About an hour outside of Philadelphia sits America’s Oldest Hatmaker – Bollman Hats, and the next U.S. manufacturer to be recognized in MEP’s “Heroes of American Manufacturing” series.
Pulling up to the parking lot in Adamstown, Penn., you immediately know you will be stepping back in time and soon will learn about a craft that has been passed down from generation to generation. In the waiting room of Bollman is a collection of the hats that defined American culture – the Boater, the Bowler, the Fedora, the Fez, the Top Hat, the Cowboy and much much more. The folks that literally shaped American headwear for over 100 years walked these hallways. CEO and President, Don Rongione, welcomed us to this special location of American history … wearing (quite well in fact) a proudly made Bollman Fedora.
Bollman was making hats before cars were invented. Before Dr. Seuss introduced us to The Cat in the Hat. Before Twitter fell in love with Pharrell’s Hat. All of us have interacted with a Bollman Hat at some point in our life. With our video equipment in hand we had the honor of capturing the magic of this inspiring American manufacturing story.
There are over 90 steps to create one particular kind of hat. 90 steps! At least 30 craftsmen and women touch every hat that eventually gets shipped out all over the world in a “crafted with pride in the USA” box. It is awesome to watch each person inspect the hat before it moves to the next process. The top hats you may see in a movie or worn by a horse-carriage driver require two strong people shaping the hat over a flame and aluminum form. And before any hat can be placed gently in the box, it is again inspected for any minor flaws or lint. Every hat is a piece of art to Bollman.
Bollman employees take their job for making top quality hats seriously. They all act like owners, which makes sense since they actually are owners. The company went to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan in 1985.
While the employee-owners of Bollman Hat are using expertise passed on through generations, they aren’t afraid of looking to new processes and technologies to expand their business. Leveraging the services of their local MEP Center, MANTEC, the company is looking forward to a bright future with new perspectives in supply chain optimization and innovation. During our visit, Rongione and his team were meeting with experts from MANTEC and GENEDGE (the Virginia MEP Center) discussing their ideas for exciting new products and streamlining their supply chain in the complex and ever-changing apparel industry.
Each Bollman hat is truly a one of kind created by craftspeople who love what they do. There was something special about watching a hat start it’s form in a pile of wool and develop into a statement piece that defines a generation.
I couldn’t help but place an order on my flight home, because frankly … hats look different to me now. It’s not just a hat anymore.
It’s a product formed by American men and women who work hard to live their American dream. I saw in their eyes how proud they were to show up everyday, give it their best and make something they know will produce a smile when the new hat owner opens the box and places the hat on their head. My new Bollman hat is a reminder of how great it is to buy and wear something “Made in the USA” … and I can’t wait for you to see the video so you can view hats in a whole new way too!