing to other companies. Distribution of the hats was left up to jobbers in the cities. Some companies did keep everything in house. In any case, hat production was increased, hat prices became more affordable, and more people could afford to buy better quality hats.

Concentration in the hat industry meant that regional centers of hatting grew in importance, such as Orange, New Jersey, and Danbury, Connecticut, both of which saw larger factories employing fifty or more workers as early as 1810. By 1860, the modern hat industry was in full swing, with many steps in production utilizing machinery, but a large part of the work still involved skilled handiwork. Curled brims, for instance, became popular on high silk hats in the 1840s, and these same curls, such as the D’Orsay, would be translated over to stiff hats (Derbies). The brim curler was a skilled tradesman who performed his work by hand with hot irons, not mechanization.

Into this new era of mechanization came James H. Knapp, who started out exactly as hatters had for centuries, as a one-man operation. With the partnership of Andrew J. Crofut, they launched the Derby as their chief product, and began the long road to success. Much of the first fifty years of Crofut & Knapp is shrouded in the mists of time, as I have uncovered very little from their early years. Advertising was typically done in local papers by the retailers, usually consisting of text and very few, if any, images of the product. The text would extol the virtues of the product, addressing the needs of the individual being targeted in the ad.

It was not until well into the twentieth century that companies would change the nature of advertising, focusing not on customers’ needs, as had previously been the case, but on their wants and desires instead. Advertising would move away from the traditional textual analysis of the properties of the product into a much more ambiguous and visual form, designed to entice consumers to purchase the product merely because they desired it. Croft & Knapp led the way among hat manufacturers in this advertising makeover and perhaps among most industries as a whole.

This change would probably not have occurred but for the death of Andrew J. Crofut in 1893. With the partnership thus dissolved, the company reorganized as a corporation to ensure its stability. The stockholders of the new Crofut & Knapp were co-founder James H. Knapp, his son Philip N. Knapp, William W. Lester, Gilbert E. Bogert, and John Cavanagh. With the exception of Gilbert E. Bogert, on whom I have no information, the rest of the stockholders and executive board had risen with the ranks of the company, most starting as young boys doing the most menial tasks before rising to their positions of prominence because of their innate abilities to innovate for the company. The first decade of the twentieth century was a pivotal year for the company, a year that would see several different innovations in marketing that would propel the company into a position of prominence within the industry.

Advertising at the national level was the first step for the company to take. In 1903, Crofut & Knapp was among the first hat companies to advertise on a national level (they claim to have been the first, a claim that I haven’t fully substantiated). In 1903 they took out their first ads in The Saturday Evening Post, which would be followed by ads in McClure’s and Collier’s.

I’ve posted this ad before, but it’s an example of an ad in McClure’s from 1906. Notice that C&K reminds the reader that they were the first to manufacture Derbies in America, a slogan that they would continually use in their advertisements over the next ten-plus years.

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Another McClure's ad, this time from 1907:

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Instead of the retailers, such as department stores, advertising various companies’ brand to their customers, C&K took the lead as manufacturer advertising directly to their customers. Over the next few years, they would also make the next logical step by cutting out the middlemen, the jobbers, and distribute their products directly to the retailer, and directly to their customers through the establishment of their own shops.

Crofut & Knapp faced several problems, chief among them that they mainly manufactured a single product, the Derby. Production was seasonal at best, and resting on the laurels of one product was not necessarily good for business. By the turn of the century, there was an ingrained opposition to Derbies costing more than five dollars, a psychological barrier that consumers seemed loathe to move beyond. Whether unable to produce the high-quality product they wanted for five dollars due to rising costs, or just unwilling to make any further cost concession, Crofut & Knapp boldly decided to convince customers that a Derby costing six dollars was worth the extra money. Surely, if consumers were willing to pay more for soft felt hats and straw hats, they would be willing to spend more on a stiff hat. Considering this was Crofut & Knapp’s only product, the move was almost necessary for corporate survival. There was a serious downturn in sales of Derbies by 1906, and this prompted John Cavanagh, general manager for the company, to suggest reintroducing the soft hat into their lineup. Soft hats had enjoyed a heyday in the 1850s and 1860s, followed by a resurgence in the 1880s and early 1890s. Anticipating that the public was ready for another go at the soft felt hat, the company expanded production in 1907 by acquiring another factory specifically for that purpose. Cavanagh’s prescience paid off, as sales of soft hats took off, and launched Crofut & Knapp into a new era of prosperity and glory.

