History of Baseball Caps

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Published: September 6th, 2018

Updated: April 22nd, 2019

Many people have a favorite baseball cap they wear almost every day. These hats are not only essential parts of America’s favorite game, but they’re also fashion statements. Wear yours sideways, backwards, forward, or upside-down. No matter what, a good baseball cap shows your love for a team or well-loved brand.

When were baseball caps first used? How did they become part of everyday life? Time to swing for the fences and dive into the fascinating history of baseball caps!

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 part of America’s pastime since its early days. See how they evolved from uniform staples to popular promotional products.

  • 1860s

    Source: http://www.idealcapco.com

    The Brooklyn Excelsiors wore the first caps we know today as snapbacks. The team played on an amateur level, but went on to eventually become World Series Champions as the Brooklyn Dodgers.

  • 1890s

    Source: http://www.antiqueathlete.com

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

  • 1903

    Source: http://www.strictlyfitteds.com

    Spalding introduced their stitched visor. By this time, the sports company was already the leading manufacturer of baseball bats in the United States, producing 1 million bats per year.

  • 1905

    Source: http://www.viewsofthepast.com

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

  • 1920s

    Source: http://oldtimebaseball.com

    Many baseball clubs were playing in the United States. At this point, every team in the MLB had an official logo, inspiring amateur leagues to follow suit.

  • 1940s

    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 hats made from latex rubber.

  • 1943

    Source: https://baseballhall.org

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

  • 1945

    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 any other unconventional manner by superstitious fans.

  • 1950s

    Source: https://www.ebay.com

    The rise of screen-printing allowed for a wave of advertising on baseball caps. Big name companies and smaller start-ups were using these giveaways to promote their brands.

  • 1954

    Source: https://www.neweracap.com

    Harold Koch designed the 59Fifty for the New Era Cap Company. This hat became iconic for the brand, and they ended up becoming the official supplier for the MLB about forty years later.

  • 1976

    Source: https://www.detroitathletic.com

    The St. Louis Cardinals wore these lined hats during their away games. This hat closely resembled the pillbox style of the early 1900s, even though more modern hats were available.

  • 1980s

    Source: https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com

    The exact inventor and year is unknown, but retailers and promotional products companies started selling colorful visors. These were popular with golfers, volleyball players, and tennis stars.

  • 1987

    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

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

    Record labels in the West Coast promoted their hip hop artists with promotional baseball caps. This was an impactful way to brand as it kicked off a trend in wearing snapbacks.

  • 1994

    Source: https://www.lids.com/

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

  • 1996

    Source: http://www.strictlyfitteds.com

    Spike Lee requested a special red New York Yankees baseball cap. The New Era Cap Company honored his wish and now a person can buy a team hat in a variety of colors and styles.

  • 2016

    Source: https://www.papaoriginals.nyc

    Raphael Faccarello from Bushwick, New York started Papá Originals. His company recreates the classic style worn by the Brooklyn Excelsiors over 150 years ago.

  • 2018

    Source: https://www.dhgate.com

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

Knocking it Out of the Park

No conversation about baseball hats is complete without talking about, well, baseball. The game was invented in a tiny village called Cooperstown, New York in 1839. Within the next decade, leagues were established and caps and uniforms were worn on the field to show team pride.

Men of Straw

The Knickerbocker Baseball Club was the first official baseball team in the United States. They played in New York at Elysian Field, though they were nothing like the highly-paid athletes we follow today. Rather, this was a group of average joes – bankers, teachers, attorneys, or artisans who played pick-up games in the East Coast against neighboring clubs after they finished their day jobs. The Knickerbockers were more of a community league team than a professional one, which is why a logo and branding weren’t important quite yet.

Source: https://www.urbandaddy.com

Their “uniform” consisted of blue wool pants, a white flannel shirt, and a wide-brimmed straw hat. Baseball was a game for the middle-class, and no man of high stature went to work without a hat in the 19th century. It made sense for these gentlemen to punch out for the day and keep their hat on when they went from the office to the field.

Never mind that they looked more like a barbershop quartet than a group of athletes. This early baseball team was extremely important to baseball. They established both the rules and the value of wearing a hat during the game.

From Brooklyn to Chicago

Straw hats were better for a day in the park than a game of baseball. It wasn’t long before caps became part of official uniforms. In the 1860s, the “Brooklyn-style” was introduced, complete with wide brims, a rounded top, and little buttons. The modern equivalent of this cap is referred to as a snapback. The original was worn by the Brooklyn Excelsiors, an amateur team that eventually went on to become the Brooklyn Dodgers.

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

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 Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago White Sox were some of the teams with the pillbox as part of their uniform. Even though these caps weren’t popular for long, the Athletics still credit them for their winning stream from 1909 to 1914, including three World Series championships.

