Digest>Archives> June 2005

Lighthouse Keeper's Uniforms Part 2

Collecting Nautical Antiques

By Jim Claflin


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The uniform for male keepers of lighthouses consisted of a sack coat, vest, pantaloons or trousers, belt, shoes and socks, and cap. In addition, overcoats and aprons were also available.

The normal uniform was of navy blue cloth in winter, or navy blue serge or flannel in summer, although in hot climates, white uniforms of similar cut and fit could be

worn at such stations as the superintendent might designate.

From the Regulations Governing the Uniforms of the Officers and Men of the United States Lighthouse Service 1893, keepers of lighthouses were to wear the same uniform as the masters of tenders, except the ornaments on the sleeves of the coat varied.

From the regulations, the uniform consisted of a “…double-breasted sack coat with five large regulation buttons on each side – the top button placed close to the collar, the lower button about 6 inches from the bottom, and the other buttons at equal spaces between the top and bottom buttons. The length of coat to be the extended arm and hand. The coat to be provided with two inside breast pockets and two outside hip pockets, the latter to have

flaps so arranged as to be worn inside the pockets if desired. Each sleeve to have two small buttons on the cuff seam, 1/2 inch apart, the lower button 1 inch from bottom of cuff.”

Coats would vary from five-button double breasted, to four-button double breasted, to four-button single breasted, depending on the time period. Likewise, the button design varied over the early years from an intertwined “U.S.” over “L.H.E.”, soon replaced by an arc of “U. S. L. H. E.” by the 1890s. These buttons were specified as “…triple gilt on brass, the outer rim to be slightly raised, inside of which, arranged circularly, are to be the letters U.S.L.H.E.” There were specified three sizes of buttons: large, one inch in diameter; medium, 3/4 inch in diameter; and small, 1/2 inch in diameter.

By about 1900-1910, the button design had again changed to a raised relief image of Minot’s Ledge Lighthouse. Also, by the 1920s gold service stars and bars were authorized, indicating length of service. Worn on the lower left sleeve near the cuff, each bar represented five years of service up to 20, and each star represented 25 years of service.

No other sleeve ornaments were authorized

for station keepers.

To indicate position, keepers were to “…wear on each lapel of the sack coat, a loop embroidered in gold, 2 1/2 inches long by 3/4 inch wide; the border of loop to be 1/10 inch broad. If principal keeper, the letter K will be worn within the loop. If first assistant keeper, the figure 1 will be worn embroidered within the loop. If second assistant keeper, the figure 2 will be worn embroidered within the loop. If third assistant keeper, the figure 3 will be worn embroidered within the loop. If there are more than three assistants, they will wear the number 4, 5, or 6, as the case may be, embroidered within the loop. “

The vest was “…of navy-blue cloth in winter, or navy blue serge or flannel in summer, and cut single-breasted with five small regulation buttons and a small rolling collar,

so as to show about 6 inches of the shirt bosom: to have a watch pocket in the left

side and a lower pocket on each side . . . The trousers to be of navy blue cloth in winter, or navy blue serge or flannel in slimmer, cut in the prevailing styles, with pockets in hip seams.”

Caps were “…to be of the Navy pattern with 1/2 inch wide adjustable chin straps, a gold embroidered wreath in front, 1 1/4 inches high by 2 inches spread, inclosing a silver embroidered lighthouse 3/4 inches high."

The overcoat was “…to be of the Caban style, of navy blue cloth, double breasted, with six large gutta-percha buttons on each side, the top button to be near collar seam, the bottom button 8 inches from bottom of skirt and the others spaced equally between top and bottom buttons.

In coming months we will discuss particulars of other uniforms including masters and mates of light vessels, tenders, workmen, watchmen and more, as well as cap insignia.

This story appeared in the June 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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