The Wisconsin state Senate voted unanimously this week to honor the man behind the iconic “cheesehead” hat — the so-called “Father of Fromage,” Ralph Bruno — and his company’s employees.
“I can’t say that I have ever been honored in an official capacity like that, for anything, and it was quite a treat,” Bruno told The Daily Caller, explaining that when he invented the hat in 1987 he never realized his concept would become the phenomenon it is today. (RELATED: Interview with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker)
While the cheesehead is closely associated with the Packers, the idea came to Bruno before a Milwaukee Brewers/Chicago White Sox game as a way to make fun of the derisive “cheesehead” nickname that some Illinoisans level against Wisconsinites.
“I happened to be reupholstering my mom’s couch at the time, and I grabbed a piece of foam rubber, cut it into a triangle, cut holes in it and painted it yellow and took it to the game,” he explained. “[I] put it on at the stadium, and once I had it on a lot of people wanted to try it on, and it got passed around,” said Bruno. “People kept calling the person wearing it a ‘cheesehead.’”
Twenty-five years later, the cheesehead hat is sold in 50 states and more than 30 countries. Taking an old foam hat and turning it into a globally sold product, according to Bruno, was accomplished in large part due to his “being young and naive.”
“Being in business for yourself is an undertaking for sure, and a lot of having the resiliency at people laughing at you — not just for the hat, but just the ‘you want to do what? You want to make this thing?’” he said, recalling the difficulty he had getting his initial small business loan.
Bruno explained that he realized his cheesehead was going to work out, however, in the 1990s with the success of the Green Bay Packers when the go-to hat became the cheesehead.
“That is what really brought us up to a level that gave us a much broader fan base, so to speak, that brought the cheeseheads out of the state of Wisconsin, to transplanted Wisconsinites,” he said.
Bruno’s business, Foamation, might be best known for its cheesehead hat, but it is no one-trick operation. The company’s website, cheesehead.com, features all kinds of cheese-themed products, from bow ties to earrings, can cozies to coasters, and toilet seats to “fling cheese” (a cheesy Frisbee).
Bruno told TheDC to expect cheese furniture in the near future, along with a foam-covered coffee table book about the cheesehead hat.