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NEWS > JULY 2019

The Hard Hat Turns 100

“The company is 121 years old – but it was 100 years back that my great-grandfather invented the hard hat in 1919,” explains Wells Bullard, CEO of the Bullard Company. “His hat, crafted from steamed canvas, with a leather brim, and with shellac and black paint, was a fairly radical safety strategy at the time. “The process of steaming the hat was also referred to as hard-boiling. This procedure made the hat very rigid but at the same time rather flexible.”

hard hat 100
America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area” was the construction of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, where workers wore Bullard Hard Hats.

by Peter Hildebrandt

The E.D. Bullard Company was founded by Edward Dickinson Bullard in 1898 in San Francisco, CA, where the firm sold carbide lamps and mining equipment to gold and copper miners. The miners used to wear a soft derby, similar to a baseball cap, according to Edward D. “Jed” Bullard, the company’s Owner/Chairman and the great-grandson of the founder.

After the founder’s son, Edward W. Bullard (1899-1963), returned from World War I, he used his experiences with “Doughboy” army helmets in the design of protective headgear for miners and then the entire construction industry. E.W. Bullard’s original 1919 Hard Boiled® Hat was manufactured out of canvas, glue, leather, and paint and included a suspension device. It was considered the first “hard hat,” which revolutionized construction and mine worker safety.

That model lasted until the 1940s when they started to make the hats out of aluminum. The 1950s saw the crafting of hats from plastic. “We do use leather in some of our products, but have gotten away from canvas, obviously,” adds Bullard. “And now we use plastic for the shell, very lightweight but also needing to stay on workers’ heads because they’re often in very hazardous environments as well.”

Keeping the hat on the head only occurs if the hat is very comfortable, therefore lightweight materials must be used. Balanced parts and ease of use come into play in hat design too. The ratchet knob on the back of the hat allows users to adjust their hats so it stays securely on their heads. Different plastics are used for that feature.

Hard hats and face protection are now big items manufactured by Bullard; breathing protection using respirators is part of their lineup. Their thermal imaging technology is life-saving for firefighters struggling through thick smoke. Their headgear protects the most critical technological seer circuitry there is, the human brain. Thermal imaging allows determination of what is colder or warmer than their environment.

“It’s an awesome responsibility to be protecting people’s breathing zones,” said Bullard. “Respirators can be used in power painting and pharmaceutical manufacturing. We protect a lot of painters and abrasive blasters with our respiratory products.” “Much of our success over the years can be attributed to how we watch and listen to our customers. That is how we’ve remained relevant for over five generations and we try to understand what safety concerns workers are facing. Our vision is to advance human safety, maintaining productive lives through innovative solutions. To do that you need to understand what dangers your – our – customers or clients are facing.”


During the Great Depression years, the Golden Gate Bridge construction site was America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.” The project’s chief engineer, Joseph B. Strauss, shared a vision with Bullard that the bridge construction site could be a safer environment for the worker. Falling rivets, which could cause serious injury, were a grave concern, so Bullard transformed the mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat.

The project faced a second problem with the steel coming by train from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The steel had oxidized and needed to be sand-blasted before being painted. Bullard designed a simple sand-blast respirator helmet, which consisted of a hard hat with a bag over it. There was a window in front to see through, and fresh air was pumped into it.

Today, the Golden Gate Bridge still protects its workers with Bullard hard hats and respiratory protection equipment and protects workers around the world with innovative safety products (including hard hats, respiratory protection, fire and rescue helmets, and thermal imaging cameras). Bullard’s worldwide headquarters, from which its products are designed, engineered, manufactured, and marketed, is in Cynthiana, Kentucky. The company is family-owned, and the fifth generation (great-great granddaughter of the founder), Wells Bullard, is now Bullard’s CEO.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that we were a safety company before safety was on everyone’s mind,” says Bullard. “Our company was worried about safety in 1898, working to protect workers in hazardous environments even before it was mandatory. “Joseph Strauss didn’t have to have hard hats on his bridge project; he didn’t have to think that way in terms of protecting his workers. But he believed in safety and, in partnering with my great-grandfather and using Bullard’s safety equipment, protected his workers. That is a great story.”

Though the Golden Gate Bridge project was not the first to use hard hats onsite, it was the first to require them and to be designated a hard hat area. After the use of canvas and aluminum, in the 1940s hard hats came to be made from fiberglass. In the 1950s were the first plastic hard hats. In the 1960s and 1970s plastics became better and this material was commonplace for use in the hats. OSHA regulations went into place in 1971 with more coming on line throughout the rest of the decade.

Besides hard hats and supplied-air respirators, Bullard manufactures fire and rescue helmets and powered air-purifying respirators. In 1998, Bullard added a new product line: thermal imaging cameras. Bullard’s Thermal Imaging Cameras help firefighters find victims, identify hot spots, and locate exits by allowing them to “see through smoke” with infrared technology. Durability, comfort, safety, quality and innovation are hallmarks of every Bullard product line. After operating for more than a century, Bullard is committed to excellence in the eyes of our customers and proud to produce products that are widely known among users to be the “best in class.”


After hard hats made from aluminum and fiberglass, plastic became the standard material used in their construction. Bullard was one of the first manufacturers to inject thermoplastic into a mold to produce a hard hat. In 1982, the standard hard hat changed again. The director of safety at Bechtel Corporation, one of Bullard’s major clients, felt that hard hats didn’t have the proper suspension for field work. In response, Bullard introduced a revolutionary new industrial helmet, marking the beginning of a new era in head protection safety and standards.

