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The History of the Hat

The storied top hat was originally owned by Isaac Roberts, the first director of CALS for whom Roberts Hall is named.

Roberts never went to college, but was so learned in the ways of agriculture, and probably because degrees were not awarded in that area, it didn’t matter.

Born in Seneca County, New York, and raised in agriculture, a top hat was something he was not accustomed to, but needed to wear for ceremonial occasions. The hat often just sat on his desk. So, when Roberts retired in 1903 from Cornell and Liberty Hyde Bailey took office, he bequeathed something he didn’t have much use for—his top hat.

Liberty Hyde Bailey also had very little use for the hat, and when he gave up his role, he passed it on to his successor, Beverly Galloway. And so the tradition continued each time a new director or dean stepped into the role, and continues today.

There are many traditions at Cornell, but there is no tradition that is unique to CALS as the passing of the hat.