A man named Victor Emanuel Cedarstaff is often credited with inventing the bolo tie during the late 1940s. Many authors have stated that Victor Patented the bolo, however, records show the only patent awarded to Mr. Cedarstaff was for a “Slide for a necktie” in 1954 (pat. #2,896,217) and it was for a type of a bolo slide, not the bolo itself.
An article in Sunset Magazine is often quoted, as well, “Victor Cedarstaff was riding his horse one day when his hat blew off. Wary of losing the silver-trimmed hatband, he slipped it around his neck. His companion joked, ‘That’s a nice-looking tie you’re wearing, Vic.’ An idea incubated and Cedarstaff soon fashioned the first bola tie (the name is derived from boleadora, an Argentine lariat).” However, the article was written in 2002 and no sources were quoted. The Cedarstaff story is widely circulated but no concrete proof was found to substantiate the claim he “invented” the bolo tie other than said story being repeated.
Even earlier than Cedarstaff’s patent, in 1953 William Meeker applied for patent #2,846,688 that was titled, “Apparel for Neckwear.” It was later assigned to Hickok Manufacturing Co. of Rochester, N.Y. In the patent application, it states, “The present invention relates generally to apparel and is directed particularly to a novel article of neckwear comprising a necktie and a slide cooperatively associated therewith for relative adjustment.” The picture and description that accompany the patent are of a bolo tie (although it is not called that by name).
There are other sources that claim the bolo tie has been around since the late 1800s. I found online a picture of old neckwear that looks similar to a bolo tie that was said to be from the 1930s. However, it did not look much like what we consider to be a traditional bolo today. However, perhaps items like it are where the idea germinated.
Regardless of who “invented” the bolo tie or when it happened, we can pretty much all agree that you did not see them much before the 1950s. From the 1950s to 1970s, they jumped in popularity and are now recognized around the world as a Western version of a tie.
When you are buying a vintage bolo tie, there are a couple of telltale signs that will help you put a date range on when it may have been made. First and foremost is the clasp on the back. The most popular clasp ever used, on many thousands of bolo ties, bears the name of a person named Bennett. The “Bennett” clasp is found on probably 8 out of 10 vintage bolos (if not more). Bennett did not make the bolos, as some folks often mistake, but the clasps used on their backs to secure the braided cord bore the Bennett name and were available to silversmiths via the jewelry supply store.
Here is a generally accepted timeline for dating a bolo based on what the clasp on the back looks like: From the invention of the bolo (whenever that was) until about the mid-1950s, there was no clasp. Bolo cord ran through a couple of loops on the back that held a little pressure on the cord to keep it in place. There were a couple of other variations during this time period but no clasp yet.
By the mid-1950s, however, you begin to see the bolo tie clasp. As mentioned above, Cedarstaff patented one in 1954. The Bennett clasp that is marked “Bennett Pat. Pend. C-31” came onto the market about this same time. The “C-31” clasp was used from the mid-1950s until about the mid-1960s. For some unknown reason, this is when we see the “C-31” disappear from the Bennett clasp. The clasps afterward that said “Bennett Pat. Pend.” were in production from about the mid-1960s until the late 1980s. It has been reported that, when Mr. Bennett passed away, a jewelry supply store bought his dies and started producing the clasp but without the Bennett name on the back. This would have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
As far as I can tell, nobody seems to know who “Mr. Bennett” was and, even though the clasps said, “Pat. Pend.” on them, I find no evidence of a patent ever being filed for. But whoever he (or she) was, the name will forever live on the back of thousands of bolo ties.
Along the way there were others who applied for patents on bolo tie clasps. In 1972, a patent was granted to John W. Day for a bolo clasp with a spring-loaded, push button type of release that kept pressure on the braided leather cord. In the patent application, he stated the date of the invention went back to 1966.
In January 1968, James H. Mosby applied for a patent on an invention that provided for a removable mounting for a gemstone or other ornament that is removably secured to a sliding carrier on a bolo tie, known as a bolo slide. Basically, it is an interchangeable slide with clasp.
In June 1974, a patent was applied for by an E. Larsen titled, “Clasp for a Bola Tie with Interchangeable Mount.” It goes on to explain, “This invention relates to bola ties and more particularly to the clasp for a bola tie which holds the braids of the bola tie to prevent slipping and at the same time locks a removable mount to the clasp. The lock provides for a quick release in order to remove either or both the bola tie from the persons neck and the mount from the bola tie clasp.” It was similar sounding, but different in style, to the Mosby patent.
Keep in mind that any of the variations of bolo tie clasps mentioned above were in use for many years after their invention dates so the clasp itself can only tell you the earliest date that the item may have been made. There are also many modern-day silver smiths who make retro looking items, so you can still find contemporary bolos with old-school silver loops on the back instead of a clasp. Those are usually pretty easy to spot, however, because they look more modern in style and are usually hallmarked with a contemporary artist’s stamp.
A few fun facts about bolos: After gaining popularity in the 1950s through 1970s and becoming known as the “Western” tie, the state of Arizona made the bolo its official neckwear in 1971. New Mexico designated the bolo as the state’s official neckwear in 1987 but it wasn’t until 2007 that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed the legislation. Also, in 2007, the bolo tie was named the official tie of Texas.
One last question remains. Is it a “Bola” tie or a “Bolo” tie? Although some old-timers use the word “Bola,” and if you go back to the root of the word, “Boleadora” (what Gauchos in South America use as a sort of lariat to bring down cattle—and it also resembles our western tie), then the “a” at the end is probably most technically correct. However, if you do a Google search of “bola,” you will be asked if you really meant to search for the word “bolo” instead (indicating that Google thinks you made a mistake in spelling). This indicates that people search for the word “bolo” many, many times more often than its counterpart, “bola.” Bolo, with an “o” seems to be the most modernly accepted term. It’s kind of like “concho belt” or “conch belt.” The “a” is probably most technically correct, but the “o” is the most widely accepted in today’s world.
Jim Olson is a published author, historian and co-owner of Western Trading Post, an historic Trading Post in Casa Grande, Arizona, that traces its roots back to 1877! Learn more at WesternTradingPost.com. Jim Olson © 2019