Abraham Lincoln stored important documents in his top hat.

  • President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln
North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy Stock Photo

Abraham Lincoln was America’s tallest President at 6 feet, 4 inches, and he chose a signature accessory that made him appear even more imposing: a large, silk stovepipe hat. The hat was also a practical choice, giving Lincoln ample storage space for important documents right on top of his head.

In a scene in Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, Lincoln (played by Daniel Day-Lewis) speaks at a post office dedication, where he pulls his speech from his hat and returns it there when he’s finished speaking. Though the crowd laughs when the President says, dryly, “That’s my speech,” this isn’t just a Hollywood moment. Lincoln kept not only speeches in his hat, but also official government documents and personal letters. It is even said that he would dramatically throw papers from his hat in front of generals while making a point.

Lincoln himself confirmed this practice in writing, even blaming his hat for a delay in correspondence. In an 1850 letter to politician Richard S. Thomas, he wrote, “I am ashamed of not sooner answering your letter… my only apologies are, first, that I have been very busy in the U.S. court; and second, that when I received the letter I put it in my old hat, and buying a new one the next day, the old one was set aside, and so, the letter lost sight of for a time.”

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