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

Magda Origjanska
Tom Mix, an early-20th century movie star, wearing a ten-gallon hat. Photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00053 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

You may have seen the 10-gallon hats worn by cowboys in the Westerns or read about them in books, but the peculiar name of this accessory has always been a mystery. It conjures up an image of a hat that can hold 10 gallons of … what? Water for the cowboy and his horse during their long days of wandering the arid, dusty terrain, maybe? Frankly, that would be super-heavy! It’s not rocket science to figure out that 10 gallons is a lot of liquid, so although accepted by many, this version of the source of the cowboy-hat name seems unlikely.

In the early advertisements of that famous brand of cowboy hats, Stetson, a cowboy watered his horse with liquid carried in the hat with the tagline, “The last drop from his Stetson.” Stetson himself admitted that the 10-gallon hats held only 3 quarts of water. Regardless, the name of this hat definitely assumed a jumbo size.

10-Gallon hat

10-Gallon hat

The 10-gallon hat is a large broad-brimmed hat, with a high rounded crown, best known as the defining piece of clothing for the North American cowboy. There are multiple theories on the origin of the name. Some historians claim that it was coined around 1925 and that “gallon” comes from the Spanish word “galón,” meaning “galoon,” which refers to a narrow braided trim around the hat’s crown, a style established by the Spanish cowboys.

Another theory for the origin of the hat’s name is that it comes from the Spanish phrase “tan galán,” which directly translates as “so gallant.” The assumption is that Spanish cowboys, regarding this type of hat as good quality, may have described the classic Stetson style as a really fine hat, or in Spanish “un sombereo tan galán.” Over time, “tan galán” became “ten-gallon.” 

The John B. Stetson Company, founded in 1865, is considered the inventor of the cowboy hat. Stetson created a universal symbol of the West and claimed that the tight weave of their hats allowed them to be used as water-resistant buckets. Stetson hats have been worn by peers, patriots, presidents, professionals, military personnel, and ordinary people. There are many Western brands, but none are considered equivalent to this legendary brand.

The 10-gallon hat also stands as a symbol of heroes or villains in the Western films, with black hats usually dedicated to the bad guys and white hats for the good guys. A number of famous Western figures wore 10-gallon hats in movies, on television, and in real life: Larry Hagman as J. R. 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; 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. President Lyndon B. Johnson wore the hat too.

1920s Stetson carlsbad cowboy hat side. Photo:-oo0(GoldTrader)0oo- – CC BY 3.0

1920s Stetson carlsbad cowboy hat side. Photo:-oo0(GoldTrader)0oo- – CC BY 3.0

Today, cowboys hats are a revered symbol of the Western culture and a stylish accessory for modern cowboy fashionistas. The Stetson Hat Company and many others continue to develop new variations on the style of this product and explore different materials such as straw, felt, and leather.

Related story from us: The Wild West era, a period of myth-making cowboys, gunslingers, and saloon madames, actually lasted only 30 years

Contemporary designs of hats go by the name of Open Road Royal Deluxe, Dallas Cowboy, Amish, Boss of the Plains, Cavalry, El Presidente, Thunder, and lots of other catchy names and designs.