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Hard Hat Turns 100 This Year

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Women got the vote. Prohibition began. The National Football League was founded. And, the construction industry was forever changed by the invention of an often overlooked but significant worker safety advancement – the hard hat. And, while perhaps not considered a great technological invention now, at the time, the invention of the hard hat revolutionized and galvanized the businesses and the people behind the American industrial boom.

The hard hat comes from a Kentucky-based, family-owned company called Bullard, which was founded in 1898 in San Francisco by Edward Dickinson Bullard. The company originally supplied carbide lamps and other mining equipment to gold and copper miners in California, Nevada and Arizona. When Edward Dickinson Bullard’s son, E.W. Bullard returned from World War I, he combined his understanding of customer needs and his experience with his doughboy army helmet to design a protective headgear for miners.

The “Hard Boiled®” hat was introduced in 1919, and represented the first of many innovative designs over the past century that have led Bullard to its prominent position in head protection for industrial and emergency response applications.

“The original ‘Hard Boiled® hat’ was manufactured out of steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim and black paint. My great-grandfather built a suspension device into what became the world’s first, commercially available, industrial head-protection device,” CEO Wells Bullard explained. “We may take it for granted today, but we are proud to be celebrating 100 years of an innovation that truly helped our country grow and keep the hard working women and men who built it more safe. Our vision is to advance human safety to enable long, healthy, productive lives through innovative solutions.”

During the 1930s, while the Golden Gate Bridge was being constructed in San Francisco, Bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss contacted Bullard to request that the company adapt its hats to protect bridge workers – it was also the first area ever designated as a “hard hat area.” Bullard not only supplied hard hats for this famous project, but its engineers also designed an original supplied air respirator for workers responsible for blasting the steelwork prior to the application of the bridge’s international orange paint. Bullard went on to design innovative supplied-air respiratory protection solutions for such key industries as pharmaceutical manufacturing and automotive refinishing.

The company continued to innovate the hard hat through the decades. In 1938, Bullard designed and manufactured the first aluminum hard hat, which was considered very durable and reasonably lightweight for the time. “Even today, a few clients still have their 25-year-old aluminum hard hat,” Bullard said. “These hats have one serious drawback: aluminum is a great conductor of electricity.”

Bullard’s distinctive three-rib, heat resistant fiberglass hard hat was developed in the 1940s. In the 1950s and 1960s, thermoplastics replaced fiberglass. In 1982, the standard hard hat changed again with the incorporation of a non-slip ratchet suspension with a knob in the back for simple sizing.

The hard hat today is produced from polyethylene plastic making it lightweight, durable, easy to mold and non-conductive to electricity. Enhanced with an upgraded suspension system, Bullard’s classic style hard hat incorporates easy-lock snaps for simple installation, easy height adjustment and an enhanced brow pad. The vented model fosters more air flow inside the hard hat, keeping the user cool and comfortable while providing quality protection.

Bullard is also a leading manufacturer of other personal protective equipment and systems that are marketed worldwide, including thermal imagers, firefighter and rescue helmets, supplied air respirators, powered air-purifying respirators, and air quality equipment.


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