For decades, Peters Bros. Hats has hand-fashioned distinctly Fort Worth headgear for rough-and-tumble bull riders and well-coiffed Hollywood cowboys.
A full hatrack of presidents has received “Shady Oak” Western lids that were originally fashioned for former Star-Telegram Publisher Amon Carter Sr.
Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and singer Ray Charles were dressed to the top in Peters Bros. fedoras.
For 23 years, Joe Peters Sr. handcrafted Shady Oaks just the way his grandfather Tom Peters did — “one at a time.” Inside the crown of every one of the custom hats are the slogans “The Texas Hat” and “Where the West Begins.”
On Sunday, the hat was passed to the next generation when Joe Peters Sr. died from complications of congestive heart failure, said his son, Joe Peters Jr. Mr. Peters was 68.
Mr. Peters poured his life into the family business, which has been at the same location at 909 Houston St. in downtown Fort Worth since 1933.
“Making people happy with a new hat really made him happy. He did everything in his power to keep that shop going,” Joe Peters Jr. said Wednesday.
The family will continue the company legacy, said Joe Peters Jr., 45, who worked alongside his grandfather and father at the store until 2004, when he went to work in the hat department at M.L Leddy’s, another longtime Western-wear purveyor in Fort Worth.
His son, Bradley Peters, 23, who started working in the family business when he was a youngster, will continue to handle day-to-day operations, Joe Peters Jr. said.
“Peters Bros. Hats is not going away,” he said.
The company was founded by Greek immigrants Jim and Tom Peters in 1911. They got their start in business shining shoes in Waco during an annual festival, and with $600 in savings, they opened a shoeshine parlor in a tiny wooden building in downtown Fort Worth, according to the company’s website.
During World War I, business was so good that they expanded and had 36 men shining shoes on two shifts. The brothers also operated a hat renovation department.
In 1921, Tom Peters learned how to make hats while working for John B. Stetson in Philadelphia. He then returned to Fort Worth and started making custom hats.
Jim Peters died in 1933, the same year the business moved to its present location. The shoeshine trade ended in 1973. But Tom Peters continued to run the hat shop until he was 98. He was 100 when he died in 1991.
Peters Bros. Hats, the oldest continuous exhibitor at the Fort Worth Stock Show, has been a local favorite with ranch hands and rodeo performers for decades. But over the years, it has made all manner of custom felt and straw hats, including a popular fedora version dubbed the “Indy” after Indiana Jones of film fame.
One of the company’s biggest supporters was Carter, the newspaper publisher and staunch Fort Worth booster, who gave Shady Oak hats to dignitaries and movie stars who visited his ranch of the same name.
Peters Bros. still makes Shady Oaks, Jim Peters Jr. said. Since 1923, they’ve been given to nine presidents.
Lyndon Johnson didn’t just get a Shady Oak; he was a regular customer, Tom Peters told the Star-Telegram in the early 1980s.
Calvin Coolidge returned his because it wasn’t his style of hat, and Jimmy Carter sent his back, saying he couldn’t accept gifts, Tom Peters said.
Hatmakers are akin to architects, Mr. Peters told the Star-Telegram in 2003. They need to have an eye for the shape and style that best suit a person’s features.
He said his grandfather was known for putting a special touch on every Western hat he sold.
“He’d bring his hands to about the middle of both sides of the brim, bring his hands forward and touch them together,” Mr. Peters said. “He’d call it ‘the Texas touch.’
“If the customer then did it the same way, he’d give them a big ol’ handshake and say, ‘You got it. Howdy, partner.’”
Mr. Peters, who was active at the shop until two months ago when he was hospitalized, never met a stranger, his son said.
“He was a friend to everyone he ever met. He treated everybody like they were his best friend,” Joe Peters Jr. said.
“That shop and those hats meant everything to my dad. It was his whole life.”
Other survivors include three grandchildren.