The invention of the Panama

How did a hat called the Panama, invented and created in Ecuador, become famous throughout the world?

In 1835 Manuel Alfaro emigrated from Spain to Ecuador and settled in the small town of Montecristi, located at the top of a hill, warmed by ocean breezes. Straw hats were already being made in Montecristi and in Cuenca, but Manuel Alfaro decided to throw himself into this business, re-organising its production better than anyone else. A few hundred miles further north from Ecuador was a thin strip of land separating the Atlantic from the Pacific: this was Panama, a centre of commerce and tourism. Alfaro's idea of exporting his hats to this prosperous isthmus was the turning point that brought immediate success. A fashion trend quickly started, word spread and the question was asked "Where did you get that hat?". People answered "in Panama!" without knowing that the idea had actually come from the heart of Ecuador.

The Panama, as well as becoming a symbol for the Californian pioneers gripped by gold fever, quickly crossed the oceans and it is said that Napoleon himself, during his long stay on St Helena, exchanged his black conqueror's hat for a splendid, white Montecristi that he was never seen without. But, it was at the universal exhibition in Paris in 1955 that the whole world got to see the Panama and it soon became a new style icon.

From that moment on, it bewitched celebrities from the world of politics, the arts and cinema, such as Napoleon III, Thomas Nast, the banker J.P. Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt - whom it is said was the first to call it the "Panama hat" during the inauguration of the Panama canal - as well as Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper.


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