FHQ: How Much Liquid Will a 10-Gallon Hat Hold?
I've heard that 10 gallon hats are named so because they can hold 10 gallons of liquid, but they don't look nearly big enough? What gives? -Lowell, Dubuque IA
To be sure, we've never seen a hat nearly big enough to hold 10 gallons of liquid. The term "galon" actually refers to a certain kind of braided hat band that was popular among Mexican vaqueros around the late 1800s and early 1900s. The "10 galon hat" would indicate a hat with a tall enough crown to display 10 of these braided ribbons which were used as decorations or badges.
The similarity of the spanish "galon" and the english "gallon" is easy to see, and this may have been picked up on in early Stetson Hats advertising campaigns which featured cowboys using their hats as water bowls for their horses to drink from. Since then, "ten gallon hat" has become the common term for the hats of stars such as Tom Mix and any hat with a very tall (7+ inch) crown.