book cover
Cover Page




In Search of an Identity




Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

National Park Service Uniforms
In Search of an Identity 1872-1920
Number 2


first authorized uniform, 1911

The first uniforms to grace the national park system were worn by soldiers. These made their appearance in 1886 when it was deemed that the civilian administration at Yellowstone was inadequate to protect the park from vandals. As an attempt was made to preserve more and more of the nations natural wonders, other areas came under the park system umbrella. It was only natural then that when Sequoia and Yosemite were designated national parks in 1890 for the Army to take them under their wing.

Unfortunately, since the Army's mandate only extended to the removal of the "trespassers" and "intruders", it became extremely difficult for it to cope with the many interlopers and souvenir hunters that were destroying the game and objects of curiosity, especially after the congress passed the 1894 Lacy Act forbidding hunting in national parks. To remedy this situation civilian "scouts", or rangers were hired by the Department of the Interior, under whose jurisdiction the parks and forest reserves fell at that time, thus forming the nucleus of the present day National Park Service.

Apparently the early rangers thought of their work as a job, not a profession. It wasn't until the separation of the parks and forest reserves in 1905 and the uniforming of the latter by the Forest Service, that the park rangers gave serious thought to their own identity. Up until its formation as a bureau, the National Park Service was apparently a stepchild in the eyes of the Department of the Interior.

A lot of the parks during this period followed their own drummer and to tell each in detail is beyond the scope of this publication. There was, though, a mainstream development of the uniform at this time which flowed through the Interior office. That is the path taken here.

Even though the Department authorized, sanctioned would be a more appropriate word, a specific uniform, this was subject to change at the whim of the individual ranger and sometimes the Department itself. At one time there were two "authorized" uniforms for the park rangers. The first uniforms utilized forest green wool, then olive drab, then back to forest green. In the middle of the OD period, Yosemite rangers bought forest green uniforms. The only thing the Department required was that all of the rangers within a given park be uniformed alike.

This then is the story of the struggle by these early men, who watched over the nations parks, as they tried to convince the bureaucracy to let them establish this identity, even at their own expense. Then when this desire was finally acceded to only to end up with the less than flattering "norfolk" jacket in 1911.

While the National Archives has excellent documentation for the period following the separation of the services in 1905, it has few images illustrating the uniforms of which they speak. Fortunately most of these were disseminated to the parks. In this regard I am indebted to Tom Tankersley, historian at Yellowstone, for his assistance in delving into the parks archives and finding some of these early photographs and drawings. As usual, a study of this type could not be accomplished without the assistance of personnel throughout the park system, in gathering information and photographs to add dimension to the written word. Again I'd like to thank Barry MackIntosh who was gracious enough to tackle the task of straightening out my text. Also, I'm indebted to David Nathanson for his assistance and for giving me the opportunity to put forward this study; Hugh Brown for assistance with the art work; Susan Myers and David Guiney, for their wizardry with the computer and last, but no means least, Tom DuRant, the sage of the National Park Service photograph collection at Harpers Ferry Center, whose invaluable help made this possible.

As you read this, you will begin to get a feel for the difficulties and resourcefulness of these dedicated early rangers, a trait which has been passed down to the present. These were truly remarkable people.


Last Modified: Wed, Dec 13 2000 11:30:00 pm PDT

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