US Enlisted Uniforms 1900 - 1918

Presented by: Glenn E. Hyatt

Fredericksburg Area Military History
Collector's Association

Part 2: Uniform Patterns (Enlisted) Army


The early years of the 20th Century was an era of major change for the uniforms and equipment of the American Army. The transition from black powder to smokeless, development of high yield explosive, new quick firing artillery was certainly a part of it. However the experiences of the Spanish American War of 1898 made it dramatically clear that the traditional Army blue wool uniform was no longer state of the art on the modern battlefield.
Beginning with the Spanish American War experience a campaign was set in motion to completely rework the entire soldiers kit. For the first time there would be summer and winter uniforms. Infantry equipment would be developed for efficiency and reliability. Uniform development would tend toward providing comfort and some protection by changing the coloration so it would blend in with the surrounding landscape. This redesign effort would gain momentum throughout the pre war years and continue through the two years the US was involved in the First World War.

Early Years (1900-1916)

Traditional Army Uniform

Blue Wool Army Uniform Coat: Post Civil War through 1898.

Until the Spanish American War the US Army blue wool uniform was the issue for all seasons. As part of the redesign effort spawned by our military campaigns in tropical areas a complete redesign effort was mounted. Although the traditional army blue uniform was slated to be slowly phased out, they were still in issue in many areas through 1910. The legacy of Army Blue lives on, in the current day dress uniform worn by officers and enlisted.

Five bright raised shield US eagle buttons were used to close the coat.. It had a rolled falling open collar. and no external pockets. The jacket had a standard cuff fixed with three small bright eagle buttons that had no purpose other than decorative. It also had a and a band of stitching nearly three inches above the cuff. The jacket was fully lined with a black cotton liner and included a single interior breast pocket. There were no shoulder tabs and seams were single sewn. The jacket was constructed of blue wool and most surviving specimens seem to be of a standard color.

This uniform is part of a group worn by Pvt. George C. Hupp, from Standardsville, VA who served in the US Cavalry from 1898 until 1913.

New Uniform Designs1900-1917

Cotton Coat: Circa 1903.

In 1902 the US Army began its program of modernizing its uniforms. The development program consisted of a series of changes and modifications at first to the tropical uniforms.

A major change to the summer uniform was outlined in General Order 81 of July 17, 1902. The uniform was described as being of cotton or light canvas and buttons would be of dull finished bronze. It had a rolled falling open collar. Specification No. 631 of 1903 further changed the uniform further by describing four patch pockets, the breast pockets as "choked bellows",. The jacket had peaked cuffs and was unlined and had no interior pockets. Shoulder tabs would be of the same material as that of the rest of the uniform and sewn attached at the shoulder. Sleeves were almost tufted at the top and the coat was made of a lighter 71/2 to 8 oz cotton fabric. Surviving specimens exhibit substantial variations in the khaki color. Possibly due to fading over the years but there were consistent attempts to standardize the color used as well as the fade resistance of the material used in construction. Pvt. George C. Hupp uniform group.

Cotton Coat: Circa 1906.

In 1906 the Quarter Master General reported that a British military tailor had been engaged to improve the pattern but not the style of the uniform. The result was the adoption in December 1906 of the folded over standing collar , full bellows pockets , a heaver weight and lighter color of cloth and a cut out tail in the rear bottom hem of the jacket. The uniform retained the peaked cuff's, the darkened bronze buttons and had no liner. Pvt. George C. Hupp uniform group.

Wool Uniform Coat, Circa 1906,

It is constructed on the same basic pattern as the 1904-1906 cotton uniform coat except it is made of olive drab to khaki or tan color wool. The uniform coat has 4 patch bellows type pockets with flaps and tapered shoulder tabs all secured by small subdued rimless eagle buttons with national seal. The uniform also uses 5 subdued larger rimless eagle buttons with national seal to close the coat. The coat has a folded or rolled collar, (at times modified to standing). It also has peaked cuffs, and reinforced armpits, inside breast slit pocket and a full cotton liner . The back of the coat has a 3-inch slit on each side of the tail to relieve stress when sitting. All seams are double sewed. It is fixed with a QM tag in the bottom hem and date of manufacture (1909) for this example.