Another psychological barrier among consumers was the idea that a man did not need more than one hat. A Derby, for instance, could carry one through all four seasons, given a lightweight hat. Two hats was about the limit to which men were willing to go, with a Derby for three seasons, and a straw hat for summer. A well-to-do man might also have a high hat for formal occasions, but for the general public, one or two would suffice. Crofut & Knapp also worked diligently over the decades to break the public of this notion as they expanded their product lines into first soft felt hats in 1906, straw hats in 1908, silk hats in 1917, and caps and cloth hats in 1919.

In 1906, C&K launched their new product lines, Knapp-Felt, their standard quality hats, and the Knapp-Felt De Luxe, their highest quality. Knapp-Felt hats were competitively priced at $4.00, well under the five dollar limit, but the De Luxe hats were priced at $6.00, quite a jump. I’ve yet to ascertain the difference between the two grades of hats, though I suspect the biggest one is that the higher-quality, and thus, more expensive fur went into the De Luxe grade. Regardless of the perceived difference in quality, the De Luxe line enabled Crofut & Knapp to smash the five dollar barrier for Derbies, though the market for Derbies was only to enjoy another couple of decades of life.

Whatever life held in store for the company, they were going to have to set precedents in order to continue their growth. To that end, in 1906, Crofut & Knapp took a big leap forward in national advertising for the hat industry by taking out a two-page color ad in The Saturday Evening Post, which featured a painting by the artist Edward Penfield, better known for his work at Harper’s. This type of advertising, featuring bold colors with lesser amounts of textual information, would become the norm by the 1920s, but was in its infancy in 1906, and Crofut & Knapp was at the vanguard. Two years later, the Penfield ad was rerun in the Post. Here is the 1908 two-page version:

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Another example, single page this time, of the Penfield, also from 1908:

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The hat on the far right with swept-up brim on one side became a very popular style among young men, the very market that Crofut & Knapp was targeting. They named the style “The Penfield” in his honor. C&K would continue to employ the best artists and graphic designers in the country in their national advertising. Though many ad campaigns would also use photography, it is their artwork campaigns for which they are best remembered. Their shining achievement came in 1929 and 1930 with a year-long series of “Hat of the Month” ads in The Saturday Evening Post, featuring the work of Percy Edward Anderson. The ads are stark in their simplicity, with only the visage of a young man wearing a hat in a vivid, colorful, and very atmospheric painting. The name of the hat model and the C&K name are essentially the only text shown. Here are some examples:

Rudswick

Cavendish

Lincoln

Much of the credit for the Crofut & Knapp advertising innovations should go to Robert A. Holmes, the manager for Sales and Advertising. Holmes had started his career as a salesman for Crofut & Knapp in the late nineteenth century. In 1895, his territory included all of the Southern states, but was shortly enlarged to include everything from Minnesota to Louisiana, and as far west as Omaha. At that point, he was the only salesman outside of New York City and New England. From 1900 to 1904 he was in charge of the Boston office before being promoted to the company manager for all sales and advertising.

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It is Holmes’ voice one hears when reading The Hatman, the house organ for Crofut & Knapp, which he liked to call a “scrappy little magazine.” The Hatman served as an important link between the company and their retailers, or associates, as they were called, offering examples of artwork they could use in their local advertising, images of the latest hat styles, news from the company, and humorous tales of the hat business, along with much poetry and wit.

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Innovations in advertising paved the way for Crofut & Knapp to take its prominent place within the hat industry, but it is not the only innovation for which they are known. Offering their hats directly to retailers was certainly a key component of their success, as it kept the discounts on the hats down, and the network of relationships they built up between the sales force and their retail associates was likened to that of a familial relationship by all involved. These relationships would serve them well over the next few decades. One of the most impressive innovations came in 1908, with the creation of a new brand for the company, and the opening of a retail store in New York City to sell the hats directly to the public. That brand, Dobbs, would eventually eclipse that of Knapp-Felt, and finally give C&K a brand with name recognition on par with that of the mighty behemoth, Stetson.

