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What is a Ranger Hat?

Melissa Wiley
Melissa Wiley

The ranger hat, also known as the lemon squeezer or Montana Peak, has evolved over the centuries as a symbol of military and civilian service. Today the hat is perhaps most recognizable as worn by the Smokey the Bear, the enduring mascot of the U.S. Forest Service and iconic image of the National Park Service. The felt hat is marked in appearance by a broad brim and high crown that is pinched into four symmetrical quadrants. First specified for Park Service employees in the 1920 uniform regulations, the ranger hat has often been referred to as a Stetson.

The National Park Service’s 1920 uniform regulations were the first to specify use of the ranger hat, although historical evidence indicates that rangers were wearing versions of the regulated hat prior to this time. The 1932 regulations further detailed the hat’s design and made it the standard headpiece for use in all national parks and national monuments. In 1959, the National Park Service introduced the straw hat, which remains as standard as the felt hat to this day.

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

The origins of the ranger hat date back to the 1840s, when military servicemen stationed in the American West began wearing civilian-style hats instead of the more formal shakos then common among military personnel. The Montana Peak came about during the Spanish-American War, when soldiers fashioned the standard central crease into quadrants to prevent rain from being stored in the hat. The Army officially adopted the new design in 1911.

Throughout World War I, the ranger hat was softer and nimbler than today’s hat. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the felt was considerably stiffened with a flat, unbending brim. The necessity of wearing helmets in World War I rendered the French overseas cap more popular, and by 1942 the military no longer issued the ranger hat to all troops.

In 1896, Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement, came upon the ranger hat through American Scout Frederick Russell Burnham during an African campaign in the Second Matabele War. Baden-Powell subsequently introduced the hat to the Boy Scouts, with whom it is still strongly associated. The ranger hat is also commonly known as the sergeant hat owing to its persistent use among drill sergeants. The hat is also frequently worn by US state highway police as well.

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