Note: What happened to the 1900-1910 uniforms? For reasons of economy rather than dump the old issue, the Quartermaster General ordered that all khaki be collected and shipped to the San Francisco Depot for issue in the Department of Hawaii. There they would be issued until stocks were depleted.(Ann. Report of the QM General, 1912.. pp 521-522)

Cotton Coat: Circa 1911 (1910).

The first major change in the Army cotton uniform was with Spec 1126 dated August 1911. This called for an all-new uniform coat without the bellows pockets, rather having 4 patch pockets with flaps secured by small subdued national seal eagle buttons. Standing collar, some having button hole sewed in neck for collar devices on each side. It was closed by 5 rimmed and also issued with rimless subdued national seal eagle buttons attached via split rings. The coat had plane cuffs with double row of stitching about 3in from the bottom of the sleeve. The coat is unlined without interior pockets . It was constructed of olive drab 6.5 to 7 oz material and all seams are double stitched. They are found dyed in a variety of khaki colors from light tan to almost brown, tending toward lighter shades. Tapered shoulder tabs secured by two rimless subdued eagle buttons with national seal. They were in service through 1919. Uniform of James A. Wilson, Co. H, 116th Inf. 29th Division from Hopewell, VA

Cotton Trousers: Button fly, cut with tapered, laced lower leg in both infantry and in cavalry (reinforced) cuts. No hip pockets in on pre 1911 versions, hip pockets included in later (circa 1917) versions and included belt loops. Trousers had adjusting tab in back, and tapered legs laced at the bottom.

Wool Uniform Coat, Circa 1912, Following on the change in the Army cotton uniform of 1911 a wool version was also constructed. At times called the Circa 1916 it conformed with Spec 1126 dated August 1911. Constructed with a Tan rather than an Olive Drab color and of higher quality wool than is found in later uniforms. The coat was without the bellows pockets as well as the folding collar and peaked or pointed cuffs. It had flat patch pockets, plain cuffs with two rows of stitching about 3in from cuff. It had a straight standing collar with one collar disk on each side. The seat slit was eliminated and the coat was fully lined . It had tapered shoulder tabs. Both the coat and the pockets were secured by both rimmed and rimless subdued eagle buttons with national seal. Uniform of Roy Davault, MG Company B. 131 MG Bat. 36th Division, Texas.

Wool Trousers:Wool, Khaki, two front slit pockets, watch pocket, button fly, laced lower legs, back adjusting tab. Manufactured of same quality material as associated coats above.

WWI (1917) - Army

Cotton Uniform Coat, Circa 1911 WWI examples are found dyed in a variety of khaki colors from light tan to almost brown, tending toward darker shades. This variety of coloration may be due to the issue and dye lots but more than likely the variance is due to fading over the past 80 years. Cotton uniforms were for the most part not issued in France, rather some US units received them upon their return in summer of 1919. The 29th Division is such a case. Contemporary photos show the men of the 29th wearing their wool uniforms on their return voyage. However most of the authentic enlisted uniforms for the 115th (MD NG) and 116th (VA NG) are usually the cotton issues. The circumstances that brought this about is most likely the victory parade the 115th and 116th participated in upon their return. It was the summer of 1919 and wool uniforms would have been unbearable in the muggy Virginia heat. The bulk of these survivors seem to have a common pattern of division patch and other insignia which is a good benchmark for determining authenticity. These cotton walking out uniforms are usually found with rimmed subdued eagle buttons.

Cotton Trousers Of similar material.2 front slit pockets, adjustment strap in back, with belt loops and button fly. Tapered laced reinforced leg. Later versions had two hip pockets, and a watch pocket. Trousers are unlined, QM issue tag on the back of left front pocket.

