After today, our show could not rename itself “Podcast Without Hats.”
January 15th is a big day in hat history – in particular, a big day in the history of big hats.
It’s said that the top hat made its debut on this day in 1797, and what a debut it was.
This could be partly or completely legend, but legends are worth learning about too.
The story goes that a London haberdasher called John Hetherington created the top hat by modifying a riding hat with a narrower brim, a black silk covering instead of beaver skin, and a much taller crown.
An infamous report from the London Times said that when Hetherington walked out onto the streets of London, people lost it.
They crowded around the gawk at the enormous lid.
Several passersby fainted, children were screaming, dogs ran amok.
It was chaos!
I mean, imagine everyone in town freaking out because they saw Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly walking around.
The paper reported that the authorities brought Hetherington before a judge, where he was fined £50 for disturbing the peace with a hat that was “calculated to frighten timid people.”
Not that Hetherington minded too much, because the incident ended up being good publicity for his new hat and the ensuing sales more than covered the cost of the fine.
Whether any of this is true or not, the next century was definitely a boon to the top hat makers of the world.
They became so popular that they actually caused some engineering problems, since taller wearers sometimes couldn’t wear their hats while passing under doorways.
A French hatmaker, Antoine Gibus, created a collapsible top hat, sometimes called the opera hat, since operagoers could fold up their headgear during the show.
Of course, there were other options for those who had the money.
Financier J.P. Morgan decided he didn’t want to have to fold up or even take off his hat while in the car.
Instead, Morgan had his limousine built with a higher, hat-friendly roof.
January in Massachusetts is not where I’d expect a big outdoor achievement, but that’s where one happened back in 1974.
MIT professor James Henry Williams, Jr. built a 35 pound yo-yo made of two bicycle wheels, which he and his students dropped from a 21 story building on campus.
The giant yo-yo reached speeds of over 80 miles an hour.
And no, they didn’t do tricks while they were up there.
History of the Top Hat (International Formalwear Association via Archive.org)
James H. Williams, Jr. and the world’s largest yo-yo, 1974 (MIT Black History)
Luis Carlos de Borbón-Dos Sicilias and his top hat photo via Wikicommons