The first silk top hat in England is credited to George Dunnage, a hatter from Middlesex in 1793. Top hats started to take over the world around 1796. Within twenty years top hats had become popular with all the best social classes. The hats became part of the uniforms worn by policemen and postmen (to give them the appearance of authority).
The top hat was popularized in the US by Abraham Lincoln during his presidency; it is said that Lincoln would keep important letters inside the hat. During the middle part of the 19th century the top hat developed from a fashion into a symbol of urban respectability, and this was assured when Prince Albert started wearing them in 1850.
The 19th century is sometimes known as the Century of the Top Hat. The historian James Laver once made the observation that an assemblage of "toppers" looked like factory chimneys and thus added to the mood of the industrial era. It was a part of the dress of Uncle Sam and used as a symbol of US power.
In this day, top hats are still used for social events like weddings and balls and also appear as a form of party hat. They are also popular amongst persons in the Rock n Roll & gothic subculture.