The Earliest Badge of the Los Angeles Police Department

Many years ago I came across a very early photograph of a uniformed Los Angeles police officer, standing proudly alongside his family. At first glance, it appears he is wearing the “Series One” badge that was first issued in 1876. But with closer examination, the unidentified officer is wearing a badge that has seven points as compared to Series One badge which has eight points. Why is this important you ask; because there is

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A. C. Golsh cabinet card of an unidentified LAPD officer wearing the “1869” style badge and military uniform. Circa 1875-1876.

no official record of LAPD officers wearing a metal badge prior to 1876. Accordingly, this photograph is an extremely rare record of the earliest known badge worn by and LAPD officer.

In 1869, Los Angeles was being overrun by gangs, prostitution, gamblers, murderers and plain drunks. As one visitor stated, “The name of this city is in Spanish, the city of Angels, but with much more truth might it be called at present the city of Demons. While I have been here in Los Angeles only two weeks, there have been eleven deaths and only one of them a natural”

To combat these undesirables, the city council sought full-time police protection. This was a decisive moment in Los Angeles history as this allowed the establishment of a city police department. To lead the new department, the council hired William C. Warren who was the town marshal and gave him the added title of chief of police. (Warren was gunned down by one of his officers involving a dispute over reward money one year later.) The police department consisting of six officers were not paid a salary but were compensated with a commission for the collection of fees by serving writs, for arrests, and for returning stolen property.

With a budget of just $75 to furnish his office and pay rent, there is no record of any funds being allotted for uniforms or badges. So what is this officer in the photograph wearing? That mystery first began to be solved with the help of Policewomen Alice Stebbins Wells who most agree is American’s first paid policewomen. Wells served on the LAPD from 1910 until 1940 and died in 1957. In her later years of service, she was the department’s official historian. Years later, another figure entered the discussion, when retired Commander Keith Bushey was fortunate enough to steward a number of police badges from the estate of Wells. It was Bushey who saw the historical importance of the non-descript badge many others at first thought insignificant.

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The “1869” style badge. Photo courteous of Keith Bushey.

Bushey determined through his expertise as the predominant collector and historian on badges that this “City Police – 1869” was skillfully hand cut and fit the standard for metal badges worn during this era. The seven point star was used by police departments across the nation including cities in California such as San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento. It only stands to reason, LAPD officers also wore some type of metal badge.

Bushey believes that a number of different types of badges were worn during this period from 1869 and the establishment of LAPD as a paid and uniformed department in 1876. Some were individually made such as this 1869 badge while others could have been ordered through the mail which were merely generic and had “POLICE” stamped on them.

There would have been little standardization on the fledgling department as officers were required to purchase their own equipment, uniform, and sidearm. Consequently, officers equipped themselves as best they could and with what they could afford. The fact that the 1869 badge has a “2” would suggest that there was also a number “1” badge. The “1869” on the badge is significant. It was a time in Los Angeles that the formation of a police department would have been the talk of the town. Going from volunteers attempting to enforce the law to a force of six armed officers and a chief of police, would have been something to document, in this case, inscribing the “1869” as the centerpiece of the badge.

As Bushey quantified: “In the case of this [1869] badge, the evidence is very compelling that this badge was used prior to the standardization of the uniform in 1876, and may in fact be representative of a Los Angeles Police badge design that had not been previously acknowledged.” I would agree. In doing my research for Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, I found no documentation of the “1869” badge until I located the rare photograph of the LAPD officer wearing just such a badge. In conjunction with Bushey’s research, his acquisition of the “1869” badge, the likely history of the department’s first badge comes to light. It is an important discovery as it pre-dates the Series One badge of 1876 that historians steadfastly attribute as the first metal badge worn by members of the LAPD.

To bolster this argument, it is important to qualify the cabinet card photograph as a LAPD

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Officer Frank Lemon wearing the regulation uniform and Series One badge. Photo by Golsh. Circa 1879.

officer. The image was taken by A. C. Golsh, an immigrant from Prussia. Golsh settled down in Los Angeles and established a photographic business in heart of Los Angeles at 411 Main Street across the street from the now famous Pico House. The cabinet card style was first introduced in 1866 and had its peak in the United States from 1875 to 1895. Golsh was active in Los Angeles from approximately 1870 to 1893. Photographing policemen was not new to Golsh as evidenced by an outstanding cabinet card of Officer Frank Lemon with a detailed view of the Series One badge. Based on the style of the image and other factors noted, I would date the image circa 1875-1876. At this time there were 12 officers on the LAPD.

The uniform the officer is wearing is most likely military that he either wore during the Civil War or bought from a military surplus dealer. Note his series “1869” styled seven point badge on his jacket. Collectively taken with Bushey’s research, his seven point badge, in conjunction with the photograph of this LAPD officer wearing the early badge, we have the best evidence to date of the transformation of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1869 until 1876. It allows a rare peak into what at least one officer choose to wear until standardization of equipment took place in 1876. Please contact me with your comments and thoughts, I would enjoy hearing from you-jabultema@lapdhistory.com.

 

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