I was searching the web to find out if the history of the welding hat was ever recorded anywhere. I could not find any articles on it anywhere. Here is some passed down history that an old boilermaker told me, and the story came from his dad who was also a boilermaker.
When the first electric welders were introduced, the electrodes were not covered with flux, and all they had to weld with was AC. The spark storm that resulted was intense.
The story originates before Unions and Insurance existed for welders. Here is how it goes, as I heard it.
A group of welders were working in a boiler. One of the men slipped and fell to his death. The deceased welder left behind his wife and kids. The family had no other income and the widow did not know what to do. The group of boilermakers kindly took up a collection to give to the widow. The widow was very appreciative of the good will gift and came up with the idea of making a hat for each of the boilermakers. All she had to sew with were pieced together different patterned rags. They looked a little odd, but the welders accepted them and wore them.
The weldors realized the cotton pieced together welding hats when worn backwards worked quite well for keeping the sparks out of their shirts. The welders then asked the widow to make more and they would pay her for them., and as time went by the welding hat caught on big time.
So the next time you grab that ratty looking welding hat, remember this bit of history and what a little generosity can do.