Hog Head Hats

Sketch of an engineer and fireman in a locomotive.

From the inception of railroading, railroad workers have captured the public’s imagination. During the 1840’s, attention was especially drawn to railroad conductors who began wearing distinguishing apparel, thus creating the first railroad uniform. A prominent article of the crisp, dark, tailored uniforms was the small billed, dark colored, fine silk hat, bearing a silver nameplate which read “Conductor.”



Independently minded locomotive engineers and firemen shunned the fine cut clothing of the other train crew members. They needed rugged apparel that could withstand the heat, grease, and oil of their job. Engine crews in the early days of transcontinental railroading wore sturdy wool, or dark denim trousers, loose fitting muslin shirts, wool vests, and square toed shoes and boots. Their hats were traditional derbies, top hats, or even military headgear, all without a nameplate. Finally, in 1890, engineers and firemen gave in to the trend and developed their own unique uniform. This clothing included a soft, durable hat, of unusual design, which became the trademark of engineers, who were affectionately known as “hog heads.”

It wasn’t long before other workers commenced wearing similar uniforms, with their own titles, such as brakeman, switchman, agent, telegrapher, etc., emblazoned on the silver nameplate. Starting in 1870, railroad companies began issuing official uniforms to all train crew members, with the exception of the engine crew.


Hog Head Hats

The first stereotypical engineer caps, or hog head hats, were dark colored denim. In 1920, to promote sales of their striped overalls, a Wisconsin clothing manufacturer began producing engineer caps of the same blue and white striped material. The pattern was a success, and soon the matching cap and overalls remained the universally identified engine crew uniform throughout the balance of the steam era and into the modern diesel-electric way of railroading.

A sketch of a steam locomotive.


Today, engineers are more like their independent predecessors. They can be seen wearing regular denim jeans instead of overalls, and “baseball” style caps, announcing certain philosophical points of view, or bearing the logos of anything from cars and beverages, to large corporations and sports teams. Just like the mighty steam locomotives of yesterday, the traditional hog head hat has become a symbol of the past.

Last updated: July 9, 2021

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