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Ironing Out the Wrinkles




Appendix A

National Park Service Uniforms
Ironing Out the Wrinkles 1920-1932
Number 3


man's uniform

Uniforms had not been uppermost in the minds of the men in our national parks until the separation of the Forest and Park Services in 1905 and the uniforming of the rangers of the former. As the park ranger's desire for a national identity mounted, the Department "waffled", first with one style of uniform, then with another.

It wasn't until the formation of the National Park Service as a Bureau of the Department of the Interior in 1916, along with the subsequent arrival of its new director, Stephen T. Mather, and people in the field such as Washington B. Lewis and Horace M. Albright, that this desire acquired the impetuous needed to reach fruition.

The culmination of these efforts was the Uniform Regulations of 1920. Here at last was the cord that would bind all of the rangers throughout the Nation's parks into one cohesive unit.

Even so, these regulations were not the end of the journey, only a road map to show the way. As with any new organization, there were a lot of things to be resolved, a sort of ironing out of the wrinkles.

All kinds of ornamentation were tried, most of which were discarded, to distinguish the various grades within the Service. An "officer and men" mentality was prevalent throughout the Service with everyone but the "lowly" rangers, falling within the former category. This spawned a rather top-heavy organizational network.

As the National Park Service expanded and more and varied positions were generated, all of which fell under the "officer " category, they too began to lobby for their own group identity. Even the rangers, themselves, once they had worked their way up to Chief, or Assistant Chief Ranger, were striking for officer candidacy, and all of its privileges. (better material for uniforms, higher recognition, etc.)

This push became so acute that when the new uniform regulations for 1926 were being drawn up, it was decided to rethink the whole uniform strategy. The "officer and men" situation did not sit well with a lot of the Service personnel, even some of the officers, so when new uniform regulations finally came out in 1928 abolishing any distinction between personnel, it was, perhaps, the most momentous change to occur during the Park Service's existence.

Granted, those in positions of authority (superintendents, custodians, chief rangers, etc.) were still distinguished, but now, only by their badge. Gone were the myriad sleeve and other decorations denoting the various divisions of the former "officers." For some reason, it was considered advisable to maintain the sleeve differentiation for the rangers. These then became a source of pride for the rangers and though removed from the regulations in the late 1930s, continued to be worn as long as their uniform was serviceable. (A photograph taken in 1946 show two rangers still wearing them.)

As the decade drew to an end, the uniform committees continued to struggle with a number of thorny problems that had been proposed at the Superintendent's Conferences, notably a new badge and collar ornaments. Most of these finally resolved themselves through the inability of anyone coming up with something more appropriate.

As with the other books in this series, this one could not have been written without the generous assistance of people throughout the National Park Service. Most of these have been recognized in the preceding books and I will forego mentioning them here. However, I would like to thank the Manager of Harpers Ferry Center, Mr. David G. Wright, John Brucksch and David Nathanson for their help in getting these published.


Last Modified: Thurs, Dec 14 2000 9:30:00 pm PDT

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