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Hat History: Panama Hats
1849 Gold Rush Miner - Click to enlarge
Video: The Story of the Panama Canal
(Click to play)
Roosevelt, after returning from Panama
You may have asked at some point, "Why are Panama Hats called Panama Hats? Aren't they all woven in Ecuador?" Well, they are - but for the answer, we need to go all the way back to 1849, and later, to 1906.
January 24, 1848: Gold is found in the West. By year's end the news makes its way East, and the '49ers of the 1849 Gold Rush flock to California to make their fortune - that is, if they survive.
Panama is a major way-stop when going by sea. While there, the miners buy hand woven straw hats sourced from Ecuador, ideal for working in the hot sun. The '49ers name the hats not for their point of origin, but for their point of purchase: Panama.
Enter the early 1900's. Construction of the Panama Canal is now in full swing. The swamps are cleared of malarial mosquitoes, so you can actually get to work without fearing for your life... at least, not as much! But the pay is good, $0.90 a day. And Panama Hats, again misnamed for their point of purchase, are the thing to wear.
Even Teddy Roosevelt wears one while visiting to inspect the Canal's progress in 1906. Believe it or not, this is the first time a sitting US President travels abroad. Back in the States, newspapers show him wearing a "Panama Hat" while at the Canal. Worldwide sales skyrocket, and the rest is history...