If there is one hat that is part of history like no other, it is the one that Abraham Lincoln wore. Aside from being a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, it was also one of the most expressive accessories anybody has ever worn. Thanks to its presence in history, Abraham Lincoln’s hat has a unique fascination, but what was it?
Abraham Lincoln wore a silk top hat made by Y.J. Davis in the mid 19th century. The hat, which is homed at the Smithsonian Institution since 1867, measures 7in x 10⅜ in x 12in (17.8 x 26.4 x 30.5cm). The 16th president wore the famous hat often and wore it the night of his assassination.
Undeniably, the silk top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln has become one of the most important symbols in history. If you are curious about its history, you are not the only one; check out some facts and curiosities below!
A Brief History on Abraham Lincoln’s Top Hat
Abraham Lincoln towered over most people around him, and not just because of his position or title. Abraham Lincoln was 6’4”, or 1.93 meters, which makes him one of the taller people in history.
While he was already immediately recognizable within a crowd, the 16th president decided to pick as his signature hat a black, silk top hat. The hat itself was around 8 inches tall and became the most recognizable object ever worn by any president. Abraham Lincoln was used to wearing his hat during peace or war times and on any occasion, including the night of his assassination.
Today, little remains of the importance that hats once had in society. During Abraham Lincoln’s era, hats were an indicator of social or military status and could be used as a communication channel. Check out this 8-inch costume Lincoln hat on Amazon.
Where Did the Famous Top Hat Come From?
Historians have not been able to pinpoint exactly when the 16th president started wearing the famous silk top hat. However, the labels still visible inside the crown prove that the president acquired it from Washington hat maker J. Y. Davis during the mid 19th century.
The top hat measures 7in x 10⅜in x 12in (17.78cm x 26.36cm x 30.48cm), and is trimmed with two bands, and boasts discrete details, such as the 3/8″ (0.95cm) ribbon with a metal buckle. The second 3in (7.62cm) black mourning band visible on the hat symbolizes Lincoln’s mourning for his son Willie, who fell victim to Typhoid fever in 1862. This band was added after the initial purchase, as indicated by the different stitches.
The Hat Was an Alternative Communication Channel for Abraham Lincoln
The silk top hat was much more than just a fashion accessory for Abraham Lincoln, as the president used it as a way to communicate and express his feelings.
An example of this is that he used to keep papers within the hat’s crown, which he would remove in formal settings or throw them on the floor to express his anger. There are also testimonies of how Abraham Lincoln used the hat to offer respect, such as when he removed his hat in front of an elderly African American man who did the same for President Lincoln. Read more intriguing facts about top hats in this article.
The Hat Is Part of American History
The hat truly entered history when Abraham Lincoln wore it at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, the night of his assassination. When John Wilkes Booth entered the theater’s presidential box and fired a shot at the back of the president’s head, the top hat was with him. It was left behind while the president was transferred to Petersen House, then rescued by the War Department, alongside other items in the presidential box.
The top hat, which was initially taken as a piece of evidence, was passed to the Patent Office with Mary Lincoln’s permission.
In 1867, the Patent Office passed the hat to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remained hidden in a special secure location until 1893. From this year forward, the Smithsonian loans the hat to other museums for expositions, but the hat still remains among the Institution’s most treasured relics.
Abraham Lincoln’s hat is one of the most important relics the president left behind as the signature of one of the most influential figures in history. Abraham Lincoln, who was already taller than 6’4” (1.90m), decided to wear a black silk top hat. To the original design by Washington hat maker J. Y. Davis, the president added one black mourning band to symbolize his son’s ongoing mourning.
The president also used the hat as a way of communicating anger, concentration, and respect. Lincoln wore his hat on many occasions and had it with him the night of his assassination. Discover more about the hats worn by presidents in this article.