Tucked in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, among Amish families and dairy farms, 200 American workers are keeping a unique tradition alive—hat making.
The Bollman Hat Co. has been manufacturing hats for nearly 150 years, and is America's oldest hat maker. Launched before the invention of electricity and the automobile, company founders used water wheels to generate power. Workers loaded hats onto horse and buggies for transport to the train station.
Since Bollman's founding in 1868, U.S. hat and apparel making have largely moved overseas. But a diverse product mix and tough choices have helped Bollman anchor production in America, as other U.S. manufacturing work has disappeared. The company even sources most its wool in southwest Texas. It's the entire supply chain—wool shaved off a sheep's back to finished goods—which is extremely rare.
Bollman brings the cleaned wool to Adamstown, Pennsylvania, where the fluffy stuff is combed into a gauzy-thin fiber. The material is tamped down into the distinctive, tight texture found in wool felt hats.