Wool Uniform Coat, Circa 1917,

This uniform coat was the standard issue to the majority of the US troops serving in the AEF from 1917-1918. Made of a much coarser wool dyed in a wide variety of khaki and olive drab colors. It had a standing collar and was fixed with five national seal subdued rimmed eagle buttons. There were 4 patch pockets with top flaps secured by 4 small national seal subdued rimmed eagle buttons. The coat was fixed with two non-tapered shoulder tabs secured with small subdued national seal rimmed eagle buttons. It was fully lined with khaki cotton liner and had an inside breast slit pocket. The coat had plain cuffs void of stitching and all seams front and back were double stitched. Uniform of William W. Johnson, Co. H, 110th Inf, (PA NG) 28th Division. Wound chevron awarded for being Gassed on August 16th, 1918. Home at time of enlistment was Philadelphia, PA.

Wool Trousers Of similar material. 2 front slit pockets, adjustment strap in back. With belt loops and button fly. Tapered laced leg and reinforced inner theigh.

WWI (1918) - Army

Wool Uniform Coat, Circa 1918 (Pershing Type),

This wool uniform coat was Introduced in August of 1918 as a measure of saving wool. It was constructed of olive drab wool similar to the British pattern coat. It had a standing collar, five subdued rimmed eagle buttons with national seal. There were 4 inside slit pockets, the pocket flaps secured by 4 small subdued rimmed eagle buttons fixed with the national seal. The coat had an inside breast slit pocket and was fully lined with a khaki cotton liner. There were two non-tapered shoulder tabs secured with small subdued rimmed eagle buttons with national seal. The back of the coat was double stitched for strength.

Wool Trousers: Introduced in August of 1918 to save wool. Mfg. of similar material as the Pershing 1918 coat. 2 front slit pockets, no adjustment strap in back. With belt loops and button fly. Legs are straight with no reinforcement and a slightly tapered leg without laces.

WWI (OTHER) - Army

1918 Wool Uniform British Mfg..

Same as the 1918 US Wool coat with the exception that there is no lining and the coat is marked with the British military acceptance broad arrow and "WD" and to the inside. This type of uniform is often found as having been issued to replacements.

Rough Cut Pattern of 1917 Type Same as standard 1917 coat with the exception that edges of pockets, hems etc. are not finished and stitching is kept at a minimum. At times called a blanket cut. These are almost always very dark olive drab in color rather than the tan khaki encountered with the true 1917 pattern.

Trousers: Same as 1917 pattern but unfinished seams. Coarse OD material with unfinished edges.

Private Purchase Uniforms Throughout the war and in the immediate post war period soldiers of all ranks sought uniforms from a variety of private sources. This was usually due to an attempt to look a little snappier than being outfitted with the standard Government issue uniform. Thousands of clothing shops and tailors began to offer custom uniforms to both Enlisted as well as the Officers in both the US as well as Europe.

In most cases they are based on the US 1917 standard pattern uniform. However, workmanship and the materials used varied considerably as well as colors. They range from uniforms custom tailored by best shops in Paris to off-the-rack improved quality uniforms available even by mail order.

The majority of these private purchase uniforms ended up as walking out uniforms. Usually decorated with division insignia, chevrons, badges etc. the returning soldier sought to cut a smart figure for the folks back home.

Since they were privately purchased (at times costing a couple of month's pay) they were lovingly preserved as mementos of their often in excellent condition. It was highly unlikely these were ever worn in combat, rather reserved for the parade back home or for a trip to Paris on leave.

Private purchase uniforms are usually easily identifiable by observing the higher quality of construction, better materials and at times the custom tailor's label inside a pocket or in the neck. They may be constructed without double stitched seams and having more panels used in their construction that issue uniforms to ensure a custom fit..

Walking out uniform of G. J. Henry, member of the 332nd Medical Staff. Maker's tag reads: "Kahn Tailor Uniforms, Indianapolis, IN"

Walking out uniform of Lewis Volker, member 1st Army (Aero Signal Corps) From Dunn Co. WI, Maker's tag reads: "Special Brand, United Garment Workers of America"

Walking out uniform of Benge Obediah. Army Air Service, Maker's tag reads: "Kriegck, Baran & Balmana. Paris"

RETURN to Part 1, Introduction

CONTINUE with Part 3, Uniform Insignia

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