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

The Design Eye of the Tigers

The Brooklyn-style and pillbox were a step forward in the evolution of ball caps. However, they were still blank and lacked any identifying symbols. The teams didn’t have mascots, emblems, or even specific colors.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com

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

The emblem on their caps 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 was developing logos. Within the next few years, team logos were on uniforms, baseball caps, and other promotional materials.

Baseball was seen as more than just a game. It was starting to mean big business, and the teams in the MLB became brands. A logo was important in creating a brand that resonated with the general public. It helped people support a particular team and tell them apart from the other sluggers. In turn, fans could vow their allegiance to a team based on more than just area code. That’s why you’ll see Chicago Cubs fans all over the world!

Did you know?

The most complicated logo for a baseball team was for the Florida Marlins. It consisted of 10,966 stitches to create their trademark fish.

The History of Little Leagues

The game of baseball was more popular than ever before. World series were being played, team logos were decorating merchandise, and people were starting to get serious about the game. Fans could watch their favorite teams for only a quarter if they sat in the bleachers.

Source: Hats, Hats, Hats by Ann Morris

Kids were also watching starry-eyed as the games played out on TV, leading to the first little leagues in the 1940s. These young players wanted to look the same as their heroes, and as such, needed quality baseball caps and uniforms of their own. Manufacturers started using latex rubber inside the ball caps. This gave the hat its stiff look, making them much less flimsy than the Brooklyn-style or pillboxes.

The teams in the official Little League were named after local businesses like Lundy Lumber and Jumbo Pretzel. These companies benefited from the additional exposure brought forth by the uniforms and baseball caps. The kids who played would wear their hats both on the field and 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.

Meanwhile, adults were also getting caught up in the cool factor of baseball caps. The Black Sheep Squadron, a group of pilots in World War II, loved baseball caps so much, they agreed to shoot down one enemy plane in exchange for every ball cap they received during the 1943 World Series. They ended up taking out more than 40 enemy planes! It just goes to show the lengths we’re willing to go for a good baseball cap.

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.

Who Invented Baseball Caps?

People of all ages were loving baseball caps, and the New Era Cap Company in Buffalo, New York met that demand with their 59Fifty hats. These were made from polyester and were sold in retail stores across the country in the early 1960s. The hats looked a lot like the Brooklyn-style caps worn by the Excelsiors, but they came to mean so much more. This was the first time baseball caps were being used as fashion statements.

Source: Hats, Hats, Hats by Ann Morris

By 1994, the New Era Cap Company became the official manufacturer of the MLB. Even more, the MLB opened the door for headwear licensing. Much credit for this actually goes to director Spike Lee who requested a specially fitted red New York Yankees hat. From that point on, a fan could get their favorite team’s hat in any color or style imaginable.

Today, the New Era Cap Company sells their iconic hats online for between $30 and $50. They play an integral role in the history of baseball caps, and as such, have upped the ante on their own branding. In 2017, New Era’s logo started getting printed on the left side of every player’s cap in the MLB. This way athletes could always remember who was responsible for supplying their trusted headwear.

Get an inside look at the New Era Cap Company!

Quote

Caps are a comparatively inexpensive way for one to represent their identity. Today, one can wear a hat representing their school, their favorite movie, or even their local dentist office.

– Chantal Hevia President of the Tampa Baseball Museum

Advertising with Baseball Caps

At the same time 59Fifty caps were becoming popular, there was a major boom in screen printing. It only made sense for advertisers to take advantage of the popularity of baseball caps by printing their logos on the front. By the mid-70s, hats were everywhere – on the heads of little leaguers, parents, soldiers, and almost everyone else in the country!

Source: sThe Indianapolis News

Baseball caps were a great way to spread the word about a particular brand. Take for instance West Coast rap labels like Ruthless Records. When they weren’t producing major hits, they were using snapbacks to promote artists like N.W.A., 2Pac, and Snoop Dogg. These baseball caps were enormously successful in kicking off a trend that still exists to this day.

Take a look at some of the brands that found success advertising with baseball caps!

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 carrying messages about 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?

You don’t have to be a slugger to love a baseball cap. In fact, an article in The New York Times by Troy Patterson calls the baseball cap “The Common Man’s Crown.” Fishers love them for a day on the lake, golfers wear 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. Companies can always turn to these advertising giveaways to promote their brands.

An article in The New York Times by Troy Patterson calls the baseball cap, “The Common Man’s Crown.” Fishers love them for a day on the lake, golfers wear them as they hit the course, parents put them on for running errands, and kids grab them to go play outside. Baseball hats are a $3 billion industry, and the numbers keep growing every year. They’ve always been knocking it out of the park!

Stats for Success

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

More than 40 million baseball caps are sold every year.

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

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

The Bottom Line

Baseball has been big business for over 50 years. A simple logoed cap has the power to build a community and show team loyalty. Whether you’re swinging for the fences on a community softball league or looking to bring more awareness to your fundraiser, these giveaways should always be top of mind. You don’t have to be in the major leagues to score from branded baseball caps!

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

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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 http://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/