There are plenty of theories about how the Panama Hat got his name. One is that in former times goods could not be imported directly from the countries of South America to the United States. A central collecting point and custom office was needed, which was Panama. So every good had the stamp of the customs of Panama. Thereupon the hat was called Panama Hat in the United States. The Panama Hat became famous when European emigrants discovered the hat during their journey from the “old world” to San Francisco in 1848. In 1855 the Panama Hat caused a sensation at the World Exhibition.
Since 1630 the Panama Hat is produced in the provinces Manabi and Azuay in Ecuador and centers of the manufactures are the cities Montecristi, Jipijapa and Cuenca. The Panama Hat is of the straw of the Toquilla palm which has green-yellow leaves and becomes up to 5 meters. Every three months the leaves are cut with a machete and then the leaves are cooked for three or four hours. Afterwards the leaves are dried over a fire with brimstone. Now the leaves are cracked in thin fibers. The thinner the fibers the higher the quality of the Panama Hat. Then the weavers weave the hat by hand. The production of a “Superfino” cans last three to six months, because of the very tight braiding which grants that the Panama Hat is water resistant. The Panama Hats of the best quality can be drawn through a ring without getting damaged, but these hats also cost several thousand dollars.
The Panama Hat is among the most popular souvenirs of Ecuador if not the most favored one!