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


U.S. Army buttons were doubtless used by rangers before the introduction of civilian uniforms. The first button known to have been used by a ranger in the Interior Department's "park service" is the 1907 Forest Service button. This button shows up in a photograph of Karl Keller, a ranger in Sequoia National Park, taken in 1910. It has a pine tree in the center, with the words Forest on top and Service underneath.


Used on ranger uniforms, Sequoia National Park


In 1911 the first uniforms were officially authorized for use by rangers in the park service. These uniforms were purchased from Parker, Bridget & Company of Washington, D.C. [31] The matter of special park service buttons was broached, but the department concluded that:

"inasmuch as we would have to have a die made for the special buttons for the park service which would cost about $28, we had best drop the matter of the special buttons until the future of the national park service is definitely determined. If the Bureau of National Parks is created, another design of button might be necessary. The uniforms are now equipped with United States Army buttons." [32]

U.S. ARMY BUTTON, c. 1903

Used on uniforms made by Parker Bridget & Co., Washingto, D.C.


That winter, Sigmund Eisner of Red Bank, New Jersey, began negotiating with the department to furnish new uniforms for the park rangers. In his correspondence, he offered to have "buttons made to any design for the service for which they are intended. I would keep these buttons in stock subject to your orders." [33] At a subsequent meeting with Chief Clerk Clement Ucker in Washington in December or early January 1912, Eisner was apparently shown one of the park service badges as a possible pattern for the new buttons. [34]

Soon after the interview, Assistant Secretary Arno Thompson wrote Eisner requesting drawings of the proposed uniforms, together with "advice as to whether bronze buttons bearing the eagle design surrounded by the words "National Park Service, Department of the Interior," as used upon the park ranger service badge shown you, will be purchased and placed upon the uniforms." Eisner agreed to this and stated that he would "have die made for these buttons in all sizes." [35]

Subsequently, not only were these buttons used on the uniforms made by Eisner, but the department also purchased them for uniforms the rangers had made by other manufacturers and to replace those lost through attrition. Even though the rangers had to furnish their own uniforms, the buttons were given without charge.


Supplied by Sigmund Eisner, Red Bank, New Jersey

Enameled bronze

These buttons were stocked and sold to the department by Eisner. The early buttons were made by the Waterbury Button Company of Waterbury, Connecticut, but were back-stamped SIGMUND EISNER/RED BANK, N.J. Later buttons carry the Waterbury back stamp. As stated above, they were modeled after the 1905 badge and were finished in what was classified as a "bronze" finish. This appears to be a sort of heavy coating. This coating was the subject of much controversy in later years because of its chipping and flaking.

Walter Fry, the ranger in charge at Sequoia National Park, has long been credited with suggesting that the "National Park Service" badge be used as the model for this button. This may or may not be partially correct. In a letter he wrote to the Secretary of the Interior requesting authority to purchase "Forestry green winter uniforms," he also requested that they be "equipped with the bronze Army buttons, bearing design of eagle, same as our badges now worn, instead of the Forest Service button." [36] The rangers at Sequoia National Park had worn the forest green uniform with Forest Service buttons since 1909, and Fry probably only wanted the new uniforms to have "bronze Army buttons" like the new uniforms then being made. It is possible that his statement "bearing design of eagle, same as our badges now worn" may have influenced the department when they considered a design for the new buttons, but there is no documentation to substantiate this.

In a letter dated May 14, 1915, Mark Daniels, general superintendent of national parks (a position roughly equivalent to the later director), proposed that a "bright" button replace the "bronze" buttons then being used on the service uniforms. [37] He included a sample button with his request, which the department forwarded to Sigmund Eisner, requesting prices. Eisner responded with prices of $5.00 and $2.50 per gross for large and small buttons respectively, whereupon the department ordered a gross of each. [38]


Use unknown

Unplated brass

Delivery lagged for months, with the department requesting the buttons, and Eisner promising them any day, until finally in October he wrote the secretary that he was unable to make the manufacturer (Waterbury) understand what was requested and needed another sample. [39] This request was forwarded to Daniels, but the records are mute as to the disposition of the matter. There is no evidence that these buttons were ever made.

The 1926 Uniform Committee (to report at the 1927 meeting) voted four to two to change the uniform coat buttons from bronze to gilt.

They believed that gilt buttons would set off the forestry-colored cloth to a greater advantage and added "distinctiveness and snappiness" to the uniform. This recommendation was included in the proposed changes for the new uniform regulations. Upon reviewing the committee's suggested regulation changes, Horace Albright, then Yellowstone superintendent and assistant director (field), found several of the proposed revisions "particularly objectionable." Among them was the change to gilt buttons. He recommended that the current regulations be continued in force for 1927 and that the revisions be submitted to the superintendents for their comments. [40] Albright must have done his work well, for nothing else was heard of "gilt" buttons.

Complaints were still being heard about the lacquered finish on the buttons flaking and coming off. In the mid-1930s Waterbury started using an "acid treated" process. This insured that the button was clean so that the plating would be securely bonded, obviating the use of heavy lacquers. This process is still used on the National Park Service buttons today. [41]


Bronze, oxidized

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Last Modified: Mon, Aug 7 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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