BEAVER HATS became popular menswear during the colonial period as a result of the expanding fur trade between North America and Europe. America produced quantities of beaver fur from hunting areas in the Great Lakes region, but European manufacturers produced men's beaver hats, which Americans imported until about the mid-seventeenth century. Virginia's colonial government sought to stimulate hat manufacturing in 1662 by offering a subsidy of ten pounds of tobacco for every good hat produced from native fur or wool. After the implementation of this policy, hat manufacturing in America grew rapidly and spread beyond Virginia to the Middle and New England colonies.
By 1731, London's hatmakers were complaining to Parliament that manufacturers in New England and New York were producing ten thousand hats annually and exporting them not only to British possessions but to Spain, Portugal, and the West Indies, thereby encroaching on the English hatmakers' market. In 1732, Parliament responded to these complaints by forbidding American producers to export hats, even to other American colonies. New restrictions also stipulated seven years' apprentice-ship for all hatmakers, and no African Americans were permitted to work at the trade. Although Parliament intended these regulations to impede American hat production and trade, manufacturers tended to ignore or evade the law, which remained in force until the American Revolution. Beaver hats remained popular through the early decades of the nineteenth century, until the manufacture of silk hats expanded and fashion began to favor silk over beaver for men's headwear.
Carson, Cary, Ronald Hoffman, and Peter J. Albert, eds. Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994.
Kammen, Michael G. Empire and Interest: The American Colonies and the Politics of Mercantilism. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970.
Alving F.Farlow/s. b.