But that’s a tale for another day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Derby Deconstruction

In this installment, I'm endeavoring to describe the construction methods that were unique to Derbies, though some, such as the brim curling and binding methods, also apply to many Homburgs. It's not going to be a comprehensive discussion of hat making, as I'm hoping you have some knowledge of that. If not, check out The Fedora Lounge for more information. They're a swell bunch with the most knowledge of hat history in the country, if not the world, and (WARNING! Shameless plug!) I also happen to be a Bartender (our word for moderator) there.

Felt bodies for Derbies are crafted as with any other hat, but one important distinction is that they are impregnated with shellac after the felting process was complete, but before they are dyed. The shellac is what gives the Derby its stiffness. All hats, even soft felt ones, have a certain amount of shellac in them, but Derbies have more than any other.

Blocking the Hat
Originally, Derbies felt bodies, as with all hats, were stretched over wooden blocks that gave the crown the desired shape. Because of the copious amounts of shellac in the felt, the bodies were heated and then muscled down onto the block. Once done, the next step was to iron the crown to set the shape, and to pounce (or sand smooth) the surface to the required finish.

Derbies require a different block shape than a soft felt hat. For one thing, the crowns are not creased in any way, and so they don’t need to be taller to accommodate the crease. The height of the block is the height of the finished hat’s crown. For a soft felt hat, the block is taller than the finished crown height, to give enough felt for, say, a deep center crease, as was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.

Additionally, the profiles of the crowns will be different. There are different styles of crowns for Derbies, just as there are different styles of crowns for soft felt hats, and each one gives different results. In general, though, Derby blocks are easily distinguished from their shellac-deficient brethren.

Here are a couple of photos of hat blocks to give you some idea of the different profiles. They are different hat sizes, but just look at the height and profiles. The block on the left is a Derby block. It’s only five-inches tall, and has more rounded shoulders than the six-inch soft felt hat block on the right.

Side View


Front View


Most manufacturers eventually switched to hydraulic presses to block their stiff hats. Crofut & Knapp, who once boasted about their hand-blocked Derbies and chided their competitors for using hydraulic presses, eventually switched to the presses as well. The bodies were heated in a gas or electric oven, and then placed upside down inside an iron mold in the shape of the crown. A rubber bladder was placed inside the crown and filled with cold water, which forced the sides of the crown up against the iron mold and gave the Derby its final crown shape.

C&K Postcard showing the Hydraulic Press


Rounding the Brim
Whereas most hat brims have a fixed brim width all the way around, Derbies require a wider brim on the sides than on the front. This allows the brim curler to give the brim a very short, perpendicular curl on the front, and a wider, taller, and more pronounced curl on the sides. To achieve this extra width on the sides, known as a dimensional brim, a rounding jack with special adjustments for Derbies is used. The knobs adjust the contact points so that the jack rides farther out on the sides from the crown than on the front. Derbies generally are 1/8" to 1/4" wider on the sides than the front.

The Business End of a Rounding Jack


Ironing the Brim
Once the brim is cut to the correct size, the brim break, the angle where the brim meets the crown, is set by ironing the brim on a set board. It’s a concave board that adds the proper curl to the flat portion of the brim. I don’t have a set board, but here is a drawing from Henry L. Ermatinger’s 1919 Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating.


Making the Front and Rear Curls
The secret to a stylish Derby is in the brim curl, which, is properly done by hand by a master curler, an artiste extraordinaire.

The side curl is called a D’Orsay curl. It can be open, as seen here in this Dobbs Derby, or ironed much flatter, more like an overwelt that isn’t sewn down.


Derby curling was originally done by hand with specialized tools, but by the time of the 1958-59 Derby revival, this had changed. Between not having any expert curlers in the factories due to sparse sales, and also for the sake of the profit margin, the style of curl was changed to a very simple upright curl, the same as contemporary Homburgs. This could be done with a flange and greatly sped up the manufacturing process by not requiring the hand labor, but the classic sense of elegance was lost.

