Who Invented the Graduation Cap


The graduation cap is one of the proudest clothing items that anyone ever wears. It is a symbol of both accomplishment and maturity, signifying the end of one life and the beginning of a new one. Graduation caps are typically worn during a graduation ceremony after high school, while students who graduate with a bachelor’s or master’s degree may also attend ceremonies where the cap and gown are worn.

The modern graduation cap was invented in 1950 thanks to an inventory named Edward O’Reilly and a priest named Joseph Durham. Their invention improved the traditional design of the cap to include a metal filling in the mortarboard of the cap to make it sturdier and that design has been the standard since its creation.

How Long Have Graduation Caps Been Around

The initial graduation caps that were worn by those in academia are thought to have originated from the caps that were worn by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church. This traditional hat, which is called a biretta, may itself even be a derivative of a hate worn by Roman higher classes. There are some famous paintings that have people wearing hats that are similar to the graduation cap, including one as early as 1454.

The interesting thing about these caps is that at one point, they were typically worn by those who were in command or had an extensive education. Over time, however, the concept of the graduation cap took off and it became a celebratory cap to signify an accomplishment of academic success instead of a signifying piece of clothing for a particular career.

Just Who Was Edward O’Reilly?

O’Reilly was born in Lawton, OK in 1920 and it is safe to say that he was a Sooners fan all of his life. He was often called Ned and served in the Navy during the second world war. His primary career was as an aircraft engineer for Curtis Wright and he often swam competitively. He even served as the University of Oklahoma’s swimming coach during his junior year of college.

What O’Reilly should not be confused with, however, are two other men who share his name and his ability to patent or create incredible things. This Edward O’Reilly was not the inventor of the Pecos Bill stories as they were written when he was just 3 years old. He was also not involved with the creation of a folding bed that had a locking pin mechanism either as that invention was created nearly 30 years before he was born.

As for Durham, there isn’t much known about him at all. He was part of the patent filing process, most likely because O’Reilly based the updated graduation cap off of a design that likely came from the Catholic church.

Together, however, these two men were able to create a product that people proudly wear every year. With tassels and other adornments added to the cap, the day that the graduation cap is worn is a day that everyone long remembers as a significant day of their life.

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