Happy Anniversary bailey! #bailey100

Here's to 100 Years of Bailey

The Beginnings

The founding of the Bailey Hat Company is the story of a great American who had a vision and possessed the pioneer spirit, indomitable will, skill and determination to succeed.

George S. Bailey was born in Salina, Kansas in 1897. Even as a youngster, George was interested in hats. He determined at a young age to get into the hat business. George knew that to succeed in business he must not only know how to make hats but also to refine his skills in business management. To this end he did his undergraduate work at Kansas Wesleyan University and then the University of Kansas where he rounded out his expertise in business administration.

George's first job was with the Caradine Hat Company in St. Louis, Missouri.  At that time St. Louis was becoming the unofficial hat manufacturing hub outside of the East Coast.  Carrying out his dream to get into the headwear business, George began as a salesman, and quickly moved up into sales management.  He built upon the knowledge he had learned in school, refining his sales skills which would prove to be hugely helpful in the future.  When looking back at those early years in headwear, George reminisced his belief that people were not always able to buy the kind of hat they wanted or needed – but had to settle on what was being sold, which was something he aimed to change.  He believed that the hat-business was being dictated by East Coast hat makers who didn’t understand the buying needs and whims of those living west of the Mississippi, and that people in the West were being either ignored or not fully appreciated.  George saw this as a huge opportunity, and one he was determined to seize.

Los Angeles, A Land of Opportunity

With this great vision in mind, to provide for the headwear needs of those living in the American West, George moved to Los Angeles where he saw this huge opportunity to be most attainable.  To this end, in 1922 George opened his own hat company, the George S. Bailey Hat Company, which began in a 2,000 square-foot building.  

Everyone agrees that there has been nothing quite like the 1920’s, often referred to as the “Roaring 20’s”, and Los Angeles was a boom town in every sense of the word. Oil was being discovered all over the Los Angeles basin and the extraction of this natural resource was lining the pockets of Western businessmen. The movie industry was seeing a sizable growth, particularly in Los Angeles, during this time, so much so that in 1923 it has been reported that the motion picture industry accounted for approximately one-fifth of the annual manufacturing business of all California, with most of it centered in Los Angeles. These were the days of Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Tom Mix, days immortalized by the movie industry.

Bailey Hat Company's Early Los Angeles factoryBailey Hat Company's Early Los Angeles factory

The 1920’s was also a period of great growth in farming and ranching for the Los Angeles area. The huge Ranches (cattle ranches) that had long been established in Southern California got even larger. Los Angeles became a veritable human melting pot encompassing practically every ethnic group, social custom, and style of dress in the world.

Such was the setting of the area in which George Bailey had chosen to establish his hat business. And the opportunities to prove his skills just kept coming. The oil field workers wanted a particular style of hat to fill their needs, the farm workers needed a hat that suited their requirements, while city dwellers desired a hat to their liking. And then of course the cowboy's requirements were totally different from all the others! The huge demand for hats of various styles and designs presented George Bailey with more than adequate opportunities to grow his company and prosper.  The timing was impeccable.  But indeed, this huge opportunity also presented him with sizable challenges.  And George Bailey proved to be up to the task!

Listening to the Customer, A Great Business Practice

Men came from their ranches, farms, oil fields and city streets looking for Bailey the Hat Maker.  George S. Bailey was becoming famous, and his name was recognized near and far by those seeking a good durable hat.  And this fame was not coming only through Bailey’s advertising and promotional schemes but was the result of word of mouth spreading from satisfied customers.   Good news travels fast, and there is no substitute for fame made the old fashion way, by one person telling another.

Just like other business entrepreneurs with vision, Mr. Bailey faced up to every challenge that came his way, and in most cases, he exceeded them. His desire to "make the best hat possible" was realized not only by his skills as a hat maker but also by his ability to listen to and to draw wisdom from his customers. George always encouraged his customers to discuss, and in precise detail, the kind and quantity of work they did, so that he could better satisfy their need. In many cases he allowed them to design of help design their own hats.  His ability to tune in to the individualized needs of his potential customers was a key to his unbelievable success.

This commitment to listen to our customers continues to this day.  Bailey 1922 is committed to meeting the needs of our diverse customer base and listening closely to them.

Expansion and New Product Development

Gary Cooper promotional card for Bailey "Five-Star" hatsGary Cooper promotional card for Bailey "Five-Star" hats
Gary Cooper promotional card for Bailey "Five-Star" hats

The Santa Barbara Sombrero was a unique design with a flat crown and a flat brim with a ball fringe edge. The ball fringe edge consisted of many small cloth balls hanging from a short string so that the balls would bounce when the head moved up and down. This hat was so popular that people would line up at the factory to buy one rather than go to a hat store.

It seems like the time was ripe for growth.  In 1927 Bailey purchased the Cohn-Asher Hat Company and expanded their felt hat line. In 1928 Bailey designed another new hat, the Santa Barbara Sombrero, especially for the grand old Fiesta which was held annually in Santa Barbara, California.

Expansion required more space, so in 1935 the Bailey Hat Company moved into a 6,000 square-foot building at 939 S. Los Angeles Street. And, in 1940 the company again outgrew its facilities and moved into a 24,000 square-foot plant at 716 S. Los Angeles Street.  What never changed was the location, Los Angeles!  Focused on LA, the company’s success in the movie industry continued to grow.  Bailey became synonymous with Hollywood.  And the A-List movie stars of the day included Gary Cooper and Cary grant counted on the Bailey Hat Company to outfit them all.

