"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
So goes the English language version of the first line of "The Metamorphosis," a short story that is a surrealist classic. Samsa finds himself on his coackroach back, trying to figure out how to flip himself over to get out of bed so he doesn’t miss his train for work.
Did the man who wrote "The Metamorphosis," Czech writer Franz Kafka, give birth to the idea of the protective hard hat?
I asked Pittsburgh correspondent Jonathan Barnes to find out. He worked as a laborer before concentrating on his journalism career and he has his own collection of hard hats--five of them--at home.
Starting in 1908, Barnes reports, Kafka worked for the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, where he investigated injuries to industrial workers and assessed compensation. The late management professor Peter Drucker has credited Kafka with developing the first civilian hard hat while employed at the institute, but there appears to be no other evidence to back up the claim.
According to a widely circulated story, Kafka invented the industrial hard hat in 1912 to protect workers in dangerous jobs. Kafka reportedly lowered injuries resulting in death throughout the workforce to 25 for every 1,000 employees. But the story is believed to be perhaps just a story, and not fact, since the Institute had no records to indicate Kafka’s alleged invention.
The man who invented the hard hat as it is commonly used in modern times is a different person altogether.
Edward Dickinson Bullard, a prominent American industrialist, deserves to be recognized for the innovation. Believing that it would promote safety and decrease casualties across the board, Bullard required his workforce to wear hard leather hats when working in an industrial setting. When his son returned from the First World War with a combat helmet, Bullard came up with a new idea. the so-called "hard boiled hat," which was patented by the Bullard company. It is said to be the model for the modern hard hat.
For more information on Bullard and the history of hard hats, go to the Bullard company's website.