Women got the vote. Prohibition began. The National Football League was founded. And, the construction industry was forever changed by the invention of an often overlooked but significant worker safety advancement – the hard hat. And, while perhaps not considered a great technological invention now, at the time, the invention of the hard hat revolutionized and galvanized the businesses and the people behind the American industrial boom.

The hard hat comes from a Kentucky-based, family-owned company called Bullard, which was founded in 1898 in San Francisco by Edward Dickinson Bullard. The company originally supplied carbide lamps and other mining equipment to gold and copper miners in California, Nevada and Arizona. When Edward Dickinson Bullard’s son, E.W. Bullard returned from World War I, he combined his understanding of customer needs and his experience with his doughboy army helmet to design a protective headgear for miners.

“Hard Boiled” hat

The “Hard Boiled®” hat was introduced in 1919.

“The original ‘Hard Boiled® hat’ was manufactured out of steamed canvas, glue, a leather brim, and black paint. My great-grandfather built a suspension device into what became the worlds’ first, commercially available, industrial head-protection device,” CEO Wells Bullard explains. “We may take it for granted today, but we are proud to be celebrating 100 years of an innovation that truly helped our country grow and keep the hard working women and men who built it more safe. Our vision is to advance human safety to enable long, healthy, productive lives through innovative solutions.”

During the 1930s, while the Golden Gate Bridge was being constructed in San Francisco, Bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss contacted Bullard to request that the company adapt its hats to protect bridge workers – it was also the first area ever designated as a “hard hat area.” Bullard not only supplied hard hats for this project, but its engineers also designed an original supplied air respirator for workers responsible for blasting the steelwork prior to the application of the Bridge’s International Orange paint.

In 1938, Bullard designed and manufactured the first aluminum hard hat. “Even today, a few clients still have their 25-year-old aluminum hard hat,” Bullard said. “These hats have one serious drawback, aluminum is a great conductor of electricity.”

In 1982, the standard hard hat changed again with the incorporation of a non-slip ratchet suspension with a knob in the back for simple sizing.

The hard hat today is produced from polyethylene plastic making it lightweight, durable, easy to mold and non-conductive to electricity.

Bullard is a manufacturer of other personal protective equipment and systems that are marketed worldwide, including thermal imagers, firefighter and rescue helmets, supplied air respirators, powered air-purifying respirators, and air quality equipment.