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Propeller Hat History
The original propeller beanie was invented in 1947 by science fiction author Ray Faraday Nelson when he was a high school sophomore. This inaugural incarnation was a brimless/visorless skullcap-type beast.
In 1949, an American television series called Time for Beany started to air locally in Los Angeles. Using puppets for characters, this show was so popular with kids that it quickly went national and ran across the country from 1950 to 1955. One of the principal characters was Beany, a plucky young boy who wears a propeller beanie.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the show was revived in animated form as The Beany and Cecil Show.
So when did baseball cap-type propeller beanies with visors appear on the scene? And who was the mastermind behind what was to become the essential accoutrement for "Propellerheads" (scientists and engineers in general, and computer programmers in particular)?
Well, this is where our story takes an interesting turn. Wavy Gravy (born Hugh Nanton Romney in 1936) is an American entertainer and activist for peace. Wavy is best known for his hippie appearance, personality and beliefs. His moniker (the name he uses day-to-day) was given to him by B.B. King at the Texas International Pop Festival in 1969.
As an aside, Wavy was one of Bob Dylan's earliest friends in New York City – they shared a room above the Gaslight cafe in New York City's Greenwich Village where Bob used to play – and Wavy ended up marrying one of Bob's early girlfriends.
Due to the fact that he was frequently being arrested at demonstrations, Wavy decided he would be less likely to be arrested if he dressed as a clown. "Clowns are safe," he said. This explains why Wavy is also the official clown of the American rock band the Grateful Dead (and it's not often you expect to hear someone being introduced in this manner).
Wavy was instrumental in forming the famous Hog Farm commune near Los Angeles in the 1960s. At the first Woodstock Festival, Gravy and the Hog Farm collective acted in the role of the "Please Force" (a reference to their non-intrusive tactics at keeping order along the lines of "Please don't do that; please do this instead"). When asked by the press – who were the first to inform him that he and the rest of the Hog Farm were handling security – what kind of tools he intended to use to maintain order at the event, his response was "Cream pies and seltzer bottles" (both being traditional clown props).
But we digress (as is easy to do when you are dealing with characters like these)... One of Wavy's closest friends, and a fellow member of the Hog Farm commune, was Stacy Samuels. For his birthday party in 1975, Wavy came up with the idea of attaching a propeller to a regular baseball cap, so a friend made him one to celebrate the occasion. The propeller baseball beanie looked so good that Stacy decided to make and sell them, and – still living and working out of the Hog Farm commune, he formed the Interstellar Propeller company in 1976. (When the Internet arrived a couple of decades later, the URL adopted by the company was PropellerHeadHats.com. In addition to unadorned propeller beanies, you can also purchase versions emblazoned with appellations such as "Nerd," "Geek," Hacker," "Propellerhead," and even "Chief Propellerhead.")
Stacy is a celebrity in his own right. It turns out that Stacy is none other than “Banjo Man" of local fame with the San Francisco 49ers football team! For the past 30 years, since the first football game of the 1983 season, following the national anthem, Stacy has roamed the aisles playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown on his five-string banjo powered by his propeller beanie and sporting his 49ers cape.
Interstellar Propeller still assembles hats in Berkeley, California.