International Association of Chiefs Police Convention Badges

By James Sterling

Back in October 1871, 112 police officials gathered in St. Louis, Mo., and attempted to establish a permanent organization of police chiefs.

Immediately after these executives were officially welcomed to St. Louis by a member of the city council, convention badges were distributed to the delegates. These badges were described as being of white silk with “Police Convention, St. Louis, Mo., 1871” printed on them. The state from which each member came was also shown on the badge.

So began a tradition for law enforcement executives.


This convention badge was given to IACP members who attended the 15th annual convention held in Detroit in 1908: The badge was hallmarked “Whitehead & Hoag Co., Newark, N.J.” and looks like a Detroit Police Department Shield.

Despite the group’s plan to meet in Washington D.C., in June 1872, it was not until 1893, 21 years later, that another generation of police chiefs met and created a permanent association. During this notable three-day meeting in Chicago, the 51 delegates busied themselves with important organizational matters rather than badges.

Their effort stood the test of time, since the organization they established in 1893 exists today as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).

Two years later, in May 1895, these same police executives gathered in Washington, D.C., for their third meeting. As this three-day meeting drew to a close, their new president, Chief Eldridge of Boston, acted in conformance to a resolution which called for the creation of a committee to select an “international badge for the use of the members.” To the newly formed “Committee on Badges,” Eldridge named three highly-respected members, one of whom was the founder of the IACP, Webber S. Seavey.

When the Association convened again In 1896, Chief Eldridge delivered his annual address to the delegates. Among his accomplishments as president, he pointed out that “a committee was appointed last year to consider and recommend some suitable badge for members of this union.”

Later, when the Committee on Badges was called upon to present their report, the chairman stated that they had been unable to agree on any design for a permanent Association badge. Like police officers of today, opinions about the design of a badge or patch are strongly held and unanimity is oftentimes difficult to achieve.


Attendees at the 21st annual IACP convention held in 1914 in Grand Rapids, Mich., received this badge made by Whitehead & Hoag Co, It features the city skyline and a white shield with very colorful banners in the design.

As a practical matter, it was unnecessary for the Association to agree on the design of a permanent badge. The host department in the city where each annual convention was held had, among its many responsibilities, the design of the badges and their distribution to the delegates.

The host department’s badge, city seal, skyline or local symbol dominated the design of these early badges. For example, the badge issued to attendees at the 1908 IACP meeting in Detroit had the form of that city’s traditional shield suspended from the top part. In another example, the upper section of the badge for the 1914 convention in Grand Rapids, Mich., showed a panoramic view of the city’s downtown area from across the Grand River.

Even after the IACP adopted and patented a “monogram including the letters ‘IAC’ and the word ‘POLICE’” in 1905, symbols representative of the host city continued to be shown on the badge.

Insofar as is known, this official IACP insignia was not displayed on the Association’s convention badges until 19301. This badge was given to members who attended the convention in Duluth, Minn. Coincidentally, 1930 was the year during which the creator of the insignia, Richard Sylvester, died.

In addition to the design of a convention badge, the host department was also required to pay for their purchase. As a result of the variations in a department’s ability to pay, some convention badges were of high quality while others were not. Some were manufactured by well established companies, such as Whitehead and Hoag of Newark, N.J., Gustave Fox of Cincinnati and Bastian Brothers or Metal Arts of Rochester, N.Y. Other badges were made by little known local badge manufacturers while still others had no identifying hallmark. Because the purchase of these badges was done locally, their costs are unknown.

In order to hold costs down in another way, host departments wanted to avoid the purchase of excessive numbers of badges. To do this, they repeatedly sought to obtain from the Association’s secretary/treasurer estimates of the number of registrants for a coming conference.


Members at the 44th convention in Baltimore received this ornate three-tiered gold–plated badge made by J.M. Fred Hahn of Catonsville, Md. The other badge was worn by the “first lady” of the convention, the wife of IACP President George Reyer.

Chief Harvey O. Carr of Grand Rapids, Mich., the man who held this office longer than anyone else in history of the IACP, succinctly responded to these requests with the observation that: “It has been impossible to ascertain the number of persons coming to a convention.” Thus, host departments were left on their own to estimate the number of attendees expected to attend their convention and consequently, the number of badges to order.

For years up to 1900, probably no more that 150 badges were ordered for any annual convention.

During the first decade of the new century, it is estimated that no more than 225 badges were purchased for each annual meeting.

During the 1920’s and 30’s, attendance figures varied considerably with the location of the event. The gala 1924 convention in Montreal registered around 1000 persons, while the following year’s convention in Indianapolis had only about 320 attendees.

