The Self-Tipping Hat Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Self-Tipping Hat

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...A novel device for automatically effecting polite salutations by the elevation and rotation of the hat on the head of the saluting party when said person bows to the person or persons saluted...

Back in Victorian days, etiquette was a very important business. If a gentleman passed a lady in the street without tipping his hat, it could ruin his reputation1. Imagine the inconvenience of walking along the street, your arms laden with parcels, and having to set them all down just to tip your hat. Surely there must be a better way?

James C Boyle of Washington State, USA thought so, and came up with an ingenious solution to the problem in 1896: the self-tipping hat.

The key thing about Boyle's new hat was that it didn't sit on the head. Inside it were four metal legs which provided a stand for the hat. Where the legs met at the top, there was a clever collection of cogs and weights driven by a wind-up motor. When the wearer nodded his head, the mechanism kicked into action and smoothly tilted the hat forward. When the head moved back to the upright position, the hat was lowered. The mechanism itself could be detached from the hat, allowing the wearer to choose which hat he wanted to wear. It worked best with a bowler though, since this was the hat Boyle had in mind when designing it.

In addition to its original use, Boyle also envisaged a bright future for the device as an advertising tool. A message or brand logo could be printed on the hat, and the unusual tilting would draw attention to it. It would be less cumbersome than a sandwich board, too!

Sadly, Boyle's optimism appears to have been mistaken. The new hat simply failed to catch on. Nowadays, hat etiquette is all but extinct, and advertising methods have improved beyond measure since the end of the 19th Century. It's unlikely that the invention will ever become popular now. That's no reason why we can't still tip our hats to such a creative idea!

1Some sources suggest that the custom of hat-tipping - like the military salute - evolved from the medieval tradition of the knight raising his visor, or baring his head to show that he came in peace.

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