A short history of the baseball cap

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If the United States has a national hat, it is surely the baseball cap. Even golfers, tennis players, and football players wear them, either when playing or while standing on the sidelines. Mail-carriers, truck drivers, and Boy Scouts wear them, too. You may have seen stores that sell nothing but baseball caps.

It took many years for baseball players to settle on the style of cap so familiar today.

William Arlt is an expert on the subject and president of the Cooperstown Ball Cap Co. He says the first baseball team, the Knickerbockers, wore straw hats! From the 1840s to the 1870s, players wore all sorts of hats - boating caps, jockey caps, even bicycling hats.

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In the 1870s, a pillbox-style hat with a flat top and a short visor became popular. This was the "Chicago style" cap. It often had horizontal stripes around it that made it look a little like a layer cake.

In 1860, the Brooklyn Excelsiors wore a cap that's a forerunner of today's rounded-crown, large-visor caps. This "Brooklyn style" had evolved from a "Boston style," and it caught on about 1900. It had a tight crown and a button on top, placed toward the front.

The modern cap arrived in the 1940s, when latex rubber replaced buckram (coarse cotton) as the stiffening material inside the visor. Now the visors could be longer.

Mr. Arlt says the old style cap has an appeal beyond nostalgia. "The tip of the visor," he says of modern caps, "at some point becomes annoying and it's nice to have a small brim."

As for wearing baseball caps backwards: Catchers wore their caps backward so the visor didn't interfere with their protective mask. But it may have been outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners who first got children to turn their caps around, too.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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