History - 1900 to 1949
In the year 1865, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established the first state-wide police agency. This action was a result of a bill passed by the Great and General Court and signed by Governor Andrew. However, the bill included no requirements for a police uniform, which I found surprising. I conducted some independent research to figure out how the State Police arrived at French & Electric Blue uniforms. My findings reveal some interesting stories that involve Beacon Hill politics, the French Army and the Massachusetts National Guard.
I found my first clue about uniforms in the year 1879,
when the force was formally assigned to "districts", and became known as the District Police. My research indicates they wore a traditional blue uniform with two rows of buttons and traditional police officer hat.
The next significant change came in around 1920, when Governor Cox signed a bill into law creating the State Police Patrol, shifting the duties of the District Police to a new Department of Public Safety (via MGL Chapter 22). The first Commissioner of Public Safety was Major General Alfred Foote, a former Massachusetts National Guard Officer.
In September of 1921, Foote's First Recruit Class reported to Camp Framingham, the Massachusetts National Guard training site and supply depot located in the area of what is now 450 Worcester Road in Framingham. Recruits were issued olive drab uniforms, likely surplus Guard uniforms, with the State Police patch placed on the right shoulder.
More than 10 years later, in February of 1933, 300 yards of light blue cloth were purchased by the state police supply department and were delivered to Rosenfield Uniform Shop on Washington Street, Boston with instructions to manufacture 125 uniforms. The fabric cost $7,000, a substantial sum in 1933.
This purchase attracted the attention of Mr. Charles P. Howard, Chairman of the Massachusetts Commission on Administration and Finance. Howard immediately informed Governor Ely that Commissioner Foote's purchase was outside the "normal and required" state purchase and spending guidelines. Governor Ely seemed surprised by this news, stating that he "first learned that General Foote had decided to change his state police trooper’s rigs from forest green khaki to French and electric blue from Mr. Howard".
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety continued with the new uniform design, and the Legislature held a hearing on a bill to copyright the new uniform. The Department of Public Safety Supply Officer, Lieutenant John A. Carroll attended the hearing wearing a sample of the new uniform.
Governor Ely stepped in and “in the interest of economy” vetoed the new blue uniforms, and sent letters to Finance Chairman Howard and Commissioner Foote directing them to withhold approval of the contract. However, it seems that the letter was too late. State Auditor Francis X. Hurley reported that the manufacture of the uniforms was nearly complete. Hurley further reported there were no contracts for the purchase or the manufacture of the uniforms, and initiated a search to recover the uniforms or the monies. A search of the tailor shop revealed neither cloth, uniforms nor money. Finance Chairman Howard referred his findings to the Attorney General and many in government called for a Trial Board to remove General Foote.
During this controversy, it's reported that Commissioner Foote also initiated an investigation of the alleged purchase and contract improprieties and appointed State Police Captain Thomas E. Bligh to investigate. Bligh recommended a Trial Board be impaneled to hear charges against the Department of Public Safety Supply Officer, Captain Beaupre, because of the alleged irregularities in handling of State Police monies. I find no evidence that a Trial Board was ever convened.
In June of 1933 Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 0239, An Act Relative to the Uniform of Members of The State Police which provided “the Commissioner of Public Safety may prescribe by rules and regulations a standard form or forms of uniform to be worn by members of the division of state police. A uniform or any distinctive part thereof so prescribed shall be worn only by members of said division entitled thereto under said regulations”. The statute carried a fine of not less than ten dollars and not more than one hundred dollars for a violation of the law. It is reasonable to believe the Legislature may have passing legislation creating a standard uniform for the state police in an attempt to end the controversy in and around Beacon Hill. Today MGL, Chapter 22C Section 19 provides the Colonel may promulgate Rules and Regulations that provide a standard uniform.
It appears that Gen Foote elected to retire, without a Trial Board. Governor Ely also eventually capitulated and allowed the uniforms to be manufactured. The new Commissioner of Public Safety, General Daniel Needham (another National Guard Officer) was not in favor of paying Mr. Rosenfield because “he was not hired by any State official who had the right to engage him”. However, records show that Tailor Rosenfield was eventually paid for his work.
I found nothing in the archives that specifically documents why Commissioner Foote chose the two shades of blue, however, we can speculate based on his military service. As a Guardsman, Foote was called to active service in 1917 and deployed to France with the 26th Infantry Division and commanded a battalion of the 104th Infantry Regiment. The regiment participated in six major campaigns in World War 1, fighting alongside the French Forces. On 28 April 1918, the 104th was awarded the “Croix de Guerre” for “exceptional bravery in combat by General Fenelon F.G.Passaga, Commander of XXII Corps, First French Army. The Massachusetts State House displays a painting of the ceremony. In the painting, the French officers wear a blue dress uniform that is nearly the same shade of blue as the cloth Commissioner Foote purchased some 15 years after he stood on the field at Boucq, France for the Regiment’s award ceremony.
One other item that I found interesting is the placement of the state police patch on the right shoulder by Commissioner Foote, when the National Guard (who supplied the olive drab police uniforms) placed their patch on the left, consistent with the US Army. The US Army's 81st “Wildcat” Division started to wear a unit patch on the left sleeve, which was against Army Regulations during their 1918 deployment to France. Units within the Theater complained, and after consideration, US Army General John J. Pershing allowed the 81st to wear the patch and encouraged other units to do so. The US Army modified the Regulation in 1919, allowing units to display a unit patch on the left shoulder of the uniform. One wonders if the state police patch was placed on the right shoulder sleeve by design or by accident. The US Army adopted the practice of the right shoulder “combat patch” in 1945.
Commissioner Foote's National Guard unit, the 104th, was the first American Army Unit ever decorated by a foreign country for bravery in combat. The 104th was recently consolidated and merged with the 181 Infantry Regiment, headquartered in Worcester. Its Soldiers wear the French Fourragere shoulder cord which signifies the award presented in 1918”.
I wish to thank the staff of the Massachusetts State Police Museum and Learning Center in Grafton and the Massachusetts National Guard Archives, Museum Branch in Concord. Both agencies collect, preserve and provide access to information and artifacts.
RP “Dick” Belanger
Sergeant MSP (Ret) 60th RTT
CSM, Massachusetts Army National Guard (Ret), 5th State CSM