Only remembered as the "Hat Capital of the World" by long time residents and historians,Danbury, Connecticut once played an important role in that industry for nearly two hundred years.
It is believed to have begun with a man by the name of Zadoc Benedict, who used a piece of beaver fur to plug a hole in his shoe. Realizing that sweat and friction could turn a piece of fur into felt, he began using his bedpost to mold felt into hats and opened Danbury's first hat factory in 1780. This factory produced 18 hats per week, less than one thousand a year.
Hatting emerged as the city's main industry because the essential natural resources vital to the process were abundant. These resources include Beaver for their fur, dense forest for the wood to make heat, and lastly a water supply. The beaver fur was turned into felt by a process of moisture, pressure and heat. By 1820 Danbury had approximately 30 factories.
By the 1850's more than 1,000 residents were employed by these factories producing over 1.2 million hats per year.
By 1880 Danbury was turning out 4.5 million hats and by the turn of the century almost a quarter of the hats sold nationally were made here. Producing more hats than any other place in the United States during this time, officially coined Danbury "the Hat City".
Labor disputes and unionizing of the worker's resulted in lengthy and costly legal battles along with strikes. By 1920 the hatting industry was in a decline, with many factories closing or leaving the Hat City. It took a further hit with eventual changes in modern culture and fashion. Hats were no longer in great demand with more covered transportation options now available.
Since then, most of the factories in Danbury have been demolished or lost to fires over the years, as they were primarily made of wood. Although Danbury is no longer producing hats, manufacturing in other areas still thrive. Homage to our "industry of the past" is evident, with students attending Danbury High School commonly referred to as "Hatters" with its official mascot being the "Mad Hatter". It seems local businesses have decided to keep history alive as well, with quite a few bearing the name