Cavanagh Derby from the 1958-59 Derby Revival


Another feature of the classic Derby that is missing from modern ones is the increasing curl from front to back. The curl in the front and back is about as minimal as it can get, perhaps 1/8" or 3/16", and is essentially perpendicular to the brim. As the curl progresses to the sides it increases in width and height, presenting an extremely streamlined looked long before Art Deco was born.



A Front-Rear Tolliker is used to create the narrow curl on, obviously, the front and rear of the brim. It's built very much like a tolliker that is used to set the brim break, but instead of being completely flat on the foot, it has a narrow V-groove cut into it, starting from the flat plane and deepening into the foot. This allows the curler to set the tight, narrow curl with ease.





The Finished Front Curl



D’Orsay Curl
The curler uses a shackle to make the D'Orsay Curl on the sides. Different shackles can make different curls, which is why a combination curl is a handy tool to have.




The Finished D'Orsay Curl


Sewing on the Binding
After the brim was curled, it went to the Trimming Room, where the ladies would sew on the sweatband, hatband, and bind the edge. Since the sweatband and hatband procedures are not dissimilar from soft felt hats, I won't go into them here. However, the binding is a bit different.

First, the edge binding is sewn into a loop of the proper circumference, as is true for any bound-edge hat. However, the first stitching is done with the ribbon inside out. In this photo, you can see the inside of the rear seam of binding. The ribbon is laying outside down against the brim, and it is stitched to the brim using a lock stitch, as with a stitch awl or sewing machine, sewing the bottom edge of the binding along the outer circumference of the brim. This way, the inner part of the binding is given a very strong stitch, and when the ribbon is folded back over the outside of the brim, the stitching is hidden from view.







Installing the Wire Loop
Many early Derbies utilized a loop of wire along the inside of the curl to provide extra support for the brim. At this point, after the inside of the binding is stitched down, the wire loop is tucked into place, and the binding is ready to be wrapped around the outside of the brim.



Finishing the Binding
The outside of the binding is sewn using tiny hidden stitches spaced about an inch apart along the edge. These tiny stitches provide surprising strength while giving a very clean look to the binding. Again, this is something missing in today's machine-stitched brims.




And that, in a nutshell the size of a boxcar, is how you make a Derby. Any questions?

Crofut & Knapp Derby (1906-1909)


Brad

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Whither the Derby?

Before we begin our exploration of the Derby, let us consider its significance.

“Why?” you ask. “It’s just a funny hat that nobody wears anymore, not even bankers in England.”*

*This statement is, of course, wrong on two counts. First, any self-respecting English banker would wear a Bowler (made in England) rather than a Derby (made in America), and second, there ARE reports that some bankers in Great Britain do still wear Bowlers.

True, the Derby is rarely seen in public these days, yours truly and a few die-hard Derby fans notwithstanding. But look at photographs from the last years of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth, and what do you see? Derbies on nearly every male head, in most cases. The Derby was everywhere, the most ubiquitous piece of headwear in its day, a “day” that lasted seventy years, give or take. And somewhat paradoxically, it is the Derby’s very ubiquity that makes it very unique.

The Derby is perhaps the most democratic and egalitarian hat of all time. It was the first hat to be classless; that is, it transcended all social classes. In America, it became de rigueur business attire for the upper classes, but it didn’t stop there. The Derby was adopted by the burgeoning middle class in the late-nineteenth century, and eventually by the working class here in America. No matter your station in life, it was considered proper headwear for all men; financiers and bankers, factory owners and factory managers, shopkeepers and store clerks, railroad workers and miners, all were avid wearers of the Derby. The rest of your clothing might tell the story of your life, but the Derby marked you as one thing only – an American male. Any man could, and did, wear the Derby. Indeed, not just the symbol of any man, the Derby became the symbol of Everyman. It is not coincidence that early comic actors like Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin adopted the Derby as part of their costumes. These famous funny men represented Everyman, and no hat represented Everymen better than the Derby. If Matt Groening had been born a century earlier, Homer Simpson would regularly sport a Derby.

Why was the Derby so ubiquitous?

