One of our objects featured in 1950s: Living the American Dream is to be featured in an upcoming session at the annual Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association conference! Chosen as one of the 25 Artifacts of the American Childhood, the Polly Crockett hat has a complicated history.
In 1955, Disney released Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, perpetuating the myth of this historical figure and setting off a national trend in “Wild West” themed toys. Children’s rifles, western landscape toy sets, and faux raccoon skin hats appeared in stores across the nation. However, these toys were initially marketed for boys. An alternative for females appeared in the form of the Polly Crockett hat.
The original Davy Crockett hat featured a faux fur lined skull cap and a faux raccoon tail attached, very similar to what Davy Crockett would have worn when he was alive. It was reported that at one point in 1955, over 5,000 of these caps were being sold a day. The Polly Crockett hat, produced by Sanitized in the late 1950s, was made of faux fur and came in pink, white, and green and featured a drawing of Davy Crockett’s first wife, Polly, on the top.
During the 1950s, manufacturers aimed to define childhood through gender by creating two separate versions of toys for each sex; this can be seen in advertisements from companies like the Ohio Art Company and Mattel. This is a trend that continues today with the recent controversy of gendered Lego sets. The Polly Crockett hat is one of the starkest examples; the unnatural colors of the fake fur reinforced gender differences. While the boy’s version imitated an actual raccoon cap to blend into a natural environment, the girl’s version is obviously made of unnatural materials implying it was not to be worn outside.
The maker of the toy tried to contextualize the history by naming the hat after Crockett’s wife; Polly Crockett actually died at the mere age of 27 due to lingering complications from the birth of her third child. She never saw combat, staying at home to raise their family while Davy travelled around the United States. Even in play, girls were thrown into the role of a mother and homemaker.
This was not lost on children. Girls reported the discrepancies in the color and material of the hats, but no Davy Crockett hats were ever specifically produced for females during the 1950s. There was never a toy gun marketed for young girls to compliment the hat. By the 1960s, the “Wild West” had started to lose popularity and Sanitized stopped the production of the Polly Crockett hat.
Did you ever own a Polly or Davy Crockett hat? What other examples of toys marketed for a specific gender did you have growing up?
Emily Lang, History Curator