"He set out to Pike's Peak. This is after he recovered from a bout with tuberculosis. It was a terminal diagnosis," Andrea Bozeman, senior vice president of marketing and e-commerce at Stetson, told ABC News recently. "He recovered in Missouri, and then he headed out from there to the West and on his way realized that people had inadequate headwear. People were using maybe less-than-ideal findings and trappings to protect themselves as they were making that journey out West so he taught them the art of felting, which was a handmade, handcrafted process then and still is today."
So, Stetson started making hats just like his father, who'd started the No Name hat company.
"His father taught him that art and that’s what he brought out to the West: the American cowboy hat," Bozeman said.
Stetson sold his first one for $5, and they were a hit.
Bozeman said the style was still in the company's assortment.
By 1900, he had the largest hat factory in the world. There was also a school and a gym.
"Stetson really started with the heritage of building a company based on being a values-driven employer. ... When he was at his height, we had a factory in Philadelphia that employed over 5,500 employees. ... It was very unusual for the time but he offered profit-sharing. They had a doctor on site. There were parks," Bozeman said. "I think a lot of that still informs who we are as a company today and how we treat one another."
The company's factory in Garland, Texas, employs more than 200 workers and makes roughly one million felt and straw hats every year.
"John B. Stetson, I think, had a strong vision for what a company was and how to build a really strong, retained employee base. And, that's still very much who are today," Bozeman said.
Justin Thomason, a quality control manager for nearly 10 years, said that about 100 sets of hands went into not only making but shaping each hat.
"That's the great part about Stetson. We are 100% made in America on our felt hats," he told ABC News. "The felting process starts in Longview, Texas. ... Then we ship that raw body to Garland. We finish it and then we make the finished product."
Stetson hats have been worn by Buffalo Bill, Will Rogers, Annie Oakley, James Dean, Roy Rogers, Ronald Regan and even Indiana Jones.
"It's the Stetson name," Thomason said about why there's such pride in the company. "Everybody knows the iconic brand. It doesn't matter if they're a hat wearer or not. If you say Stetson, they're going to know what you're talking about. So to us, that's a great deal."