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Fri, 07 Sep 2012 11:51:53 EDT by admin, 113248 views
Cultural Studies paper by Beszedits, Stephen (all papers)
The Origin and History of the Kossuth Hat
At the beginning of December 1851 countless thousands of New Yorkers eagerly awaited the imminent arrival of Lajos Kossuth, Hungary’s leader in the struggle against the ruling Hapsburg dynasty during the revolutionary years of 1848-49. Americans followed the conflict with interest and sympathy. When the movement failed, Kossuth, along with thousands of other patriots, fled to the neighboring Ottoman Empire. On September 10, 1851 Kossuth and some fifty of his companions boarded the warship Mississippi, dispatched by the Fillmore administration. Kossuth disembarked at Gibraltar to pay a quick visit to England. The Mississippi entered New York harbor on November 11 while Kossuth arrived on December 5 aboard the steamer Humboldt. His triumphant entry and official welcome took place on the following day.
Kossuth’s enormous popularity wasn’t lost on local businessmen. They knew that any link of their products and/or services to Kossuth, however tenuous, would boost sales and revenues. None was more aware of the power of aggressive publicity than John N. Genin, the city’s leading hatter. The year before Kossuth’s visit Genin scored a remarkable marketing coup when Jenny Lind, the world-renowned Swedish Nightingale, made her American debut. Kossuth’s arrival presented a similar golden opportunity.
Genin’s storehouse was bursting with a new style of hat – low-crowned, soft, and made of felt – which he hoped would be the next trend-setter among American men. What better way to advertise this hat by having Kossuth, the hero of millions, wear it? Sticking an ostrich feather in the band of the hat, he christened it the Kossuth hat. He then presented the headwear to Kossuth and his entourage as they were about to make their entry into the city. Because Genin was a staunch supporter of the Hungarian cause and since the hat had a pleasing appearance and was comfortable, Kossuth and his companions agreed to wear it.
The hat immediately became a rage. Men – young and old, rich and poor, distinguished and humble – rushed to buy it, newspaper enumerated and extolled its appealing characteristics, and even serious supporters of Kossuth felt obligated to comment on it.
Kossuth’s departure in July 1852 did not diminish the penchant for the hat. Indeed, American men would continue to favor the hat, with and without feathers, for another fifty years or so; an astounding feat considering the vagaries of fashion.
The presentation will discuss the life and career of John N. Genin, his relationship to Kossuth and the other Hungarian exiles, and the reasons advanced by various parties for the longevity of the Kossuth hat. There are a number of discrepancies in the literature regarding certain details about the hat and its endorsement by Kossuth – these will be reviewed and resolved utilizing the most reliable evidence available.
Brief Professional Bio:
Stephen Beszedits obtained his B.Sc. in chemical engineering from Columbia University and his master’s degree, also in engineering, from the University of Toronto. Long involved in historical topics, he has authored some fifty publications during the past decade about Hungarian-Americans and Hungarian-Canadians. Although his primary interest revolves around the participation of Hungarians in the American Civil War, he has also touched upon artists, musicians, physicians, architects and his celebrated grand-uncle, the writer Lajos Zilahy.