The Derby was a product and beneficiary of the Second Industrial Revolution. The hat industry as a whole benefited from this second wave of industrialization, which started around the mid-nineteenth century and lasted until World War I. As with most industries, hat factories made good use of the American System of Manufacturing, but division of labor, standardization of parts, and mechanization of production only went so far in hat-making. Many processes were still done by hand in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, and it wouldn’t be until later in the century that the remaining processes that could possibly be mechanized in hat production were turned over to skilled operators using machines. As we’ll see in the next installment, much of the work that went into Derbies was done by hand, much more so than in the soft felt hats that eventually supplanted them.

The upshot of all of this is that hat factories were able to turn out increasing quantities of higher-quality hats in a far shorter amount of time than had been possible before the mid-nineteenth century, when hat “factories” generally consisted of a master hatter and one or two apprentices. Hat prices were affordable, and any man who considered himself upwardly mobile, regardless of his current social standing, wanted a fine piece of headwear from these respected hat companies. In general, the Second Industrial Revolution lifted the wages and improved the living conditions of all workers across the social spectrum. Hat factories were successfully turning out thousands to tens of thousands of Derbies per month to meet the consumer demand for them.

This brings me to my final point on the significance of the Derby. The Derby was the first piece of headwear to meet the criteria of mass culture. Mass culture is, generally speaking, a single, almost monolithic consumption culture appealing to a population across the social and geographic spectrum. Prior to the evolution of mass, or popular, culture, culture was regional in nature – that is, people living in the Northeast had their own culture, people living in the South had their own culture, there was a Midwestern Culture, and a Western one, as well. These regional differences could probably be broken down further. There was also high culture, including such things as opera and classical music, art, ballet, and literature, all things in which the upper classes indulged their senses. Opposing it was low culture. Low culture appealed, in general, to the lower classes, and included such amusements as minstrel shows, vaudeville, burlesque, dime novels, and (gasp!) jazz.

Mass culture evolved with the advent of mass forms of communication, from newspapers, to magazines, to film and radio, and finally, to television, all forms that distributed ideas of consumption to the masses. These communication technologies developed a national audience that transcended older regional differences and contributed to an increasing homogeneity in American life, a homogeneity that, far from being detrimental, helped to develop a sense of national identity. It didn’t matter if you were from New York or New Mexico, from Michigan or Mississippi, or just off the boat from Ireland or Italy, these technologies let you participate in a new mass culture that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific and let you feel like you had something in common with everyone else.

In the case of the Derby, we’ve discussed how it was adopted across class lines. It was also adopted across regional lines and could be found nearly everywhere one traveled throughout America. There were probably more Derbies in the American West than there were John B. Stetson’s famous “Boss of the Plains” hat and its cousins. This ubiquity was accomplished without the technological achievements of film, radio, and television, which are usually most associated with mass culture.

This just leaves us with newspapers and magazines. It is no mere coincidence that the Derby reached the peak of its popularity around the turn of the century, at the same time that hat manufacturers began moving from regional advertising in newspapers to national advertising in magazines such a McClure’s, Collier’s Weekly, and The Saturday Evening Post, all magazines with a national reach. The growth that America’s hat manufacturers experienced in the early years of the twentieth century were due, in large part, to this move to national advertising. The Derby went right along with it as the standard hat of America, until it fell from favor around 1930. But that is another story.

Suffice it to say, the Derby was the first hat to participate in the nascent popular culture. Derbies were, to their period in history, as denim blue jeans are to our period of history - worn by all, from presidents to paupers, and nearly everyone in between. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to don my Derby and run to the library.

Brad

Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Derby!

This fall marks the sesquicentennial (or 150th anniversary, for those of you who don’t prefer Latin) of the first American Derby. To honor this occasion, my first reports here will focus on Derbies, from their construction methods, to showcasing a few examples of the millions of Derbies produced by Crofut & Knapp during their existence. The story of the first American Derby and the rise of Crofut & Knapp as a manufacturing concern in Norwalk CT, begins with co-founder James H. Knapp.


