January 15, 2012 - Haberdasher History Made

– 1797

The story goes that English haberdasher (hat maker) John Hetherington first appeared in public in a top hat on this date in 1787. A riot ensued! A crowd gathered at the sight of the hat. Women fainted. Children screamed, and dogs yelped. A boy was thrown down by the crowd and broke his arm.

The story goes on that Hetherington was arrested on a charge of breach of the peace, and he had to pay a large fine.

Sound crazy?

That's a clue: all these crazy over-reactions to a hat probably did not occur. However, the story has appeared over and over again in print and all over the internet. The reference made to this top-hat riot story is generally given as the story's first appearance in print in Hatters' Gazette on January 16, 1797. But Hatters' Gazette only began publication in 1878! So the reference could not possibly be right – and since everyone quotes the same wrong info, most people must be quoting the same inaccurate source.

Next time you read something that sounds kind of crazy, consider it unproven. Don't mindlessly repeat the story. If you have time, check it out. See if the source of the story is reliable, and if there are other dissenting stories.

Just because it is in print many times over, or just because it appears on many different websites, doesn't make it true...

Also on this date:

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