November 1, 1858 | Boston Police Get New Uniforms


Should police wear uniforms? Believe it or not, it was once a topic of fierce debate. In the mid-19th century, some thought uniforms—referred to as livery—were a sign of servitude. Others thought a uniform smacked of authoritarianism and opposed our ideals of American freedom. Still others worried uniforms would pose problems for detective work and make officers an easier target for the criminal element. These naysayers were eventually overwhelmed by the need for a practical way to single out law enforcement in the increasingly large American cities. New York was the first to institute uniforms in 1853. Philadelphia battled over the issue for seven years before a uniform was finally implemented in 1860.

In Boston, though, there was hardly any ruckus when uniforms were introduced on November 1, 1858. It may be that these dandy uniforms appealed to the Boston copper or, perhaps, the associated commentary brooked no argument:

Boston Police took to their new uniforms, and even improved them with the addition of white cotton gloves, in 1861.


Thanks to Donna Wells of the Boston (MA) Police Department for this excellent image of Boston’s dapper officers.