James H. Knapp

The hatting industry in Norwalk, CT, predates Crofut & Knapp by a good many years, but in many ways, James H. Knapp was a pioneer hatter. His business started on a very small scale, as did many hat companies did, working with primitive equipment. Indeed, hand tools used to make hats today are little different than they were 200 years ago. As Knapp’s business grew, he expanded and modernized his factories. Knapp also recognized talent when he saw it, and promoted one of his best employees into positions where that young man would help grow the company far beyond what Knapp had probably ever dreamed of, and brought many new innovations to the company. But, we’ll save John Cavanagh’s story for another day.

James H. Knapp was born in New York City in 1832, a city that would become closely associated with his company’s best brands. He first entered the hat trade in Ridgefield, CT, in 1850 at the age of 18, starting his career as a sizer, someone who shrinks the felt hat bodies down to size. By 1857, he had gone into business for himself at South Norwalk, CT, working out of a little cow shed. He sized his felt bodies in a washtub, and then hauled them to a nearby creek to wash them after the dyeing process was complete.

Knapp had a brief partnership in the firm of Gillam, French & Knapp, and later just French & Knapp, but it did not last long. In 1858, he went into partnership with Andrew J. Crofut, of Danbury, CT, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Crofut was an expert in the stiffening of felt hats using shellac, and would come to vitally important in the company’s next business move. The firm of Crofut & Knapp existed as a partnership until Crofut’s death in 1893, at which time it was incorporated as the Crofut & Knapp Company.


Andrew J. Crofut

But, let us return now to the 1850s. Knapp had been experimenting with reproducing English “hard hats,” a highly-shellacked felt hat that was stiff enough to serve as a helmet of sorts. The prototype hat was originally produced by hatters Thomas and William Bowler in 1850 for a farmer named William Coke. It was meant to protect the heads of gamekeepers from low-hanging branches. The “Coke,” or “Bowler,” as it is more commonly known, became quite popular within a decade with the sportsmen and equestrian set in England, as it made for a good riding hat.

James Knapp produced the first American models of this British hat, and in the last half of 1860, when he was confident he had a winner on his hands, he attempted to sell them. In those days, most hats were sold through jobbing houses, or middlemen, in other words, and the firm used by Crofut & Knapp was Henderson & Bird, in New York City. Knapp took his hats to Henderson & Bird, who shopped them to a retailer on lower Broadway somewhere around Ninth Street. The retailer ordered three dozen of these hard hats, the order evenly divided between black and brown hats.

When Knapp raised the question of a name for the hat, an English clerk suggest “Derby,” because the hat was popular in England with equestrians, and because of the horse races of the same name. The story may be apocryphal, but it was passed down from James H. Knapp as happening this way, and we have no reason to doubt it in the absence of any other conflicting or concrete information.

In any event, the name “Derby” stuck, though it we do not pronounce it “Darby,” as they do in Britain. Crofut & Knapp produced the first Derby in America, and built their reputation on that hat style until branching out into other styles in the early twentieth century.

Keep in mind that the hat is known to this day as a Bowler in England, and a Derby here in America. While the two hats are essentially the same, there are some differences in the style of crown and brim that can be used to distinguish them. A future article will detail some of these differences.

Brad


C&K Derby advertisement from 1906

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the Beginning...

I've finally joined the 2000s (or is it only the 1990s?) with this blog. Why did I even bother to do this, since I don't Twitter, I don't Facebook, and I don't even text from my cellphone?

One of my main research interests is the Crofut & Knapp Company, a hat manufacturer founded in 1858 that went on to become the second largest hat manufacturing concern in the country, and were finally number one after the Stetson plant closed in Philadelphia.

Many remarkable men were involved in the operation of the company, from James H. Knapp and Andrew J. Crofut, founders, to Robert A. Holmes, Philip N. Knapp, and John J. Cavanagh, who brought the company into the twentieth century, to the Salesky Bros., who managed to keep the company going until the final crash of the men's hat market by the 1970s. On top of that, you have all of the thousands of men and women who worked for the company producing hats, without whom we would not have such a wonderful legacy of hats in this country.

The purpose of this blog is to keep alive their memories, to spotlight their handiwork from time to time, and to educate anyone interested in learning more about the people and hats from this bygone era.

Brad