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The History of the Hard Hat

Edward W. Bullard began thinking about protective headgear in 1915. After witnessing helmets save lives on the battlefield during World War I, he realized that they had lifesaving potential in a postwar industrial world. Upon returning home from the war to work at the family business in 1919, he began developing a safety hat to help protect peacetime workers. The business, E.D. Bullard Co., specialized in mining equipment. So Bullard set out to create a hat to protect mining workers. He came up with a canvas and leather piece of headgear that he called the Hard Boiled Hat. It was shellacked for durability and strength (Bullard was aware that metal helmets would have been impractical and too costly for miners) and featured an inner suspension system that distributed the force of an impact. Bullard’s Hard Boiled Hat was the first commercially available head protection device and revolutionized the safety-product industry. In 1919, he also developed a protective cap for the U.S. Navy designed to keep shipyard workers safe and eventually received 13 patents for different versions of his Hard Boiled Hat; each was adapted for different applications, such as a hat that included a device to hold a carbide lamp so miners could find their way through dark tunnels or a hat made of Bakelite, an early form of plastic that could stand up to the demands of hard labor. While the hats were popular, they weren’t a requirement until 1931, when history was made as employers required workers to wear hard hats while constructing the Boulder Dam, later renamed the Hoover Dam. In 1933, the chief engineer building the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph Strauss, also required workers to wear hard hats. Hard hats soon became standard safety equipment. In 1952, the first thermoplastic hard hat was introduced. In the 1960s, the hats began to be made from polyethylene; since the early 2000s, all safety helmets have been made from the plastic. Today, hard hats are worn by millions of workers all over the world and Bullard’s company (along with many other safety equipment suppliers) continues to produce hard hats and other critical safety products.

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