Over the years, since the founding of well-known police departments (such as the NYPD), the police badge has changed to reflect the ideals and values of the region over which the department resides. The variations have included different shapes like stars, circles, shields, rectangles, and more. However, one of the most common design elements is the eagle, symbolizing the strength and courage of the town, county, state, and country. The badge helps, and brings together the whole police officer uniform, as seen in this police poster. There is also many different styles to show the rank, or type, of officer. Below is a list of police badges ranging from the mid-1800’s to the late 1900’s.
1845 – The Police Badge of the Early NYPD
In 1845, the New York Police Department issued its first Patrolman badge. It was in the shape of an eight-pointed star with a circle in the center that holds a design consisting of a coat of arms with a windmill on it. On either side of the coat of arms is a man, one being a Native American. Perched above the coat of arms is an eagle, and below is the word “police.” The Patrolman police badge was made out of brass. The department issued the same design in a white metal for Sergeants. The same design was also placed inside a ring to indicate Assistant Captain (a title that was later changed to Lieutenant in 1853). In the New York Police Department, this design was used for many different police badges to show various ranks of officers.
1857 – Metropolitan Police Badge
This version of the police badge was adopted in 1857 and used until 1870. It is in the shape of a shield and was struck in a white metal. The inscription “Metropolitan Police” is on the top and below that is an eagle perched on the top border of an image of a setting sun whose rays make up the background of the whole badge. On one side of the police badge is a woman holding a staff with a liberty cap on top, and on the other is a woman holding the scales of justice. While the police badge does not specifically indicate which city used the badge, some sources say it was issued by the New York Police Department for the rank of Patrolman.
1889 – “Potsy” Police Badge
This police badge is known as the “Potsy” badge because it reminded people of a folded tin can that kids would use to play a game of the same name. It was issued from 1889 to 1898 by the New York Police Department. The design is a rectangular shape being held by an eagle. On the top is a small image of two men standing on either side of a coat of arms. Below the image is the inscription “Police Department City of New York.” Some versions will also include the rank at the bottom of the police badge, while other versions are not held by the eagle at the top.
1911 – US Marshal Badge
Beginning around the 1880’s, the US Marshal badge began to get closer in design to its current badge, although the 1911 version lacked just a few of the design elements. The 1911 variation of the police badge was a five-pointed star set in a wide ring of white metal. On the top of the ring was “U.S.” and on the bottom was “Marshal.” The rest of the badge was plain in design. This was the major difference between the 1911 version and the current badge, because the current badge has the image of an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch with a coat of arms on its chest. Somewhere in between the use of these two badges, there were also variations of the US Marshal badge that were very different in design. However, the Marshals Service decided to revert back to a simpler design which resembles that from 1911.
1912 – City Police Badge
The city police badge is a generic badge that has been used by many different cities by changing a few of the design elements. This way, they could customize it to their city and/or state. This badge is circular with some ornate designs on the bottom and top. The top also has an eagle holding a ribbon in its beak. There is an outer and inner circle. The outer circle has “Police” on the top and “(city name)” on the bottom with the state abbreviation under that. In the inner circle of the police badge is a state or city seal, depending on what is chosen by the police department or local government. This badge is still used today in some towns and cities.
1925 – City Police Badge Variety
Many different police badges, especially as they approach modern-day police badges, are generic designs that get used by many different cities and states. Along with the 1912 city police badge, this 1925 is also used by a variety of cities. The shape of the police badge is that of a shield, with a little more detailed outline. There is a ribbon on top and bottom. In most cases, the top ribbon will say the city name and the bottom will say “Police.” In the center of the shield is the precinct number. For example, Baltimore uses a variation of this badge for their Park Police, so the design elements are customized for that department. The shape and type of metal can differ depending on what they city chooses.
1928 – Sergeant Police Badge
In 1928, a design that was a little different from the others was put to use as the badge for the rank of Sergeant. The shape of the police badge is that of a shield, but more triangular than most of the other designs before this time. The points at the top and bottom of the shield are sharper than other badges with a similar shape, and it has less details around the edge. The top of the police badge says “Sergeant,” and, because this badge design is also used by many different cities, the department may choose to put the city name or precinct number in the middle or at the bottom, where it would be surrounded by a star design. However, this design is less popular than others with a more oval or detailed shape.
1930s – Fire and Police Badge
Some variations of police badges can also be used for local fire departments. In the 1930s, a design was introduced that is used by both local police and fire departments. The badge is in the shape of shield with an eagle on top. It is struck in a yellow metal. In the center of the shield is a seal that is chosen by the local department. Two ribbons are above the seal. The uppermost has the person’s rank and the bottom ribbon has their last name. There are also two ribbons below the seal. One will most likely have either the city or department name and the other a precinct number or state abbreviation. This will vary depending on the choices made by the department. Around the edge of the shield are branches. Beginning in 1943, this design was also struck in white metal to indicate different ranks of officers.
1931 – Deputy Police Badge
This deputy police badge can be seen in many different varieties. It has been struck with slightly different shapes and inscriptions to reflect the choices made by local police departments. It is most often seen in a white metal in the shape of a detailed shield with an eagle with its wings spread on top. On the top of the police badge is a ribbon that reads “Deputy.” In the center is the image of a shield with “U.S.” The bottom ribbon may read a city name or the last name of the officer. An interesting detail about this badge is the difference in how the eagle is positioned. Many badges before this showed the eagle perched or even just the head of the eagle. This one, however, shows the eagle standing on top of the badge with its wings spread wide, displaying strength and courage.
1950s – State Officer Police Badge
During the 1950s, a badge was designed that is most often used by county sheriffs or state officers. While there are many different popular variations of this badge, it is also very different than many badges that are used today. The shape of the badge is a five-pointed star with a bead at the tip of each point. It is most often struck in a yellow metal. A circle in the center of the star most often displays the state or county in which it is issued and the seal of the state or county. The seal is in color instead of the same color of the metal in which it is struck.
Throughout history, there have been many different police badges that are issued by many different local and state departments. While many of the police badges show similar design elements and shapes, there are slight differences in many of them, creating lots of different varieties. In modern times, similar to the US Army logo, there have been less changes being made to the police badge as people have stopped creating wholly new designs. If a new design is made, it often compiles different elements from older versions of the police badge, such as eagles, stars, and ribbons.
You can also view other American History Posters, that display the historic legacy of America.