Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26th President, was quite the trendsetter! He played a big part in the naming of a popular item that endures to this day: the Panama hat.

In 1903, the United States of America became officially involved with the construction of a cross-country canal in the newly independent nation of Panama. This canal created a direct route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. President Roosevelt had personally overseen a campaign of political and military influence in South America in order to bring the project to fruition. The canal was a big deal for the American government. Roosevelt used his natural ability to drum up publicity by posing for a series of photos at the Panama Canal construction site. The photographic technology was relatively new at the time, and President Roosevelt was not shy about using the press to his advantage.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Panama Canal while it was under construction. He was photographed wearing a white straw fedora, the kind that the workers wore, and started a fashion trend in the US of wearing Panama hats. A hundred years later, those hats are still fashionable, but they aren’t originally from Panama.

These hats, which we now know as Panama hats, actually come from Ecuador. Members of the Alfaro family started exporting the hats in the late 1800s, using Panama as a point of departure to the rest of the world. President Roosevelt’s photo ops at the canal helped to solidify the perception that these hats are Panamanian in origin. Though we now know that’s not actually the case, the name persists. Chalk it up to Teddy’s powerful influence on both politics and culture.

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