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Why Do We Call It a 10-Gallon Hat? Here is the Answer

David Goran

This is the sort of question that comes up in a ‘pub’ quiz…

The 10-gallon hat is a large broad-brimmed hat, with a high rounded crown, traditionally worn by cowboys. It is best known as the defining piece of clothing for the North American cowboy.

Many people are not certain about the origins of the expression “10-gallon hat“ but many think that the term grew from 1925. According to the historians, there are multiple theories about the origins and concept of the 10-gallon hat. The most conventional explanation is that “10-gallon” refers to how much liquid could be carried inside the hat and is often thought to be large enough to hold ten gallons of water, but the hats do not hold anywhere near 10 gallons and never have. It is said that this is one big linguistic mix-up. The gallon in “ten-gallon hat” came from the Spanish “galón“ meaning “braid“, so a ten-gallon hat is a hat with a braiding around the brim and did not refer to the holding capacity of the hat.

A Cowboy wearing his “ten-gallon“ having a meal during cattle round-up drive. Photo from 1926. Photo credit: Photobucket

A Cowboy wearing his “ten-gallon“ having a meal during cattle round-up drive. Photo from 1926. Photo credit: Photobucket

Many supposed word origins remain popular because of the tales attached to them. One interesting possible origin is the idea that a “ten- gallon hat“ is for the upper classes, different from the lowly sombrero, which was for the lower classes. The phrase “tan galan“ in Spanish is expressed as “so gallant“ in English which means that upper-class cowboys were considered to be more gallant than common cowboys.

John B. Stetson Photo credit: stetsonusa.tumblr.com

John B. Stetson Photo credit: stetsonusa.tumblr.com

The hat manufacturer, John Batterson Stetson, who owns one of the largest hat firms in the world ( John B. Stetson Company, founded in 1865) is considered as the inventor of the cowboy hat. Stetson created a universal symbol of the West. His hats have been worn by peers, patriots, presidents, professionals, military personnel and ordinary people. There are thousands of Western brands, but none of which are equivalent to Stetson. Wherever and whenever hats are discussed, Stetson will be mentioned.

The ten-gallon hat stands as a symbol of both good and bad in the movies and on television: black hats often for bad guys and white hats often for good guys. Some famous western figures wore ten-gallon hats in movies, television, and in real life: Larry Hagman as JR Ewing in Dallas; Dan Blocker as Hoss Cartwright in Bonanza; John Wayne in many of his famous classic westerns; Clayton Moore as “The Lone Ranger”; Tom Mix; United States President Lyndon B Johnson; Country Western music star Tim McGraw; actor Sam Elliott; and several actors in the television mini-series “Lonesome Dove” such as Tommy Lee Jones, Robert DuVall, and Anjelica Huston.

Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger. Photo credit: www.maryellenmark.com

Clayton Moore as The Lone Ranger. Photo credit: www.maryellenmark.com

John Wayne (Film: Three Texas Sisters) Photo credit: doctormacro.com

John Wayne (Film: Three Texas Sisters) Photo credit: doctormacro.com

Western hats are considered as stylish today as they were when they were invented. The Stetson Hat Company and many others are continually developing new variations on the style of this product and exploring different materials such as straw and leather.