Promo University

The History of Baseball Hats: Which Team Wore Them First & Why?

Alyssa Mertes

Published: February 27th 2021

Do you have a favorite baseball cap that you wear almost every day? Whether you put it on sideways, backwards, forward, or upside-down, this stylish headwear is a great way to make a fashion statement…and hide bad hair days!

It's no surprise that baseball caps were first invented for baseball players, but there's actually more to the story than you may think! Let's swing for the fences and learn more about the history of these athletic hats.

Quote

We wear ball caps to make a statement; to show our allegiance; to shade our eyes from the sun; to be part of something larger than ourselves. And besides all that, the cap is just plain cool.

Jim Lilliefors, author of Ball Cap Nation: A Journey Through the World of America's National Hat

Hour Glass

History of Baseball Caps Timeline

Baseball caps have been worn since the beginning of Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1869. Here’s how these hats evolved from just another part of the uniform to everyday headwear.

  • 1860s

    Brooklyn  excelsiors Source: http://www.idealcapco.com

    The Brooklyn Excelsiors wore the first baseball caps as part of their uniform. The team played on an amateur level, but went on to eventually become the Brooklyn Dodgers – six-time World Series champions!

  • 1890s

    Pillbox hat Source: http://www.antiqueathlete.com

    The pillbox shape hat was a popular style for teams like the Oakland Athletics and Chicago Cubs. The one featured here was worn by the collegiate team at Harvard University.

  • 1903

    Spalding hat Source: http://www.strictlyfitteds.com

    Spalding introduced their stitched visor. By this time, the company was already the leading manufacturer of baseball bats in the United States, producing 1 million per year. Hats were just another piece of equipment to add to their selection.

  • 1905

    Detroit tigers Source: http://www.viewsofthepast.com

    The Detroit Tigers became the first team to put a logo on their baseball caps. At the time, the hats featured their iconic old English “D,” but the design has since changed a number of times.

  • 1920s

    Mlb hat Source: http://oldtimebaseball.com

    Many baseball clubs were popping up all across the United States. At the same time, every team in the MLB had an official logo. This inspired the amateur leagues to follow suit, printing their own team logos on both their button-down jerseys and baseball caps.

  • 1940s

    Little leagues Source: http://www.rememberingthegoodolddays.com

    Little Leagues and community teams were established in the United States. The teams were named after local businesses and wore baseball caps made from latex rubber.

  • 1943

    Black sheep Source: https://baseballhall.org

    The Black Sheep Squadron was a group of pilots in World War II. The airmen promised to shoot down one enemy plane for every baseball cap supplied by the MLB.

  • 1945

    Rally caps Source: http://sonsofsamhorn.com/

    Rally caps were observed nationwide during the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. These hats are worn upside-down, inside-out, or in any other unconventional manner by superstitious fans.

  • 1950s

    Coca cola hat Source: https://www.ebay.com

    The rise of the screen printing industry made it possible for companies to use baseball caps to advertise. This branded merch was first used by big names like Coca-Cola, but is now used by just about everyone, including bands, real estate companies, and fast food restaurants.

  • 1954

    Yankees hat Source: https://www.neweracap.com

    Harold Koch designed the 59Fifty for the New Era Cap Company. This hat, which is often referred to as a snapback, became iconic. New Era became the official supplier for the MLB about forty years later.

  • 1976

    St. Louis Cardinals Source: https://www.detroitathletic.com

    The St. Louis Cardinals wore these lined hats during their away games. This throwback hat closely resembled the pillbox style of the early 1900s and was a favorite with the team, even though more modern hats were available at the time.

  • 1987

    Chicago White Sox Source: https://www.detroitathletic.com

    The Chicago White Sox wore baggy caps and uniforms. The logo at the time was a curly cursive "C" that didn't spell out their name or feature the signature white sock logo.

  • 1990s

    NWA hat Source: https://www.amazon.co.uk

    West Coast record labels like Ruthless Records promoted their hip hop artists with custom snapback hats. This was huge as it’s one of the first times that baseball caps were used for fashion rather than function.

  • 1990s

    MLB hat Source: yahoo.com

    Ken Griffey Jr. was the first person to publicly wear his baseball cap backwards. He wasn’t trying to start a fashion trend, he just used to wear his dad’s large hat that way as a kid!

  • 1993

    Baseball cap Source: lids.com

    The New Era Cap Company became the official manufacturer for the MLB. They also started using sizing stickers to meet the merchandizing needs of their larger accounts. These stickers became trendy to keep on the hats.

  • 1995

    Lids store Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

    Lids opened their first store at the Tippecanoe Mall in Indiana. This retail giant, which specializes in team hats, is still going strong with over 1,000 locations across the United States.

  • 1996

    Spike Lee cap Source: http://www.strictlyfitteds.com/

    Director Spike Lee, the man behind popular movies like Do the Right Thing and Inside Man, requested a special, red New York Yankees baseball cap. The New Era Cap Company honored his wish, and this simple request led to snapbacks being made in a variety of colors and styles.

