15 January 1797
The Top Hat was invented by John Hetherington, a haberdasher of the Strand, London. What he called a "silk hat" was a variation on the standard male riding hat of the day, and made from beaver covered in silk.
On the first day he took to the streets wearing it, he ended up being arraigned before the Lord Mayor on a charge of breach of the peace and incitement to riot. The disorder had resulted from his wearing "a tall structure having a shiny lustre and calculated to frighten timid people."
It was said that women fainted at the sight of his headgear, children screamed, dogs yelped and a young boy suffered a broken arm in the ensuing scrum. Hetherington was compelled to pay a 500 pound bond to keep the peace. In his defence he said had not broken any law "but was merely exercising a right to appear in a headdress of his own design ~ a right not denied to any Englishman."
It didn't catch on overnight. Indeed, the topper's dominance as the gentleman's head wear for formal occasions wasn't really established until Prince Albert started to favour it 50 years later.
(BBC History magazine - Vol 8 no 1)