Today’s hard hat can trace its roots to the battle helmets used by warriors to protect their heads from swords, spears, arrows and the odd slingshot stone more than 3,000 years ago, like this boar’s tusk Mycenaean helm that dates back to the time of the Trojan War
In our supposedly more civilized time, this variant helmet’s role is to protect the heads of those workers who do real things—build stuff, mine stuff, cut down trees and a host of other dangerous and often times dirty jobs that are likely to be featured on a Mike Rowe television show.
Hard hats are in the safety equipment trinity, along with steel-toed boots and brightly colored reflective vests. Those who wear this plastic chapeau do so to protect their noggins from falling objects, debris, electricity, bad weather and hitting the head into other objects
The Modern Hard Hat
The modern hard hat has an outer shell that receives the impact and an inner suspension that spread the force of the impact and with that lessens the pressure to the head which prevents the injury. A special version of the hard hat is a “bump cap”, a cap reinforced to protect the head from minor injuries, scraping or bumping the head but it can’t protect from a more serious hit.
Before there were serious hard hats, standards and regulations, workers used to smear their hats with tar and let them dry in the sun. That was a custom of dock workers whose job was always bringing them in to possibility to be hit in the head from objects that would fall from the decks of the ships or from the objects that the seagulls would drop because they have characteristic to pick about anything that looks edible and then to drop it from the air when they find out that it is not.
Management guru Peter Drucker credits Russian writer Franz Kafka for creating the first hard hat for civilians but there is no documentation which could back up this claim.
On the other hand, there is a host of evidence that the Edward Dickinson Bullard’s company, founded in 1898 and based in San Francisco, was the progenitor of our current head gear. Ballard manufactured mining equipment and among its products there were hard hats made of leather. When the senior Bullard’s son, E. W. Bullard, returned from the World War I, he brought with him an U.S. Army-issued a steel helmet.
That helmet became an inspiration for improving the safety of the workers. He patented the “Hard-Boiled Hat” in 1919, a hard hat made of steamed canvas, glue and black paint. Bullard was commissioned by U.S. Navy that same year to make a hard hat for shipyard workers so he improved a hard hat with inner suspension which provided better efficiency of the hard hat. With that use of hard hats began to spread.
The first project in history where hard hats were required was building the Hoover Dam in 1931. The second one was building of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1933 by order of the Joseph Strauss, the project chief engineer. Strauss also commissioned from Bullard a hard hat for workers who did sandblasting which Bullard designed. That hard hat covered workers face, had a window so a worker can see what he is doing and air supply from the compressor for breathing.
New & Improved
In time, materials form which hard hats were made changed and improved. Hard hats were first made from steel, then from aluminum, fiberglass, thermoplastics and high-density polyethylene. They are also made so they can be used for different purposes with adding face shields, light visors, earmuffs, mirrors (for widening the field of view), electric lamps, radios, pagers and cameras
For the full history of the Bullard Company and its contribution to construction safety, “From the Hard Boiled Hat to Today’s Skull Bucket” visit: