History of the Hard Hat

In the early days of shipbuilding, workers covered their hats with tar and used the sun to cure them. From 1914 to 1918, thousands of soldiers died during World War 1. However, many survived thanks to the protection that helmets provided from bullets, debris, and shrapnel. For many soldiers, the helmet allowed them to return home. 

One lieutenant in the American Army, Edward W. Bullard, noticed this and upon returning home began developing a safety hat for the postwar industrial world. In 1919, Bullard patented the “hard-boiled hat” made of steamed canvas, glue, and black paint. As a result, the U.S. Navy commissioned Bullard to create a shipyard protective cap that began the widespread use of hard hats. A few years later, internal suspension increased the hat’s effectiveness. 

What Is A Hard Hat?

A hard hat is a type of helmet to protect the head from injury due to impact, falling objects, rain, and electric shock among other threats. Suspension bands absorb any impact and spread it evenly over the surface of the hard hat. This is similar, but not the same thing as a bump cap

Notable Improvements

  • 1930: MSA introduced the non-conductive thermoplastic, reinforced Bakelite-based skillguard Helmet. This helmet could withstand high temperatures up to 350 F without burning the worker. Additionally, it was safe around high voltage electricity
    • Projects such as the Hoover Dam and Golden State Bridge in the 30s mandated the use of hard hats!
  • 1940: fiberglass comes into use
  • 1950: injection molded thermoplastics become commonly used, MSA offers Shockgard Helmets to protect linemen from electrical shock up to 10,000 volts
  • 1960: MSA released the first Topguard Helmet, the first polycarbonate hard hat. Additionally, the first V-Guard helmet is introduced, which is the most common hard hat in the United States today.
  • 1990: ANSI allows the development of ventilated hard hats. Accessories such as face shields, earmuffs, visors, radios, cameras, etc. come into production

Source: https://news.whitecap.com/hard-hat-evolution/

Evidently, the design of hard hats has significantly improved over the years. First made of metal, then Bakelite composite, fiberglass, and molded thermoplastics, innovation has driven enhanced worker experience and safety. 

Use of Hard Hats

Today, there are many different styles, accessories, and colors that hard hats are made in, each with its own meaning. For example, a company logo may be included on a hat. Colors may differentiate different jobs. For example, yellow may be worn by general laborers while blue may be worn by electricians and carpenters. These differentiators allow you to quickly find necessarily people in emergency situations and avoid accidents. 

Safety Standards

A hard hat must meet three basic requirements

  1. Resist penetration by objects 
  2. Absorb shock
  3. Be water-proof and composed of slow-burning materials 

To confirm if your hard hat meets the criteria, check out the information inside of the hat. Additionally, check out this resource for further information and this blog to learn more about the differences between Bump Caps and Hard Hats in regards to safety. 

Who Uses Hard Hats?

Hard Hats are used in landscaping, maintenance, construction, oil and gas, and more. Falling, flying, swinging, and rolling objects are amongst the most common causes of head injuries.

What Does A Head Injury Imply?

Even small hits to the head can have lasting effects on your health. Therefore, if you get injured at work, be sure to get it checked out by a medical professional. Do not become complacent on work sites. Wear a hard hat at any time where there is potential for head injury from falling objects. Additionally, be aware of your surroundings, implement controls, and follow the safety guidelines. 


As innovation continues to advance the construction industry, improvements to hard hats are sure to continue. However, to increase focus on safety, management time must be sacrificed elsewhere. Work with us to automate your construction admin so that you can focus on what really matters without compromising quality. Book a demo today!

Chloe is a student at Western University who joined ContractComplete for an Intrapreneurship through Venture for Canada. She is currently in her fourth year completing a dual degree with Ivey and Anthropology. Outside of the classroom, you can find her at the dance studio, buying more house plants, or exploring her passion for entrepreneurship.

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