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The insightful and thought-provoking comments found here do not represent the official opinions or policies of the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, or the Cornish Stannary Parliament. Warning: Do not read this blog if you suffer from linear thinking, myopic vision, closed-mindedness, a lack of a sense of a humor, or if you suffer from ego-dramas. Side effects from reading this blog may include an increase in the collective consciousness. No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog. Copyright (c) 2012 "The Ranger Archivist is very entertaining so his writings are interesting and fun." – Ruth Kilday, founder and executive director of the Mountains Conservancy Foundation

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Field Guide to NPS Uniform Regulations

In the heart of Yellowstone lays the Museum of the National Park Ranger, a facility dedicated to the rich history of park rangers.  According to the park’s website, the exhibits at the museum “depict the development of the park ranger profession from its roots in military traditions through early rangers to the present array of NPS staff.”  These exhibits include items that were worn on uniforms of the past such as a unique collection of historic badges.  Moreover, the park’s museum collections include examples of historic uniforms from breeches to belts. 

As we know, uniforms worn by rangers take their inspiration from the uniforms of U.S. Army soldiers who guarded the parks prior to the establishment of the NPS.  And, as any good soldier knows, the proper wear of uniforms is governed by a strict set of regulations.  It therefore seems appropriate that in order to interpret – and curate – historic uniforms a thorough knowledge of past NPS regulations is needed.  So I’ve endeavored to gather copies of these rules from wherever I can find them!
1911-1938, In the beginning…
The first authorized uniforms for National Park rangers made their appearance in 1911 and rules for proper wear were soon created.  I’m still trying to gather a complete set of uniform policies from this era and so far have transcripts of the 1920, 1923, and 1936 regulations.  I’m still looking for anything pre-1920 as well as the 1928, 1930, 1932 (Office Order 204), and 1935 (Office Order 268) editions.
The Lost Regulations, 1938-1940
Bryce Workman, who authored a series of books on NPS uniforms in the 1990s, labeled the uniforms rules issued in 1938 the “Lost Regulations” (Office Order 350) since no extant copy was known to exist. Up until the issuance of Office Order No. 350, National Park Service Uniform Regulations were simply four or five pages of written specifications, but beginning with this Order the regulations were presented in a booklet format.
I believe I have located a copy of these regulations in the National Archives! 

1940-1947, Manuals
According to Workman, manuals were first issued formally in the 1940s.  With the issuance of the National Park Service uniform regulations in a manual format, uniform regulations became an entity in their own right and were no longer classed under the general heading of "Office Orders" (although the first manual was classified as Office Order No. 350). 
On November 22, 1940, a new manual for uniform regulations were issued for the Service.  I have a transcript of these regulations. 
1947-1956, another Manual

When new National Park Service uniform regulations came out on April 11, 1947, what had started as a 4 page typed document in 1920, was now 69 pages long.  Again, according to Workman, it was still in manual form but no longer contained the nice professional drawings and printed text of the 1940 version.  Instead, it consisted of line drawings with typed descriptions of the prescribed uniforms, along with instructions about fit, wearing the different uniforms, how to salute the flag, etc, and for the first time uniforms for women appeared in Service regulations.   

I have definitely tracked down a copy of these regulations at the National Archives!  A copy is being sent to me at my own expense (Don’t tell Dana).

1956-1959, Part 160

In 1956, the National Park Service revised its entire format for uniform regulations. Uniform Regulations were no longer a separate entity, but were now Part 160 of the National Park Service Administrative Manual. These new regulations went into effect on September 11, superseding all of the previous regulations. Specifications were back to text only, with the drawings and photographs utilized in previous editions eliminated.  These regulations remained basically the same as previously in effect, although there were a couple of minor changes. 

Major Changes, 1959-1985
Apparently the incorporation of the uniform regulations in the NPS Administrative Manual was not satisfactory, because in 1959 a new format was created. On December 2, 1959 the National Park Service Uniform Handbook was issued. It was to become fully effective on January 1, 1961.  The new regulations not only gave the regulations (when, what, and how to wear) and specifications for uniform dress, but a somewhat abbreviated history of National Park Service Uniforms; definitions of terms; hints on the care and maintenance of uniforms (use clear nail polish to retard buttons from tarnishing); posture (protruding stomachs and slumped shoulders constitute being out of uniform); list of current uniform suppliers; etc.
The new regulations were approved in November, 1959, but were not released to the field until December 2, 1959, and becoming effective on January 1, 1961.
I have a copy of these regulations!
Arrowhead Patch Controversy, 1969
In the course of my investigation, I read a story worth mentioning here.  On March 3, 1969, Acting NPS Director Hummel sent a memorandum to all regional directors ordering the removal of the iconic arrowhead shoulder patch.  "In keeping with the Director's desire to act positively on field suggestions, it has been decided that effective June 1, 1969, Service emblem shoulder and cap patches will not be worn on any National Park Service garments," he wrote.
However, before this unpopular directive could be implemented, Department of Interior Secretary Walter J. Hickel reinstated the DOI buffalo seal.  Director Hartzog thereupon reinstated the arrowhead as the official NPS emblem and continued its use as a patch in a memorandum dated May 15, 1969.

1982-1985, Guidelines
Director Everhardt began issuing NPS regulations as numbered Guidelines in the Fall of 1975 as part of the NPS Directives Management System.  Uniform Standards and Draft Allowance Guidelines appeared in 1982.

1985-1993, more Guidelines
NPS 43 - Servicewide Uniform Program Guidelines came into effect February 1985.  I have a PDF copy of these regulations. 

1993-2000, and yet even more Guidelines

An updated NPS 43 - Servicewide Uniform Program Guidelines were issued in 1993, and I have a PDF copy of these rules.

2000-Present, DO’s and RM’s
Director’s Orders replace NPS Guidelines in 1996 and Director’s Order 43, Uniforms, and Reference Manual 43, Uniforms, made their appearance in 2000.  I have PDF copies of both, although Director’s Order 43 seems to have expired in 2005 with no replacement or update.  Also, a 2005 edition of Reference Manual 43 can be found on InsideNPS although its provenance is questionable since the 2000 version is the only one found on the official website of the NPS’s Office of Policy.


  1. Do you know why the NPS (unlike most federal, state, and local agencies) ony requires one shoulder emblem for its uniformed employees?

    1. Great question! It might take lot of research to answer, but I'll take a look at some of the sources next week.

  2. Sorry, I thought I answered this one. I believe this might be a partial answer. According to Workman's "Badges and Insignia," in 1952 (when the Arrowhead patch was first issued and used) permanent employees were issued 3 Arrowhead patches and seasonal employees were only issued one. So there must have been a decision somewhere that there be only one patch per uniform.