Seeing need for hats made from cloth and not just felt and straw, Bailey pioneered the Western cloth hat in 1941, giving his company a complete and diversified line of headgear.

New Hat Designs for an Evolving Customer Base

In 1949 Bailey added another milestone to its success story by acquiring the rights to make the Hopalong Cassidy Hat -- the hat that William Boyd, the Hopalong Cassidy himself, had made famous in his Western movies. The hat was an immediate success and gained huge notoriety from virtually one minute to another. Enormous orders began to arrive from all parts of the country, so much so that orders of 500 dozen from large retail outlets were not at all unusual.  The hat business was indeed booming!

Vintage Bailey of Hollywood Hopalong Cassidy HatVintage Bailey of Hollywood Hopalong Cassidy Hat

In 1951 Earl Young, factory supervisor, came up with the idea of inserting wire into the edge of the hat brim so that a person could reshape and individualize his hat as desired. The Bailey "U-Rollit" was born.   Western straw hats up to that point had been primarily cheap palm straw hats or relatively expensive Panama hats. The palm straws were durable and would hold shape and the Panamas were elegant looking but not durable. This new invention opened up even more opportunity.

Bailey’s "U-Rollit" became an instant success. It revolutionized the Western hat industry offering attractive styles and patterns to Westerners, and at the same time giving them a rugged hat that would hold up well under any conditions. Other hat manufacturers copied the "U-Rollit" and Western straw hat sales grew tremendously to become the largest volume item in the hat industry.

When Disneyland opened its doors to the public in 1955, Bailey received a monopoly on the "Mousekateer" hats that were sold at the park and throughout the country.  At the Mousekateer peak, the Bailey Hat Company made over a million hats per year. Bailey also made the official Disney Davey Crockett caps. Once again, the prestige of the company was tied to California through its presence at Disneyland.

Bailey U-Rollit Product Hang TagBailey U-Rollit Product Hang Tag
Bailey U-Rollit Product Hang Tag

And Even More Expansion

Bailey "Makes a Western Hat" Promotional FlyerBailey "Makes a Western Hat" Promotional Flyer
Bailey "Makes a Western Hat" Promotional Flyer

Continuing with his expansion, in 1963 Bailey bought the Bandera Hat Company of Fort Worth, Texas and moved all their felt hat making equipment there. Good steady growth in felt hat sales forced Bailey to move its Fort Worth factory into a new and larger location and once again doubled its space in the new building. In 1969 Bailey outgrew its Los Angeles facilities at 716 S. Los Angeles Street and moved to a modern and highly efficient 70,000 square-foot plant in California’s San Fernando Valley.

A Succession Plan; Key to a Successful Business

The success of any great business requires passing the business down from one generation to the another, and the Bailey Hat Company was no exception.  George S. Bailey’s son, Charles "Chuck" Bailey, had learned the ropes of hat making since childhood, having started his work in the factory as a schoolboy.  Following in his father’s footsteps, Chuck also valued education and recognized that what can be learned in school is also essential when creating a successful and sustainable business. To this end, Chuck pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in business administration and went on to receive an M.B.A. from the Harvard Graduate School of Business.  After finishing school, Chuck worked for several years in the sales territory learning the ropes and listening to customers. Later became Bailey Hat Company Vice-President.  Upon his father’s retirement, in 1966 he took on the role as President of the company.

Chuck was very prepared and well qualified to take over his father’s business.  Keeping the business in the same family assured that the company would maintain its unique heritage, and especially its commitment to listening to the customer, and responding to the ever-changing needs of emerging consumers.  Chuck not only maintained the Bailey goal of excellence in quality and customer satisfaction but has also kept abreast of current needs and desires of a rapidly changing world.  He took the company to even greater heights until his own retirement years later.  Both father and son were visionaries in the headwear industry and created a heritage that continues to this day.

In the early 1980’s Bailey was the manufacturer of the official National Football League (NFL) Western hat and made a Western hat for Lou Ferigno, the "Incredible Hulk," which is probably one of the largest hats ever made to be worn by a living person, size 8¼.

On June 21, 1980, not only the family but many, many people throughout the country mourned the passing of George S. Bailey. While Mr. Bailey had been a very successful businessman, he had always given much more than he had received and was active in many civic and trade organizations.  His legacy was one to be proud of.

Chuck Bailey presenting horsemanship clinician Buck Brannaman with a new hat in 1990Chuck Bailey presenting horsemanship clinician Buck Brannaman with a new hat in 1990
Chuck Bailey presenting horsemanship clinician Buck Brannaman with a new hat in 1990

Acquisition and Positioning for the Future:

The Bollman Hat Company, America’s oldest hat factory and today employee-owned, acquired the Bailly family of brands in 1986.  The synergy between the two companies could not have been stronger. Sharing many of the same values and the desire to understand the customer’s needs, and the desire to produce the best hat possible, this acquisition was a perfect move for both entities.  

Bollman Hat Company's talented and dedicated employee-owners have taken great pride in designing, developing, and producing quality products while providing world class service for their customers.  Now they could do this for Bailey product too.  The Bailey innovative spirit lives on with Bollman.  Our Litefelt®, Raindura, and Super Velour are just some of the Bollman innovations that have made their way into the Bailey’s Hat offerings.  Hats off to the Bailey Hat Company and its long history of excellence.

Here’s to 100 Years!  #bailey100