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What is a Campaign Hat?

Stacy C.
Stacy C.

A campaign hat is a style of headwear that features a broad brim and a high crown pinched at the corners, to create four symmetrical divots. These can often be seen on drill sergeants, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Boy Scouts, state police troopers, and the fictional icon Smokey the Bear. The hat should not be confused with a campaign cap, which is a soft cloth wedge style, worn by military personnel across the world.

The campaign hat first appeared in the 1840s. American army troops picked up the style from civilians while they were posted in the west of that country. They brought the style back with them, and it was adopted for official use in Army gear in the early 1870s. At that time, a black felt version was the only type of campaign hat approved for military use.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

When the military began using the style, there was only one crease on the crown of the hat. After it was discovered that the single crease tended to catch rainwater, soldiers often pressed more creases into the hat to let the water run off. This is how the symmetrical four-divot look, called the Montana Peak, was created. During the World War II era, the United States Army further adapted the hat by adding various colored cords around the crown that denoted rank.

This style of hat is also used by rangers in local and regional parks, as well as in U.S. National Parks. This likely evolved because national park rangers were originally cavalry troopers, and, as such, wore a campaign hat. In turn, when the U.S. Forest Service debuted their mascot, Smokey the Bear, on August 9, 1944, they gave him part of their uniform — the campaign hat. Due to Smokey's popularity and fame, the style is occasionally called a Smokey Bear hat.

The Boy Scouts of America also use the hat as part of their uniforms. It was worn by the men who founded the scouting movement, Robert Baden Powell and Frederick Russell Burnham. Baden Powell wrote a handbook called Scouting for Boys and included a sketch of the ideal scouting uniform, which included a campaign hat. It has been part of the official Boy Scouts uniform ever since.

This type of hat is often referred to as a Stetson, and was in fact made by the John B. Stetson company. A Stetson and the Montana-peaked campaign hat are different, however, and should not be referred to interchangeably. Campaign hats are sometimes also called lemon squeezers because the peak resembles the kitchen gadget used to juice citrus fruits.

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