  • 2016

    Lids store Source: https://www.papaoriginals.nyc

    A man in Bushwick, New York named Raphael Faccarello started a store called Papá Originals. His company became famous for recreating the classic style worn by the Brooklyn Excelsiors over 150 years ago.

  • 2020

    Spike Lee cap Source: https://www.dhgate.com

    Technology has given room to more creativity in baseball cap design. LED lights and other fun features are a flashy way to make an impression with the crowd!

What Were the First Baseball Hats Made Of?

straw baseball caps Source: urbandaddy.org

The first baseball hats were surprisingly made of straw! They were worn by the first community team in history - the Knickerbocker Baseball Club in New York.

The Knickerbockers were just a group of average joes – bankers, teachers, attorneys, or artisans – who played pick-up games at Elysian Field after they finished their day jobs. Their “uniform” consisted of blue wool pants, a white flannel shirt, and the wide-brimmed straw hat.

Never mind that they looked more like a barbershop quartet than a group of athletes. This early baseball team was extremely important to the game, establishing the rules and how players should look while on the field.

straw baseball caps Source: urbandaddy.org
Quote

Baseball caps are an inexpensive way for one to represent their identity. Today, you can wear a hat representing your school, favorite movie, or even local dentist office.

Chantal Hevia President of the Tampa Baseball Museum

Who Invented the Baseball Cap?

Vintage baseball cap Source: amazon.com

It’s hard to credit one person for inventing the baseball cap, but the Brooklyn Excelsiors (which later become the Dodgers) were the first team to wear these hats in the 1860s. The “Brooklyn-style” cap had a wide brim, rounded top, and a little button on the top.

Vintage baseball cap Source: amazon.com

The Brooklyn cap was the style of choice until the end of the 19th century. Shortly after, the pillbox, or Chicago-style, was all the rage with athletes. This hat featured horizontal stripes, a flat top, and short visor.

The Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Oakland Athletics were some of the teams with the pillbox as part of their uniform. The Athletics even credit these hats for their winning streak from 1909 to 1914!

Vintage baseball cap Source: http://exhibits.baseballhalloffame.org/
Quote

Why do we wear hats? We wear them for all sorts of reasons. Hats change the way we look. They frame our faces, hide our hair, and protect the most important part of our bodies – the brain!

– Fiona MacDonald, author of Hats and Headdresses Through History

Who Was the First Team to Wear a Logo Baseball Cap?

Vintage baseball cap Source: https://www.pinterest.com

In 1905, the Detroit Tigers became the first team to put a logo on their baseball caps. Their design was inspired by the font used in the popular newspaper at the time, The "Detroit Free Press". The famous “D” eventually went on to symbolize the entire city of Detroit!

The logo helped the Detroit Tigers establish a brand and build their fan base. As a result, more teams wanted to get in on the action. The St. Louis Browns and Washington Nationals followed closely behind, and before long, every team in the MLB had a logo. Within the next few years, fans started buying team merchandise printed with these emblems, and the rest is history!

Vintage baseball cap Source: https://www.pinterest.com
Did you know?

The most complicated logo for a baseball team belonged to the Florida Marlins. It took 10,966 stitches to create their trademark fish!

What Was the Little League Uniform?

Kids baseball team Source: Hats, Hats, Hats by Ann Morris

Kids were watching starry-eyed as baseball was played on TV, leading to the first Little Leagues in the 1940s. The ball caps were made using latex rubber, which gave the hat its stiff look.

At the time, Little League teams were named after local businesses like Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel. The kids would wear their hats off the field on their way to school or during the weekends. This helped take the baseball cap from part of a uniform to a casual piece of apparel.

Kids baseball team Source: Hats, Hats, Hats by Ann Morris
Did you know?

By the 21st century, there were about 2.5 million little league players in the United States and about 100 other countries.

What is New Era Cap?

red cap

New Era Cap is a manufacturer of baseball hats in Buffalo, New York. This company became famous for their 59Fifty snapback hats, which were made from polyester and sold in retail stores across the country in the early 1960s.

By 1993, New Era Cap became the official manufacturer for the MLB. This opened the door for headwear licensing. Director Spike Lee took things even further by requesting a special, red New York Yankees hat. From that point on, fans could get their favorite team’s hat in any color or style imaginable!

red cap

Today, New Era Cap sells their iconic hats online for between $30 and $50. They’ve played an integral role in the history of baseball caps, and as such, are now printing their logo on the left side of every hat in the MLB.

Take a walk down memory lane and watch this video about Spike Lee and New Era Cap!

When Did Baseball Caps Become Popular?

news article Georgia Dullea, The Indianapolis News

With screen printing, any design, character, or logo could be printed on baseball caps. This caused a huge boom in the baseball cap’s popularity, and by the mid-70s, these hats were everywhere!

What Hats Were Popular in the 90s?

Rap group NWA https://www.vulture.com/

The snapback hat was extremely popular in the 90s. Credit goes to Ruthless Records, a west coast rap label that used these hats as branded merch.

Artists like Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Snoop Dogg wore snapbacks in their music videos. Before long, retail stores were selling replicas to fans, and by 1995, the first Lids store opened in a mall in Indiana. It was now possible for people to wear baseball caps that were printed with all kinds of logos and designs!

