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THE HISTORY OF THE PANAMA HAT

The fine thread straw hat has a long and storied history in Ecuador, South America. It emerged from Jipijapa, Manabi and from there was exported in the 18th century.

In 1849, Manuel Alfaro, a Spanish merchant, took over 200,000 hats to Panama in an effort to expand trade into the North American continent.

When the Panama Canal was being built by the Americans, the popularity of the straw Hat took off in the world and the Panama Hat name became officially popular in November of 1906 when President Theodore Roosvelt visited the Panama Canal and pictures of him wearing a Panama Hat traveled the world and were widely published.

 

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President Theodore Roosevelt, distinct in his white linen suit and Panama Hat, surrounded by workers as he examines “the Cut” on his “inspection tour” of the Panama Canal Zone, 1906.

 

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President Roosevelt’s ultimate goal was to observe every aspect of work on the canal. He traveled slowly by train with Mrs. Roosevelt (seen protected from mosquitoes by a veil of netting, gloves, and long sleeves). 

 

Hat Making

The straw used to make the Panama Hat comes from the Toquilla Palm, a plant grown in the coastal region of Ecuador.

Each plant is carefully chosen and only the young stems are harvested for production. During harvest, a precise machete cut is used to prevent any harm to the living plant and to ensure the resource is renewable.

 

The weaving of the Panama Hat is considered an art. It is a pure manual process that does not employ many tools beyond the skill and hands of the weaver. It is such a rare skill that the art of weaving the Panama Hat has been added to the UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage list.

 

Once the weaving process is finished, the hat is not considered complete until a ribbon has been added.
The ribbon is a small detail, but essential for designation as a true Panama Hat.