A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE
In 1915, the life of a policeman was bleak. Prior to an early morning in the Spring of 1915, policemen throughout the nation toiled daily under deplorable conditions and had little optimism for improvement. In many communities they were forced to work 12 hour days, 365 days a year. In an emergency, they could be called to work additional hours, without any compensation. Police officers didn’t like it and were frustrated, but at this point in time there was little they could do to change their working conditions; there were no organizations to make their voices heard and no other means to make their grievances known. The necessity for change and progress was at hand and the Fraternal Order of Police was about to be born.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Fraternal Order of Police owes a great debt and an enormous amount of gratitude to the courage and wisdom of two Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania patrol officers, Martin Toole and Delbert Nagle. On a downtown corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the last week of an April morning in 1915, these two veteran officers exchanged their thoughts and concerns that “if labor could organize, shouldn’t the police also find a way? Not as a labor union, but as an organization for the ‘social welfare’ of all the police.” They understood the “labor” philosophy in that they must first organize police officers if they were to be successful in improving life for themselves and their fellow police officers. Hence, the Fraternal Order of Police was conceived.
Shortly after their morning conversation and during the first week of May, 1915, Officer Nagle drew up a petition for the “United Association of Police.” The petition stated: ‘We the Undersigned Do Hereby Agree to Support and Maintain the Above Entitled Association Until a Constitution is Duly Drawn and Officers Chosen.” In addition to the author, the petition bore the signatures of James McCleary, John McDermott, Battle Keys, M.T. Corcoran, Frank T. Polinski, Philip A. McTighe, Meritt J. Murphy, and Jacob Hannes.
Officers Nagle, Toole and 21 others “who were willing to take a chance” met on May 14, 1915, and held their first meeting on the morning of May 14, 1915 in the Wabash Building of Pittsburgh. Some members were displeased with the name of “United Association of Police” because “that name sounded too much like a union, and union sounded too antagonistic.” As a result, during the discussion, Nagle made a motion that “this organization be known as the Fraternal Order of Police,” a motion which carried. On that day, the Fraternal Order of Police, Fort Pitt Lodge #1, was formed.
Within a week, Officers Nagle, Toole, and Larkin sought support from Mayor Joseph G. Armstrong of Pittsburgh. However, there was no mistaking their intentions as they informed Mayor Armstrong that the FOP would be the means “to bring our aggrievances before the Mayor or Council and have many things adjusted that we are unable to present in any other way…we could get many things through our legislature that our Council will not, or cannot give us.”
During this initial encounter between the Mayor and a committee from the FOP, the members were cordially received by Mayor Armstrong. The FOP informed the Mayor that a union was not the intention of the Order, and that “the word strike is ruled out completely because we who are obligated to protect life and property will see that obligation fulfilled regardless of all else.” In conclusion, the self-appointed committee related that if police organizations could span throughout the entire state, “we could get many things through our legislation that our council will not, or cannot give us.”
Mayor Armstrong, having strong pro-labor leanings said, “I don’t see a thing in the world wrong with this. You’ll have my hearty approval and full cooperation.” with his endorsement and support, the FOP spread rapidly through Pittsburgh, and by mid-September membership had grown to just under 600. Subsequently, Mayor Armstrong came to be known as “The Father of the Fraternal Order of Police.”
And so it began, a tradition of police officers representing police officers. The Fraternal Order of Police was created by two dedicated police officers determined to better their profession and those who choose to protect and serve our communities, our states, and our country. It was not long afterward that Mayor Armstrong was congratulating the Fraternal Order of Police for their “strong influence in the legislatures in various states, .their considerate and charitable efforts” on behalf of the officers in need and for the FOP’s “efforts at increasing the public confidence toward the police to the benefit of the peace, as well as the public.”
In these early months of the Order, Nagle decided “we should have some kind of an insignia, a button through which brother members of the future could identify each other even though they may be separated by many states.” He took his idea to artist, Mr. H.J. Garvey, whose sketch of the emblem was soon adopted as the official sign of the FOP. Garvey’s sketch, which was later registered with the U.S. Patent Office in 1948, symbolizes authority, vigilance, friendship, the bond of mutuality between members and the seal of Fort Pitt, in remembrance of the Orders origination.
It is important to note that the emblem is also designed to remind the membership of the duties that are expected of them as a citizen, a police officer and a member of the lodge. The five-cornered star is a reminder of the allegiance owed to the Flag and is a symbol of the authority with which police officers are entrusted. It is an honor bestowed upon police officers by the community they serve. The citizenry, for the most part, place their confidence and trust in police officers; serve them proudly.
As illustrated previously, midway between the points and center of the star is a blue field, representative of the thin blue line protecting those police officers ~ serve. The points are of gold, which indicates the position under which police ~ officers now serve. The background is white, the unstained color representing the purity with which police officers should serve. Police officers shall not let anything corrupt be injected into their order. Therefore, the FOP’s colors are blue, gold and white. The open eye is the eye of vigilance; ever looking for danger and protecting all those under its care while they sleep or while awake. The clasped hands denote friendship. The hand of friendship is always extended to those in need of a police officer’s comfort. The circle surrounding the star midway indicates police officers’ never ending efforts to promote the welfare and advancement of this order. Within the half circle over the centerpiece is the FOP motto; “Jus, Fides, Libertatum” which translated means, “Law is a Safeguard of Freedom.” Originally, as understood by Nagle, it stood for “Fairness, Justice, Equality.”