The new design incorporated a non-slip ratchet-suspension with a knob in the back for simple sizing. Within the industry, the hat became known as the “3000R.” The 3000R was produced from polyethylene plastic, making it lightweight, durable, easy to mold and non-conductive to electricity. The plastic was treated with an ultra-violet inhibitor which helped the hats weather the outdoor environment.

Bullard redesigned the 3000R and introduced the C30 presenting a significant advancement in worker comfort. Enhanced with an upgraded suspension system, the C30 incorporates easy-lock snaps for simple installation, an improved FlexGear® for easy height adjustment, and an enhanced brow pad. Offering the most advanced comfort in the market, the C30 has become known as today’s standard yellow hard hat.

Unprecedented changes have occurred in the last ten years. “We are able to transfer knowledge from different industries and applications, incorporating innovation from one area into another while staying focused on providing value-added solutions for very specific applications in hazardous work environments.

The AboveView Hard Hat is the latest addition to the company’s line of hard hats and was engineered with a see-through replaceable visor to help workers see potential hazards above them. In addition, the AboveView Hard hat increases a workers’ peripheral vision by more than 50% helping workers avoid potential dangers. “We designed the AboveView to give workers added protection from the hazardous they don’t see,” said Bullard. “Finding innovative solutions for the way workers work is our passion.”

In 1972, the company moved its production operations from Sausalito, California, to Cynthiana, Kentucky, for improved transportation costs and a more accessible workforce. Within 20 years the company headquarters moved to Kentucky as well. Bullard is proud to manufacture right here in the U.S.A. and is a global exporter of safety equipment.

Now, Bullard – still a global leader in personal protective equipment – announced recently its plans for a year-long celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of the company’s invention of the hard hat. This company invented the Hard Boiled® Hat in 1919 and today supplies head protection products to workers worldwide.

A 121-year, fifth-generation, family-owned company, Bullard manufacturers safety products for workers in the Industrial Health and Safety and Emergency Responder markets. The company’s innovative products have protected safety workers worldwide for more than 100 years and include thermal imagers, fire and rescue helmets, head and face protection and respiratory equipment.

“We are proud of the role Bullard has played in revolutionizing the safety industry,” says Bullard. “Our vision to advance human safety to enable long, healthy, productive lives through innovative solutions is our commitment to every customer who chooses a Bullard product. A huge thank you to our most valued customers, employees, distributors, and suppliers for supporting us throughout the years and in the future.”

Hard Boiled® Hat
PHOTO: Edward W. Bullard invents the Hard Boiled® Hat to protect miners from falling objects.


The company is growing and recently added the Bullard Center in Lexington, Kentucky, where research and development, new product development, marketing, and global shared resources collaborate to develop the next generation of Bullard products and services. Bullard has offices in Singapore and Germany, as well, to service customers around the world. Bullard remains a global leader in personal protective equipment and systems designed to help save lives.

The 1890s were not a time we recall as years in which the focus was on safety, benefits or rights for workers. But with its founding in 1898, Bullard pioneered the protection of workers in the nascent areas of Industrial Health and Safety as well as work-related emergencies.

In the ensuing decades, though preceding construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, there was some local area debate about the wisdom of a building a bridge at the Golden Gate Strait – especially from the area’s local ferry boat operators. But the use of hard hats at this challenging work site and countless others ever since has probably never been questioned. Head protection has always been an idea whose time has come.

Bullard planned activities throughout the year to celebrate its centennial anniversary of the invention of the hard hat. On Saturday, January 12, 2019, the company broke a Guinness World Record during halftime of the University of Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt basketball game, supplying 10,000 hard hats to fans attending the UK/Vanderbilt game to break the record for the largest gathering of people wearing safety helmets at an event. A Guinness World Record representative attended the game to verify the record-breaking event.

Nearly 7,500 of those in attendance wore Bullard hard hats. This event achieved the distinction of having the most people wearing the hard hat at a single event and it was a great way to help the nearby community have an awareness of the company’s presence – as well as being focused on the importance of worker safety as well, according to Bullard.


The company has always been in California before their moved in 1970 to Kentucky. “This move to Kentucky enabled us to be closer to more of our customers and to take advantage of the fact that both FedEx and UPS are located in the Blue Grass State too,” adds Bullard. “Our factory, built in Kentucky in 1993, pushed us to move our headquarters to the state. All engineering and senior leadership moved to Cynthiana – a bit northeast of Lexington and south of Cincinnati – in 1993 too.”

The plant now employs more than 200 people who quickly realized there were lots of opportunities for career growth with the company. Longstanding employees now help to leverage automation and technology in concert with employees and the job, according to Wells Bullard. “New technology is not a threat to employment opportunities but a chance to construct products more efficiently and of higher quality.

“At the same time we eliminate ergonomic challenges to increase capacity and then to redeploy our capital to increase value-added functions throughout the organization. We are grateful and proud to have longtime employees – such as one woman now celebrating her 46th anniversary with Bullard and a half dozen people still working with us who’ve not retired. These individuals are in our 40-Year-Club. We also have generations of family talent working at our plant. Daughters-in-law, aunts, uncles, and a number of families spanning three generations work at Bullard. Our employees make Bullard an awesome company. I’m humbled to have the opportunity to lead this company into the next generation,” said Bullard.

For more information about The E.D. Bullard Company and all of their other protective gear products, please visit www.bullard.com.


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