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U.S. Army buttons were doubtless used occasionally by rangers prior to the introduction of civilian uniforms. The first button known to have been used by a ranger on a uniform 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.

In 1911 the first uniforms were officially authorized, sanctioned would be a better word, for use by rangers in the park service. These uniforms were purchased from Parker, Bridget & Company of Washington, D.C. [36] 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." [38]

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." [39] 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. [39]

Karl Keller
Karl Keller, c.1910. Keller was a ranger at Sequoia National Park (1908-1917?). His uniform has 1907 Forest Service buttons on it. Also note the Army officer's U.S. on his collar and the sprig of Sequoia on his sleeve. Photograph given to Lawrence F. Cook (NPS) by his daughter, Erma Tobin. NPSHPC-Hammond Photo-HFC#WASO D726A

first NPS uniforms
First authorized National Park Service uniform, Glacier National Park, c.1911. This uniform, made by Parker, Bridget & Co., Washington, DC, was delivered with 1910 U.S. Army buttons on it. Man on left is wearing a Model 1910 US Army uniform, minus military insignia. NPSHPC-1915 Anderson photo album GLAC/HPF#9638

Soon after the interview, Assistant Secretary Arno Thompsom 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."badges as a possible pattern for the new buttons. [40]

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.

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 1906 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
Walter Fry, 1920. Fry was Ranger-in-Charge at Sequoia in 1911 when he wrote the letter that supposedly credited him with suggesting the badge be used as a model for the new NPS button. But this appears to be a misunderstanding of his intent. He merely wanted to be sure his new (1911) uniform had the Army buttons with the eagle instead of the Forest Service buttons he had previously worn. This image was taken while he was guiding the House Appropriations Committee during its visit to Sequoia. He is wearing the 1920 NPS uniform with Army wrap-leggings. NPSHPC-J. W. Good Album-HFC#92-40-1

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. [45] 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 and the resulting chemical coloring was bonded securely to the metal, obviating the use of heavy lacquers. This process is still used on the National Park Service buttons today. [46]

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." [41] 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 a sour 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. [42] 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. [43]

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. [44] 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.

Almost all 2-piece buttons of this type are made of brass and "bright" was a trade term meaning polished brass with a lacquer finish. There is a brass button in the NPS History Collection that was never plated, but it is without provenance.

Mark Roy Daniels
Mark Roy Daniels, general superintendent of parks, 1914-1915. Daniels designed a new NPS uniform in 1915 and wanted to replace the bronze, Army style buttons with "bright" (unplated) ones, but a series of mishaps and the formation of the new bureau cancelled this out. Portland Journal, 15 April, 1915

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Last Modified: Fri, Jan 17 2003 07:08:48 am PDT

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