"History is tangled, messy, contradictory. But is where we are." - Eamon Duffy (1947- )
Such is the story of the earliest bolo (or bola) ties, which starts around 1947. These early pieces are silver isosceles, trapezoid or keystone-shaped, about one inch high. They are all unsigned, as was most Native American art in the 1940s. Some are stamped “sterling.” However, there is no documentation for any of them. Even with all of today’s Internet resources for research, we can find no advertising, no catalogs, no patents, nothing in print.
The antecedent to the bolo tie, which is most frequently worn on a braided leather cord, is the scarf slide, which is worn on a scarf or neckerchief. As with the bolo tie, their history is complicated, and they were called by many names, as well.
Byron Hunter, Jr., a longtime trader and Heard Museum Shop Manager from 1977 to 1997, remembers, as a young man, Native craftsmen working in his father’s shop in Phoenix in the late 1940s who were making these simple bolo ties. Byron and Marybeth Hunter donated two of these to the Heard Museum for a book and exhibit. In the bolo tie book, Hunter also notes that by the early 1950s, traders and silversmiths were soldering larger decorative silver plates onto the fronts of the keystone-shaped bolos, essentially turning these early bolos into fittings for the new ones.
One special custom-made and unusually artistic bolo tie for that period was made in 1947-1949 by Hopi artist Willie Coin and was worn by Dr. Harold S. Colton, Director of the Museum of Northern Arizona, in Flagstaff.
Printed documentation for bolo ties doesn’t start until 1953.The earliest bolo-style tie appearing in a Western wear catalog, in 1953-1954, was listed as “New… New… New… ‘String-A-Long’ Western Tie; Rayon cord available in 7 colors. Leather slide with colored jewel to match braiding, metal tips.” Western Ranchman Outfitters, Cheyenne, Wyoming, Catalog number 31, page 49.
In December 1953, similarly shaped bolos with turquoise inlay, hallmarked “SlideA Tie,” were being sold by Porter’s, “The West’s Most Western Store,” and advertised in the Phoenix Arizona Republic newspaper.
In 1953, William H. Meeker, working for Hickok Manufacturing Co. in Rochester, New York, applied for a patent on this same keystone-shape, one inch high bolo tie, although it was called simply “APPAREL FOR NECKWEAR” in the patent application. The patent was not granted until 1958. Advertising for these started in newspapers all across the country in mid-1954, where they were called both ‘bolA’ and ‘bolO’ ties.
Victor Cedarstaff, of Wickenburg Arizona, long considered the father of the bolo tie, filed a patent for his “SLIDE FOR A NECKTIE,” in May 1954, and it was issued in July 1959. While he was a successful self-promoter as the originator of the bola tie, and his story is found everywhere bola ties are mentioned today, one museum curator suggests that many people have laid claim to that title over the years.
By 1956, bolo ties were commercially available and at least one was actually dated, as seen in the “1956 Mobil Gas Economy Run” bolo, with this stamped on the back.
By February 1956, bolo ties were popular enough that we have found advertisements for the still popular “Western Bolo Tie With a Real Scorpion” imbedded in clear resin or plastic.
One of the many problems with researching the history of the bolo tie is that they have gone by many names over the past 60 to 70 years: Bolo Tie, Bola Tie, String Tie, Gaucho Tie, Mono Loop Tie, Emblem Lariat, Neck Rope, Lariat Tie, Cowboy Tie, Western Tie, Thong Tie, Western Bolo Ties, Sport Tie, and more. These names have all been used in the packaging or printed promotion of what we call bolo ties.
We continue to do extensive research on many aspects of bolo tie history, and hope that we will be able to flesh out the story even more in the future.