Rap group NWA https://www.vulture.com/

Who Started Wearing Baseball Caps Backwards?

Baseball player with backwards baseball cap hitting ball. https://thecomeback.com

Ken Griffey Jr. was the first person to publicly wear a baseball cap backwards in the 1990s.

According to Griffey, he used to wear his dad’s oversized hat as a kid, but it always hit him in the face. He turned the bill around so it wouldn’t get in his eyes, and just like that, he kicked off a fashion trend!

Baseball player with backwards baseball cap hitting ball. https://thecomeback.com

How Are Baseball Caps Used in Advertising?

Today, companies of all sizes use baseball caps as walking billboards. You can put these caps on your head as casual wear, and by doing so, help promote your favorite brands!

Here are a few companies who’ve used branded hats to advertise:

Quote

Once the domain of just the diamond, the baseball cap has become the defining image of headwear. It has become a portable mini-billboard for everything from brands to personal identity.

– Christopher Ruvo, author of How the Ball Cap Came to Rule the World for Wearables, The Advertising Specialty Institute

Why Do We Love Baseball Caps? Advertising with Baseball Caps

kids in hats

We love baseball caps because they’re comfy, stylish, and perfect for bad hair days. An article in "The New York Times" calls the baseball cap “The Common Man’s Crown,” and it just goes to show you don’t have to be a slugger to love these hats!

Fishers wear baseball caps for a day on the lake, golfers rock them as they hit the course, parents put them on for a day running errands, and kids grab theirs to go play outside. Baseball hats are a $3 billion industry, and the numbers keep growing every year!

kids in hats

Stats for Success

Stats 1 icon

About 2,000 baseball caps are produced for each team in the MLB every season.

Stats 2 icon

More than 40 million baseball caps are sold every year.

Stats 3 icon

Baseball caps account for more than 80% of all hat styles in the United States.

Stats 4 icon

7 out of every 10 hats made in this country is a baseball cap.

The Bottom Line

A simple baseball cap has the power to build a community, show team loyalty, and add a fashionable touch to your outfit. You don’t have to be in the major leagues to love wearing one!

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

MacDonald, F. (2007). Hats and Headdresses Through History. Milwaukee, WI: Garth Stevens Publishing.

The Adair Group. (2018). Beginning of Baseball Hat & Cap History. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.theadairgroup.com/blog/2015/11/11/beginning-of-baseball-hat-cap-history/

History of Hats. (2018). Baseball Cap – History and Types of Baseball Caps. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from http://www.historyofhats.net/hat-history/baseball-cap/

Patterson, T. (2015, April 1). The Common Man's Crown. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/magazine/the-common-mans-crown.html

Mitchell, T. (2018, January 5). Hat Trick: How Did Baseball Caps Become So Popular? Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://medium.com/s/ordinary-objects/hat-trick-how-did-baseball-caps-become-so-popular-7e922212d7bc

Eichner, S. (2018, March 29). A Comprehensive Timeline of Baseball Hat Style. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.urbandaddy.com/articles/39667/a-comprehensive-timeline-of-baseball-hat-style

Potter, E. (2016, June 6). Evolution of the Hat: A Historical Timeline. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://hatswork.com/blog/2016/06/06/evolution-of-the-hat-historical-timeline/

Lilliefors, J. (2009). Ball Cap Nation: A Journey Through the World of America's National Hat. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press.

McDowell, C. (1992). Hats: Status, Style and Glamour. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Stewart, M. (1998). Baseball: A History of the National Pastime. New York, NY: Horton Publishing Co., et. al.

Buckley, J. (2010). Baseball: Discover the History, Heroes, Gear, and Games of America's National Pastime. New York, NY: DK Publishing.

Roussey, K. (2018). Ball Caps for the Black Sheep. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://baseballhall.org/discover-more/stories/short-stops/black-sheep-squadron

Sports Logo History. (2018). Detroit Tigers Primary Logo. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://sportslogohistory.com/detroit-tigers-primary-logo

Pfleger, P. (2015, April 16). Where Did the Iconic Detroit "D" Come From? Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://www.michiganradio.org/post/where-did-iconic-detroit-d-come

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). Little League Baseball Organization. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Little-League

Wells, J. (2016, September 15). 15 Major Facts About Little League Baseball. Retrieved July 17, 2018, from https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/85076/15-major-facts-about-little-league-baseball

New Era Cap Company. (2018). As Iconic Off the Field as On the Field. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://www.neweracap.co.uk/about/timeline/

Lukas, P. (2016, September 20). New Era Logo to Be Added to In-Game Caps. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17594756/major-league-baseball-caps-carry-new-era-logo-beginning-playoffs

Cunningham, M. (2017, July 27). History Of: New Era – Gatsby to 59Fifty. Retrieved July 19, 2018, from https://www.vaultmenswear.com/blog/history-of-new-era-gatsby-to-59fifty/

Ringo, K. (2016, July 22). Why Ken Griffey Jr. Wore His Hat Backward Might Surprise You. Retrieved from, https://sports.yahoo.com/news/why-ken-griffey-jr-wore-his-hat-backwards-might-surprise-you-203823929.html