Presumably, few more IACP convention badges were ever made in any one year than the number of persons who attended the event.

The obvious purpose of the convention badge was to identify one member to another while participating in their annual meeting. The badge was also the “ticket” which delegates and their wives used to be admitted to the various entertainment provided them (boat rides, baseball games, burlesque theatres, barbecues, banquets and the like.) In addition, the badge was a souvenir of an historic annual event; a memento to be prized in the years ahead.

The badge, however, was something else, an artifact with a more subtle meaning.

Perhaps this can be understood from the remarks of Mayor Kiel of St. Louis who, in 1921, greeted the IACP delegates to his city. At the start of the meeting, the Mayor waited patiently for over half an hour to begin his welcome address. Many of the delegates were just outside the meeting hall hurrying to register for the convention and obtain their official credentials.

When the Mayor finally began his address he said, “I saw them busy outside registering so they could get a badge, and I even wanted a badge myself, because anyone at a convention without a badge doesn’t usually count for very much.” True to its original function, the badge imparted to the wearer a sense of prestige and high status.

Throughout the Association’s early years, questions arose about various details related to these badges.

During their deliberations at the 1906 convention in Hot Springs, Ark., it was considered that the convention badge be prepared to show the member’s name as well as his city and state.

Chief Taylor of Philadelphia expressed his objection to this proposal by stating, “Surely, you are not going to have the members walk around a city with the name of his city and his name on his breast.” The members agreed with his view and approved a motion that convention badges were to be “printed designating the city and state from which the member wearing the badge may come.”

Other modifications in the form of the badge occurred over the years.

The hanging ribbon, which was often an integral part of the badge, was of various colors.

Of course, the patriotic red, white and blue was a frequently used color combination.

The chiefs finally sought a measure of standardization and a blue ribbon was chosen to signify active membership status.

Since wives oftentimes accompanied their husbands to these conventions, special badges were sometimes prepared for their use.


This paper-in-plastic identification badge was given to attendees at the 1941 IACP conference. The badge was printed by Allied Printing of Buffalo, N.Y. During the war, the IACP turned to paper to conserve metals.

Years later, at the 1937 convention in Baltimore, the members reaffirmed their desire to have blue ribbon badges issued to active members only. The chiefs asked, “Why should people who are selling things have these delegate badges?” That question brought about a decision to use different colored ribbons on the badges of wives, guests and salesmen.

At the beginning of World War II, the United States became the “Arsenal of Democracy.” To fulfill this international responsibility, the government created an expansive bureaucracy which set rigid priorities in the allocation of raw materials critical to the war effort. One section of this bureaucracy dealt solely with the manufacturers of police equipment. These government controls were extensive and applied to a full range of items from ammunition, radios, motorcycles and uniforms to such minutia as rubber fingerprint rollers and badges.

An official of the H.V. Blackinton Company said in 1942 “that due to restrictions in the use of brass and copper, his company is using steel for police badges.” He added that his company had only 300 pounds of steel on hand; not enough to fill existing orders. Another company spokesman announced that they were using plastic in the manufacture of identification badges.

The form of the IACP convention badges was also changed by these wartime controls. While an artfully made pressed brass badge was given to the delegates at the 1940 conference in Milwaukee, a simple paper identification card in a plastic holder was used at the 1941 conference and throughout the war years.


IACP’s centennial meeting was held in St. Louis in 1993. To celebrate the occasion, the Association made a 24k gold plated badge available for purchase by members.

This period marked a transition for the Association’s conference badges. Although attractive metal badges were used at a few conferences after World War II, the IACP began to use paper cards routinely as their conference registration credential.

Thus, a series of artistically made metal badges worthy of collecting came to an end. In their place came a succession of insignificant paper ephemera. However, this is not the end of the story.

In celebration of the IACP’s100th anniversary in 1993, the Association sold an attractively modern commemorative shield, an objet d’art which would be an appropriate cap to any collection of IACP memorabilia.

This article was originally published July 7, 199, in Police Collectors News, Mike. R. Bondarenko, Editor and Publisher.


Douglas I. McKay, Special Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, wore this badge when he attended the 1921 convention in St. Louis. Bastian Brothers Co. crafted this badge for the host department.


This 1940 Badge was worn by New Orleans Superintendent of Police George Reyer at the Association’s 47th congress held in Milwaukee, Wis. No hallmark is shown on the thin, pressed brass shield.

1 Since this article was published in 1996, several badges bearing the IACP logo have been located, dating from as early as 1913. Back