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History of hat making

History of hat manufacture in Nový Jičín

From the very beginning of their existence humans desired to protect their heads and bodies, which resulted in creation of clothing and its components, which includes head coverings. Development of head coverings and hats has been unusually varied throughout the whole of human history and the same applies to their manufacture. Hats and other head coverings have been manufactured since medieval times in Nový Jičín using various materials and various manufacturing technologies. Specific professions and procedures originated, which were concerned with manufacture of women’s cotton headscarves, men’s leather caps, military iron helmets, religious head coverings, Swiss berets, village caps made from polypore mushrooms or felt products, probably derived from the Turkish word “kalabak” or the Tartar word “kalpak” = kloubouk (the Czech word for hat).

The basic technology for manufacturing felt hats has been known since mediaeval times. It was also adopted by mediaeval milliners who appear in the records of town ledgers dating from the 16th century in Nový Jičín. Prokop Klobúčník of Nový Jičín is mentioned as early as 1506. In spite of the modest scope of production the articles of the Nový Jičín Milliners Guild were confirmed on 7th May 1630 by the town council, headed by Burgomaster George Schindler. Their content is made up 14 key points, which became the rules and conditions for existence of the society. In spite of the modest number of thirteen registered masters in 1757, the millinery industry was an essential craft in the town. The turning point of its existence was the uniform legislation applying of guilds under the reign of Empress Marie Therese, which resulted in issue of regulated articles for milliners for the whole of Moravia.

In 1799 the young milliner Johann Nepomuk Hückel (1779 – 1835) from Fulnek was accepted as a member of the Milliner’s Guild in Nový Jičín. He opened his first workshop on the Courierring in house no. 749. Subsequently he moved his operations to Dolnobranská ulice, where his brother Augustine Hückel (1786 – 1848) became involved in production. Their workshops were merged into one manufactory in 1848 under the management of Augustine’s son Johann Albert Hückel (1814 – 1880), who immediately initiated an overall transformation. After his sons, August and Johann Hückel, returned from training in Europe, they implemented new innovations from abroad into the manufacturing process. They were the first in the Habsburg Monarchy to introduce a steam machine into the process. The new findings and technologies resulted in expansion of the production area and naturally also a subsequent increase in demand. Consequently Johann Albert Hückel decided to build a new branch in 1867 in the southern suburbs of the town, which was equipped with the most modern machines and became the main centre of the whole millinery company in 1869.

In 1868 the Hutfabrik Johann Hückel’s Söhne Company was established and acquired an extensive market on world markets and also received many awards for its own products at world exhibitions during the second half of the 19th century. Establishment of a mechanical hair clipping room was an important step within the scope of the manufacturing technology. Construction of additional plants, a new large steam boiler transported from Brno and highly qualified workers made the factory an enterprise of primary importance. At the end of the 19th century the company employed over 1,200 workers and was practically fully self-sufficient; in 1893 it was awarded the title of Imperial and Royal Commercial Supplier. The success of Hückel’s factory also inspired entrepreneur Anton Peschel (1823 – 1885), the owner of a steam mill in Šenov by Nový Jičín. Peschel purchased building land plots near the Šenov distillery in 1869 where he built his own hat factory between 1870 – 1871. After his death in 1885 his wife Luisa Peschelová (1845 – 1920) took on the running of the factory and subsequently achieved excellent success with her sons in the field of manufacture of hats under the Anton Peschel brand.

The beginning of the 20th century is linked to extraordinary economic results by both large millinery companies in Nový Jičín as well as establishment of a third hat factory. The shareholder company Böhm & Schlesinger was established in July 1912 and later continued manufacture of “šišák“ hats and other products under the name of the Böhm Brothers. For these purposes two large factories were established in the north-east suburbs of Nový Jičín, which chiefly focused on manufacture of wool hats exported worldwide and manufacture of modern millinery machinery. The Böhm Brothers factory was purchased by the Hückel Company in 1941 during the stirring post-war years. Small entrepreneurs were also active in the town at the same time as these three large hat producers, linking their activities to specific technological manufacturing activities. All of them experienced a boom period in hat manufacture during the nineteen twenties and thirties, when over four thousand individuals were employed in the millinery industry in Nový Jičín. In 1938 the Nový Jičín factory of the Hutfabrik Johann Hückel’s Söhne Company owned approximately a thousand various machines, operated four steam boilers and a 1600 kW turbine, which required three wagons of coal every day. The end of the Second World War drastically affected the nationality of the local inhabitants. Displacement of German nationals resulted in the local factories losing labourer professions as well as their owners. The TONAK, National Enterprise Company, which was registered in Nový Jičín, was the result of nationalisation and subsequent merger of twenty-one millinery factories in 1945. Its markets during the totalitarian nineteen fifties still included more than 53 countries worldwide, which were chiefly used to the Hückel brand. The presence of the seat of the primary millinery factory in Nový Jičín resulted in establishment of the Millinery Museum, which later became part of todays Nový Jičín Region Museum. Cooperation between these two institutions resulted in the fact that the museum collection and the permanent exhibition of hats and head coverings titled “Leave it on your head“ are one of the most extensive in the world.

The Velvet Revolution and the end of the Communist Regime introduced new directions in hat production in Nový Jičín. The TONAK a.s. Joint Stock Company followed onto the 200-year tradition of hat manufacture in Nový Jičín. The manufacturing activities of the factory in Nový Jičín now focus on production of wool and fur semi-finished products and hats. The high number of work operations, technological variability and proportion of quality hand crafting is a mark of perfection. Today the renowned TONAK brand, the traditional Hückel brand and the FEZKO and Fezco Quality brands for knitted products, are a guarantee of excellent quality and stability on the market.