The image of the hard hat is one that is ubiquitous with construction sites across the world.
Although today it’s difficult to imagine one without the other, there was a time when the hard hat was a new commodity for workers. Thanks to the ideas of National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Edward W. Bullard, the hard hat forever changed workplace safety.
Turning Observation into Action
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Bullard served in the U.S. Army during World War I. Upon returning home, he returned to work at the E.D. Bullard Co. in San Francisco, a company founded in 1898 by his father to sell carbide lamps and mining equipment. Bullard knew that a common hardship for miners was that they lacked quality head protection from falling debris. Recalling the “doughboy” helmets he and his fellow soldiers wore in France, Bullard was inspired to create a safety helmet based on the same design for miners and other workers.
Bullard’s invention was first named the Hard Boiled® Hat because of how steam was used in the manufacturing process. Alternating layers of canvas and glue were steamed for temporary pliability before being glued together in overlapping layers. The inside and outside shell were then covered with water-resistant shellac. Finally, leather was added to the front and rear brims.
Becoming an Industry Standard
The use of the hard hat in work zones soared during the major construction projects of the 1930s.
The Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam were two defining industrial projects of the Great Depression era, and their construction required a significant amount of risk. Golden Gate Bridge engineer Joseph B. Strauss was committed to implementing new safety standards and contacted Bullard to request that the company adapt its hats to protect bridge workers. In order to mitigate the danger of falling rivets from the bridge project, Bullard transformed the original mining helmet into a durable industrial hard hat. This led to the Golden Gate Bridge project becoming known as America’s first designated “Hard Hat Area.”
The significance of the hard hat has been reinforced over the decades. Established in 1971 , the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) required workers to wear hard hats on job sites. Since then, the number of worker deaths has significantly decreased, confirming the importance of head protection in the workplace.
In 2019, Bullard Co. celebrated 100 years since the invention of the hard hat. The hard hat has become both a symbolic and physical representation of safety standards, and it has undoubtedly saved countless lives throughout the past century. What began as an observation by Bullard was then infused by his life experience, leading him to create an invaluable piece of equipment for workers worldwide.
Edward Bullard will be celebrated as one of our newest Inductees at the 48th Annual NIHF Induction Ceremony. Look for more blogs introducing our inspiring 2020 Inductees at invent.org.