Centered in Waco as one of the nation’s premier shops for hand-crafted cowboy hats, Standard Hat Works has been serving customers from near and far for over 100 years.
William Gross, a Hungarian immigrant to the United States, founded what would become Standard Hat Works in New York City in 1909. Gross got his start in hat-making in Budapest at the age of thirteen, and arrived in the United States with a decade's worth of expertise. Legend has it that Gross would stand at the corner of Fifth Street and Manhattan with a stack of hats upon his head, peddling the hats to passersby on the street. Gross eventually made his way to Texas and opened his first storefront in 1915 at 622 Washington Avenue. It was there that Gross solidified the Standard name.
In 1936, Bill Martin began an apprenticeship under William Gross, learning the tools of the trade and successful business management. When William Gross decided to retire in the 1940s, he sold the company to Bill Martin, who went on to hire Doug Eastland six years later. Together, the two solidified Standard as one of the premier hat shops in the country. After a dip in hat sales during the sixties and seventies, Standard Hat Works saw an uptick in business in the early 1980s, just as Doug Eastland took over following Martin’s retirement. During this time, cowboy culture became more mainstream thanks to a convergence of social, cultural, and political forces. Ronald Reagan, a former western film star, was elected president, country music became trendy, and movies such as Urban Cowboy helped make western wear fashionable for the masses. The cowboy hat became a staple of pop culture, and business boomed once again for Standard Hat Works. The company created hats for a range of celebrities, from musicians such as George Strait and Garth Brooks to talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman.
While Standard carried on its legacy of quality hat-making, this new era spelled change for the business as well. Due to mounting concerns over the risk of fire during the heat-intensive hat-making process, Doug Eastland moved the store from Washington Avenue to 422 West Waco Drive in 1988. It was there that he did business until, ironically, a fire destroyed all but one piece of original and highly sought-after machinery in 1993. While he continued to sell hats out of the storefront, he was unable to continue making custom hats in the years immediately following the blaze. In 1997 Eastland sold Standard Hat Works to Richard Dick after several years of decreased profits. Standard remained largely dormant for the next decade.
The historic company was revitalized a decade later, however, when Lenny Lawson bought the company in 2006, determined to restore the hat-crafting process at Standard. He moved the business to 1826 Circle Road and traveled around the United States in search of original equipment, some of it dating back to the 1860s. Thanks to Lawson’s efforts, Standard Hat Works began to offer custom hats once again. In 2013, Waco native Cameron Morris purchased the company from Lenny Lawson, under whom he had served as a hat-making apprentice. When the expansion of I-35 forced the company to move in 2016, Morris opened a new location at 1304 North New Road. There the shop stands today, crafting hats and carrying on the Standard Hat Works legacy.