Early Police Uniforms in America During the 19th Century

During the mid to late 1800’s most law enforcement in cities in rural area simply wore civilian clothing.  A badge attached to their shirt was the only thing that distinguished a civilian from a law enforcement officer.  These officers were often referred to as “night watch” officers and were often seen walking a specific beat in the business district watching for criminal activity and shaking doors of the businesses making sure that they were secure. 

In the late 1800’s many municipalities decided to adopt a uniform for these “night watch”  officers.  Many adopted a British styled uniform complete with a cane reinforced top hat known as a “custodian helmet”.   This is similar to the uniforms that were worn by the London England Officers which they still wear today.   Many referred to these style hats as “Bobby hats”.  Many municipalities in the US used surplus Union soldier uniforms to save money. 

Charles Frances White who is depicted here was one who patrolled the streets of Fulton in the late 1800’s.  The back of the photo which was sent to the Callaway County Historical Society by his decedents simply stated, “Charles White night watch”.  Early photos of both law enforcement and fire personnel in Fulton showed them wearing the British “bobby” style hat. 

It was not until the early to late 1940’s that the British style that gave way to the more familiar flat hat with a bill of which we are familiar.  

In the 1930’s and 1940’s Fulton law enforcement consisted of a town Marshall and returned  to wearing civilian clothes with the flat hat, badge and gun belt.  (See photo of our last town Marshall Tom Edson).  It was not until the late 1940’s to early 1950’s that Fulton converted to the standardized police uniform, complete with leather sash and “Ike” military style jacket.  It began to promote a more professional look for police  (See later photo of Tom Edison who was wearing the latest in police attire in the 1940’s. He was by then our first police chief).