Abraham Lincoln's Top Hat

Abraham Lincoln's Top Hat

At six feet four inches tall, Lincoln towered over most of his contemporaries. He chose to stand out even more by wearing high top hats. He acquired this hat from J. Y. Davis, a Washington hat maker. Lincoln had the black silk mourning band added in remembrance of his son Willie. No one knows when he obtained the hat, or how often he wore it. The last time he put it on was to go to Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
After Lincoln’s assassination, the War Department preserved his hat and other material left at Ford’s Theatre. With permission from Mary Lincoln, the department gave the hat to the Patent Office, which, in 1867, transferred it to the Smithsonian Institution. Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, ordered his staff not to exhibit the hat “under any circumstance, and not to mention the matter to any one, on account of there being so much excitement at the time.” It was immediately placed in a basement storage room.
The American public did not see the hat again until 1893, when the Smithsonian lent it to an exhibition hosted by the Lincoln Memorial Association. Today it is one of the Institution’s most treasured objects.
Transfer from the War Department with permission from Mary Lincoln, 1867
Object Name
top hat
Object Type
date made
mid 19th century
Lincoln, Abraham
Davis, J. Y.
place made
United States: District of Columbia, Washington
worn at
United States: District of Columbia, Ford's Theater
Physical Description
silk (overall material)
overall: 7 in x 10 3/8 in x 12 in; 17.78 cm x 26.35504 cm x 30.48 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
See more items in
Political and Military History: Political History, Presidential History Collection
Government, Politics, and Reform
Clothing & Accessories
National Treasures exhibit
American Presidency
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Both the Hildene hat and the Smithsonian's are beaver fur. Robert Lincoln originally gave the hat to a friend from nearby Dorset, Vermont, who's family returned it upon Hildene being restored as a museum. For years it was just put uncovered on a table and returned to the closet every night. It's believed Lincoln owned 7, but only these two have good provenance, as the ALPM hat has a dubious history. The rest are lost to history.
To correct the previous comment, the hat located at Hildene is made from a silk material. The hat remained with the family until the great-grandson of President Lincoln, Linc Isham, gifted it to the owner of the Dorset Inn. In 1984, the hat was returned to Hildene.
One Lincoln Top hat is located at The Smithsonian. A second hat is located at Hildene in Manchester, VT. There is supposed to be a third hat. If so, where would that hat be located?
I have seen the top hat at Hildene, is it also silk? I thought it was beaver. In any event, the hat is displayed in a small room in the mansion, first time I saw I payed little attention, nothing special about the hat display, just sits in a plexiglass cube with a small (size of a postcard) label. The really incredible part of the display is the boudoir mirror that hangs behind the plexiglass cube. The mirror also has a small label near it that indicates the mirror was Lincolns' and says "imagine Lincoln looked into this mirror prior to leaving for Ford's theater the night of his assassination". Reading that label and actually looking into the mirror will give anyone an emotional rush. I've been to many museums and seen terrific, well done displays, but this one is so out of the way and so simple in its presentation, absolutely the one that stirred my emotions the most. If you live in any close proximity to Manchester, Vermont you have to experience what I just described.
It is on display at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois However, a small authenticity controversy surrounds it.

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