I learned today that the hard hat will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.
Patented in 1919, the hard hat was invented by a man named Edward W. Bullard (though his father had already been making protective leather caps for the mining industry). Edward had just returned to the United States after World War I and he began to wonder why construction workers weren’t wearing helmets like the one he had been wearing overseas. So he decided to make one.
Edward’s first product was called the Hard Boiled Hat, and it was made out of steamed canvas and leather. Similar to today, an early version of the hat featured a “suspension system,” which created an air cavity between head and helmet and cushioned any blows to the head. This overarching design approach hasn’t really changed all that much over the years, but Bullard’s hats did go from canvas to aluminum (1938) and then to plastic (1950). Plastic is, of course, cheaper to produce.
Supposedly, the first designated “Hard Hat Area” in the US was the Golden Gate Bridge site, which started construction in 1933. This should give you a sense of the hard hat’s adoption curve. It seemingly took well over a decade for construction sites to start mandating their usage, and even then it doesn’t appear to have been ubiquitous.
The company — which was founded in 1898 in San Francisco — is now in its fifth generation of family ownership, according to the New York Times.