It has been long established that there were two makers of the American pressed fiber sun helmet –Hawley Products and the International Hat Company. As we’ve previously noted, the USMC blueprints for the helmets dated back to the 1940s, however we’ve been provided with the original patents from 1935 and 1936. These were filed with the U.S. Patent Office by Jesse B. Hawley, the founder of Hawley Products and apparently the original inventor and patent holder of the Hawley sun helmet.
These patents were filed on February 4, 1935 – Serial No. 4,866 – by Jesse B. Hawley of Geneva, Illinois. In the patent filing Mr. Hawley noted:
“The present invention relates to hats and more particularly to hats made of fibrous material. Among the objects of the invention is to provide a novel hat composed of a novel composition and the novel composition thereof. Another object of the invention is to provide a novel hat which will be light in weight, which has excellent heat transfer insulating properties, which will not absorb and hold fluids and thus be fluid proof, which is impervious to fluids, which may be easily cleaned by the usual cleaning agents without any injurious effects to the hat, which is stiff, tough and durable, which may be colored and decorated as desired, which may have coverings of any desired material, which will maintain its shape or form, and which may have the appearance of a hat made of other material.”
As for the material itself, the patent laid this out as noting:
“The invention also comprehends the producing of a novel hat composed of fibrous material initially deposited, accreted, interlaced and integrated so as to form a seamless integral and stiff hat in the final desired shape, form or contour and character, free of internal stresses tending to change its form, shape or contour as initially produced, thus avoiding warping, distortions and the like. The hat of the present invention is made or composed initially in its final and intended form of fibrous material deposited preferably upon a contoured porous former so that the member so produced is seamless, or the desired thickness and compactness or density, light in weight, stiff, tough and durable, and without any deforming stresses and strains.”
What is even more interesting about the patents is that while the shape of the helmet is shown in illustrations little mention is made of how or why it was determined to be in this actual shape. No mention is made or suggested that this could be a copy of the British standard pattern helmet – which according to our research the helmet likely was. (see The British and Haitian Connection to the Pressed Fiber Sun Helmet)
This adds to the confusion because these patents clearly pre-date the USMC blueprints, but it can only be assumed that the blueprints were to modify and/or approve upon the existing Hawley designs.
The other fascinating discovery is that the second patent, which was filed on January 31, 1936 called for a removable vent cap – something that is only seen on the export helmets for South Africa that were made by Hawley Products Canada. To date no actual military or civilian version of a Hawley Products’ helmet in its traditional shape has been seen with such a removable ventilator cap.
The second patent does however address the need for an adjustable sweat band, and the patent noted:
“The sweat band itself is preferably made of soft material and slidably connected as by loops or slitted portions to the spaced or bowed portions of the supporting member. Both the strip or auxiliary band and the sweat or main band are adjustable in size as desired.”
The illustrations in the first patent do show the rivets and grommets that are a distinguishing feature of the Hawley helmets. (see Evolution of the American Pressed Fiber Helmet)
Finally, our thanks to Scott Pellegrino, who has continued to conduct research into the origins and evolution of these helmets. Scott, whose family had worked with Hawley and International Hat Company, added:
“In my research, I came across the original founder of the company of Hawley Products. I had known that General Fibre Company (the company that made all the fibrous materials for International Hat sun helmets, as well as 120,000 of the M1 steel helmet liners which Hawley Products subcontracted to General Fibre in 1941) and Hawley Products were close so I’d been looking through my grandfather’s General Fibre Company papers and came across the name Jesse Barnum Hawley and the helmets. I remember him mentioning having to travel in the ’40s and ’50s to St. Charles, Ill. frequently to meet with the Hawleys. There is a lot of business and technological connections between these three companies but I’m still trying to work out all the details; if it’s even possible.
Anyway, it turns out Jesse Hawley is both the founder of Hawley Products and also the original inventor and patent holder of the Hawley sun helmet. It was difficult to find the patents without that information because none of the patents are registered to the company and the patent is only listed under ‘hat.'”