Continuing on, by early 1917, membership in Pittsburgh grew to 1,800. During that summer, Officers Nagle and Toole helped lead the expansion of the FOP throughout their state. During October 15th through the 17th, the first National Convention was held in Pittsburgh. At this inaugural gathering, the Grand Lodge was established and charged with the authority of issuing charters to subordinate lodges. A Constitution and Bylaws were drafted, and four members of lodges other than Fort Pitt were added as officers of this first Grand Lodge.
With both the formation of the Grand Lodge and a secure foundation established in Pennsylvania, the Order continued its expansion in the 1920’s. The FOP became strong in both Ohio and Indiana. By 1929, growth brought about the need for a National Organizer. John Kuespert was elected as such on August 15, 1929.
In the 1930’s, three more states were added including West Virginia, Michigan, and Kentucky. Expansion was not the only aspect of accomplishment in the thirties. On August 29, 1933 the order passed “the most important resolution of its first quarter century.” The minutes read: “that a committee of five be appointed to form state organizations.”
By the time the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the FOP took place in 1940, a Grand Lodge had come into existence, approximately 200 lodges had been chartered, and twenty-three annual conventions held. Though the FOP struggled along with the Nation during World War II, it not only retained its existence, but “became recognized on Capitol Hill as the Organization speaking for the Nation’s Policemen.”
In the 1940’s and 50’s the Order continued to expand with lodges in South Dakota, Arizona, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. Not only did the FOP expand with new Lodges, but on September 19, 1941 a motion that “The Grand Lodge grant a charter to the Ladies” passed unanimously. “The ladies” were those women who in accordance with their motto of “we do not let him walk alone,” desired to begin a National Ladies Auxiliary .
These years were filled with the FOP’s engagements with issues such as Legislative, Civil and Human Rights and “Public Consciousness.” Throughout the national tumult of the 1960’s, the FOP continued expansion with lodges in Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. Although growth continued, the Order experienced some unrest from sources like the Police Review Boards and the Justice Department.
The members of the FOP persisted through these hardships as their brothers had endured in the past. This tenacity that has prevailed since the Order’s conception led it to the height at which it stood in 1975. The evolution that began with twenty-three men who sixty years earlier vowed “to continue to support this organization come what may” unfolded until it spanned the nation with 1,100 lodges containing 140,000 members. As the Order continued into the late seventies, its level of national recognition continued to increase with the opening of an office, “just four blocks from the White House and only ten blocks from the Capitol Hill.” The FOP had truly established itself in our nation’s Capitol. The office would serve not only as “a clearing house for FOP concerns from allover the country,” but would fulfill the need of “influencing national legislation and federal programs which affect the police.”
On September 29, 1976, the Order’s accomplishments in Washington, D.C. were extended on when President Gerald Ford signed into law H.R. 366, otherwise known as the $50,000 Survivorship Bill or the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Act. This law which was conceived fifteen years earlier at the 35th Biennial National FOP Conference, “provides that the dependent of any police officer who dies of an injury sustained in the line of duty will receive a lump sum of $50,000.” The law has since been amended and the benefit has increased to $250,000 with a cost of living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index.
As the FOP came into a new decade, the national leadership turned to the theme of “Return of the Fraternal Order of Police to the Membership.” In an effort to accomplish these goals regional workshops and seminars were developed throughout the country in an effort to “spotlight the National FOP in a non-crisis situation.”
The Order continued into the eighties with many noteworthy achievements. With the coming about of a new lodge in Washington D.C., membership continued to increase until it reached 160,000 in 1982. Additional steps forward were taken in our Nation’s Capitol when the FOP Leadership became active on the National Labor Advisory Council. The panel “was created to open doors of communication between representatives of labor organizations” and “both political parties.”
As the FOP continued to develop as an organization, many legislative goals were also fulfilled. In 1985 the Order held firm in its support of the Bill HR-4, which regulates “the manufacture, importation, and the sale of armor-piercing ammunition.” It was the FOP’s position that “what good comes of banning the manufacture and importation if we can’t prevent the sale of the ‘cop killer’ ammunition.” The eventual passage of the Bill was called “the biggest legislative victory in years for our Law Enforcement.” As the Order approached the decade of the nineties, the Order consisted of approximately 270,000 members. Through “the hard work of the Expansion Committee, individual State Lodges, and increased exposure given the FOP by the news media,” this number has steadily increased.
The Fraternal Order of Police is the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, with more than 321,000 members in more than 2,100 lodges. We are the voice of those who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities. We are committed to improving the working conditions of law enforcement officers and the safety of those we serve through education, legislation, information, community involvement, and employee representation. No one knows the dangers and the difficulties faced by today’s police officers better than another officer, and no one knows police officers better than the FOP. Founded in 1915, we are still “Building on a Proud Tradition.”
The information contained herein was obtained from a book entitled “The Fraternal Order of Police, 1915-1976: A History” by Justin E. Walsh, Ph.D., was first published in 1977 and from numerous FOP websites. The book was reprinted in 200 I with a new foreword by Past National President Gilbert Gallegos. The reprinted book is available to FOP members by calling the Grand Lodge at 615.399.0900. The Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is 77-89730.