Hard hats are common place nowadays; from construction sites to factories, they adorn the heads of workers throughout all ranks. Although not much to look at they offer invaluable protection. They haven’t always been so common within the work place though, this is a brief history of the hard hat and how it has evolved over time.
Some credit Franz Kafka with developing the first hard hat during his time at the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute; this has yet to be verified. However, in the United States, a mining equipment firm based out of California with over 20 years in the safety business discovered the “Hard-Boiled Hat”.
The E.D. Bullard Company sold protective hats made from leather until E.W. Bullard arrived home after World War I with a helmet made of steel. In 1919 the company patented the “Hard-Boiled Hat”, instead of being made from leather it was comprised of black paint, glue, and steamed canvas. This was the first in the evolution of the hard hat.
After the Hard Boiled Hat, the United States Navy then commissioned Bullard to come up with a shipyard protective hat to protect workers from falling debris. Soon after his development of the shipyard hat Bullard thought up an internal suspension system that would in turn provide a more effective protective hat. The inspiration for these new more effective hats was the military M1917 “Brodie” helmet.
Hard hats still weren’t very common within the workplace, but in 1933 as construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge, the workers were required to wear hard hats. This was only the second ever construction site requiring such safety precautions. The first being the Hoover Dam project in 1931. At this point Bullard had been commissioned to create a hard hat that also protected those workers who performed sandblasting. His design featured a cover that protected the worker’s face yet also provided a window for vision and air via an air compressor and hose.
Evolution of the hard hat really sped up from there, next aluminum became the main component except in electrical pursuits and then fiberglass was introduced in the 1940’s. By the 1950’s thermoplastics had made their way into the hard hat safety industry. Most hats today are made from HDPE also known as high density polyethylene which is a type of thermoplastic.
Finally in 1997, ANSI allowed the development of ventilated hard hats to keep the workers cool while working. Now, all sorts of accessories can be added, walkie talkies, sweat rags, pagers, cameras, sun visors, the list is endless. Today, workers are protected on the job site and also have access to important items and other types of safety clothing while working, all due to the efforts of a few men who wanted to ensure the safety of construction workers.