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National Park Service Uniforms
Badges and Insignia 1894-1991
Number 1


While technically not an insignia, the ranger hat has become synonymous with the ranger service. Even similar police hats are called "Smokey the Bear" hats. Speaking of Smokey, it is ironic that the symbol of the Forest Service should be wearing a Park Service ranger hat. It would appear that this "Stetson" style of felt hat evolved from Stetson's first "Boss of the Plains," which he marketed in 1863. [48] This style has long been known as the "ranger" hat, no doubt from being used previously by the Texas Rangers. The first hats worn by rangers in the Park Service were Stetsons like those of the Army. These were usually creased fore and aft, but there were no regulations on the subject and it was left to the ranger to do whatever styling he wished.

When the first "authorized" uniforms were ordered in 1911, they included a "felt camping hat after the Stetson style." [49] It can be assumed that this was a continuation of what the rangers were familiar with. With the ordering of uniforms in 1912, though, an "Alpine" style hat was specified. [50] From the drawing submitted by Sigmund Eisner, it would appear that this was the forerunner of the current stiff-brimmed hat. Photographs bear this out. They show a hat similar to what the rangers wear now, except for a higher "Montana" peak. This would seem to prove that when Mark Daniels attempted to formalize the Park Service uniform in 1914, the hat was already being used. [51]

The hat was first formally specified in the 1920 uniform regulations. They stated that it would be "Stetson, either stiff or cardboard brim, 'belly' color." This, more than likely, is a ratification of what was already being worn by the rangers.

The 1932 regulations specified that the "Stetson hat" was to have a "three inch stiff brim," was to be equipped with the "prescribed National Park Service leather hatband," and was to be considered the standard headpiece for use in "all National Parks and National Monuments." There were exceptions to the "all." Employees in the eastern parks and monuments and rangers assigned to motorcycle duties were authorized to wear an "English Army Officer" style, of the same material as their uniforms.

In 1935, there was some agitation from the field, especially the western parks, for a wider brim to help protect the head from the sun and rain. Office Order No. 324 of April 13, 1936, changed the hat specifications to call for a "Stiff brim 3 to 3 1/2 inches wide, and 4 - 4 5/8 inch crown, side color." Why the color was changed from "belly" to "side" is not known. The John B. Stetson Company, which started selling hats to the Park Service in 1934, initially had trouble with the "side color," and the Service ordered all purchases from the company to stop. In September 1936 the company notified the Uniform Committee chairman that it had "developed the exact color desired by the National Park Service" and was in a "position to manufacture hats and fill orders." It also agreed to replace all hats of the wrong color previously ordered at no charge. The Service rescinded the stop purchase order. [52]

Office Order No. 350 of June 15, 1938, changed the color back to "belly" and added three ventilator holes on each side. They were to be arranged in the "form of an equilateral triangle, bottom leg of triangle 1 1/2 inches above brim, legs of triangle 1 inch."

Until 1959 employees were instructed to put four small dents in the hat crown. Thereafter the dents were blocked at the factory.

Uniform regulations issued beginning November 1959 were contained within a National Park Service Uniforms Handbook effective beginning January 1, 1961. This handbook contained uniform specifications and other information pertinent to the wearing and care of the various garments. Under the heading of hats, it stated:

Care should be used in selecting the correct size and head shape. Width of brim should be chosen to suit shape of face and physical appearance. Generally, average sized individuals should wear 3 1/4" brim, short stocky persons or those with long thin faces should wear the 3" brim. The felt hat is available in "long oval," "regular oval" and "wide oval." If the hat fits the head properly, it will be more comfortable, look better, and will not be easily dislodged by sudden gusts of wind. The average life expectancy of a felt hat is three years. It should be worn at a slight angle to the right side and not tilted forward over the eyes or worn on the back of the head. The cloth hat band that comes with new hat should be removed and never should be worn under the uniform leather hat band.

Regarding hat care and maintenance, the handbook stated:

Excessive sweating or the use of hair oil will quickly ruin the appearance of the felt hat. Accumulations of oil around the sweat band and brim will also penetrate the hatband. For this reason, care should be used in placing an old hatband on a new hat or the new hat will be soiled. Clean the hatband with saddle soap. A compound of carbon tetrachloride "Carbona" is available for cleaning hats and the inner surface of hatbands.

French chalk may be used to remove fresh grease stains. If the hat becomes wet it can be satisfactorily dried by turning the sweatband outward and allowing the hat to stand on the sweat band until thoroughly dry. Sandpaper or a nail file can be used to remove accumulations of dirt and grease.

The Stetson Company will recondition felt uniform hats for $7.50 if the hat is not too far gone.

The straw hat was inaugurated in 1959. Its specifications were as follows:

Style--"National Park Service" ventilated milan braid material, Belgium Belly color, crown specifications same as for the felt hat. Stiff brim, flat set, average width 3-1/4", marine service curl, leather sweatband and hat [sic] . Indentations in crown, same as for the felt hat.

A transparent plastic hat cover was made available for the protection of both the felt and straw hats.

These hats have carried over to the present time. Down through the years there has been an array of other headgear, but nothing has stood out as a symbol of the National Park Service like the regulation "Smokey the Bear" felt hat.

Hatband & straps Continue


Last Modified: Thurs, Jul 28 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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