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Sunday, November 27, 2016

The "A Tour Of Bollman Hat Company - Part I" Story

The Bollman Hat Company in Adamstown, Pennsylvania
It was an ordinary day.  Standing in the second floor lobby of the Bollman Hat Factory with my brother Steve waiting for the second tour of the morning to start.  Back at the beginning of the summer I read a story titled "Under Cover" in the local newspaper which told of the Bollman Hat Company giving away more than 350 hats to create awareness about the dangers of sun damage and skin cancer.  Picture in the paper showed Bollman President and CEO, Don Rongione, handing out hats to citizens of Lancaster, Pennsylvania who had waited in line for the wide-brimmed hats which give maximum protection from the sun's rays.  About half a year before this story hit the newspaper,  another story in the paper told of the extraordinary crowdfunding campaign launched by Bollman to raise enough money to bring the Kangol "504" headware machinery back from China so the hat could be made in America.  
Old aerial photograph showing the Bollman Hat Company.
Really got my interest so when I heard that the factory was giving tours in late November, I decided to visit and see exactly how they make the hats at Bollman.  Told my brother about my visit and he said he'd also enjoy taking the tour with me.  Shortly Mr. Rongione stepped into the lobby with his wide-brimmed grey hat sitting on his head and greeted the dozen or so people who had gathered for the tour.  Extremely personable guy who you can tell just loves what he does for a living.  He thanked us for the interest in his company and told us that every piece of clothing he had on today was made in America.  
Mr. Don Rongione, President and CEO of Bollman.
This included everything from the hat to his underwear.  Tour started by showing a variety of framed photos that gave the history of the company.  George Bollman and Isaac Sowers, both of Adamstown, formed a partnership in 1868 for the purpose of manufacturing hats and thus began the Bollman Hat Company.  The original building, which at one time was a distillery, sat across the street from where we are now standing.  Seven years later Mr. Bollman bought 22 acres of land at the present site for $2,200.  A two and a half story building was built and the hat company expanded their operation.  That year 60 employees produced 60 men's hats daily.  On March 18, 1878, fire destroyed the new building and its contents.  A building was quickly rented to continue operations while a new one was constructed.  In 1896 colored and lady's hats were added to the offerings of the company and the following year Mr. Bollman's son George Jr. joined the business.  The following year George Sr. died and his son purchased the business from his mother in 1900.  Hosiery was added to the collection five years later when the Blue Cross Knitting Mills in Adamstown was purchased to add employment year round.  In 1931 a carbonizing plant to scour and carbonize wool was built on loation so the hats could be completed from the shearing of the sheep to the finished product.   Then in 1956 the Merrimac Hat Company was purchased to allow for the production of fur felt hats.  In 1974 the Bollman family sold the Company to it's management team and five years later purchased the Adamstown Hat Company and were able to create a new straw hat operation.  
This collection of Bollman hats were worn by athletes
who participated in the Olympics.
At the same time a factory retail store opened in Willow Street, a town about 30 miles to the south of Adams- town.  In 1981 60,000 square feet of manufacturing capability was added to the main store in Adamstown.  Eventually, in 1985, ownership of the company was expanded to not only family, but to all qualified employees by establishing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.  There is much more to the expansion of the company, but I would like to take you along with Steve and me as we tour the oldest hat manufacturer in the United States.  I hope my photos will give you a basic understanding of how a top quality piece of headgear is made from sheep to head.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

The raw product that is used in the wool hats.l  The will comes right from the sheep to the factory where it is cleaned and prepared for hat making.
This worker is shaping the wool into the shape of a hat.  A tremendous amount of wool is needed for each hat.
This worker is pressing the previous shape into the more recognizable hat.
This worker is working on dying the wool for black hats.
The many color choices you have for a Bollman hat. 
Washing the excess dye from the hat shape.
This is a form that will help shape the hat.
More shaping will yield a more recognizable hat shape. 
The heating unit will take out any excess moisture from all previous steps.
The finishing procedures begin with a light sanding of the shape of the hat.
This worker is examining all the hats to make sure there are no imperfections.
Some of the many forms that can be used to shape the hat.
This worker is shaping top hats using a form.
Here you can see another form and the resulting hats. 
This worker is using steam to finish shaping.
Another light abrasive rubbing will finish the hat.
This worker is sewing in the headband.
Another worker is ironing the brim after sewing.
One of the final steps is adding exterior banding and decorations.
LDub disguised as Dick Tracy wearing a Bollman hat after the tour is complete.

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