Pennsylvania State Police History

Pennsylvania's coal fields, iron mills and timber forests played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution.

Pennsylvania changed in the late 1800s from a largely agricultural state into a complex industrial center.
By 1900 it found itself torn by bitter disputes between managers and the laborers they employed. Violence became common in the new communities that sprang up around the coal fields, iron mills, textile factories and railroad yards. By the turn of the century it was evident that the town constables, sheriffs and similar local officials who had been adequate to keep the peace in more stable times were unable to cope with the new populations and the violent labor troubles of the times.

To provide themselves protection that the Commonwealth did not provide, the coal and steel operators persuaded the State Legislature to authorize the creation of what became the infamous Coal and Iron Police. For one dollar each, the state sold commissions to the mine and steel mill owners that conferred police power upon whomever the owners selected.  Through these commissions, armies of guards were raised, ostensibly to protect private property. In practice, they were used to enforce the will of the owners. In many cases common gunmen, hoodlums and adventurers were hired to fill these commissions and they served their own interests by causing the violence and terror that gave them office.

The turning point came in 1902 with what became known as The Great Anthracite Strike. It began May 15 and lasted until October 23. The violence disrupted the peace of seven counties and caused a nationwide coal shortage, driving up the price of anthracite coal. The strike did not end until President Theodore Roosevelt intervened. During the strike's aftermath, the government recognized that peace and order should be maintained by regularly appointed and responsible officers employed by the public. This led to the formation of the Pennsylvania State Police.

The Pennsylvania State Police was created as an executive department of state government by Senate Bill 278, which was signed into law by Governor Samuel W. Pennypacker on May 2, 1905.

The Department became the first uniformed police organization of its kind in the United States and a model for other state police agencies throughout the nation.

Opposition to the Department's creation was strong and persistent. Because organized labor and others feared that the State Police would be used as a private army, the original complement was limited by law to 228 men. They were to patrol Pennsylvania's entire 45,000 square miles. The force was divided into four Troops:

    * Troop A, Greensburg
    * Troop B,. Wilkes-­Barre (later moved to Wyoming)
    * Troop C, Reading
    * Troop D, Punxsutawney

The State Police soon proved its worth by controlling mob violence, patrolling farm sections, protecting wildlife and tracking down criminals. From the outset, the Department established a reputation for fairness, thoroughness and honesty.

Photograph of First Two Members Killed in the Line Of Duty

On Sept. 2, 1906, the first two State Policemen were killed in the line of duty in Florence, Jefferson County. (You can read more about these members, Privates John F. Henry and Private Francis A. Zehringer on this Web site.)  In 1907, the State Police Superintendent dictated that enlistments were open only to single men ­­-- an order that was to remain in effect for 56 years. Also, troop commanders were given authorization to establish and close sub­stations.

In January 1908, the Superintendent established weekly training programs in each troop, a practice that still exists today. On June 1, 1909, Troop C was moved from Reading to Pottsville and also designated as a State Police training school.

In February 1910, the State Police quelled a disorder caused by 6,000 employees of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. The Philadelphia Ledger identified the source of a State Policeman's power when it wrote,   "The State Police represent no class or condition, no prejudice or interest, nothing but the sovereign majesty of the law. Hostility to them is hostility to the people."

Troop D relocated from Punxsutawney to a location near Butler on Jan. 15, 1911. The Superintendent  established two­-year enlistment periods. In 1913, the Superintendent established a "Mess Committee" at each Troop and mess facilities were maintained at each Troop Headquarters.

By 1919, the demand for additional State Police units brought about the first increase in complement, with the authorized force upped to 415 men. That same year saw the transfer of State Fire Marshal duties to the State Police.

The State Police was authorized to establish a fifth Troop on July 1, 1919. The Troop was designated Troop E and established in Lancaster. Also in 1919, the State Police established motorcycle patrols to deal with the growing number of motorists.

In February 1920, a State Police training school was established in Newville, Cumberland County. Also that year, the Superintendent created the Bureau of Criminal Identification and the Bureau of Fire Protection. In April, 70 motorcycles were purchased.  Fourteen were assigned to each of the five Troops. Patrol zones were established and owners of telephones along the patrol zones were given steel discs or flags to indicate a telephone (flag stop). Motorcycle patrols, seeing a flag stop displayed, would interrupt their patrol activity to telephone their Station for assignments. Troop Commanders monthly conferences were established that June.

On Aug. 25, 1922, the Superintendent issued a Special Order bestowing upon the Deputy Superintendent the rank of Major. This was the initial use of that rank in constabulary history.

The Newville Training School was closed on March 1, 1923. A temporary school was established at the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Reservation at Mt. Gretna near Colebrook, Lebanon County. Accommodations consisted of tents and military field equipment. The temporary school was closed in the summer of 1923.

The State Highway Patrol was created in 1923 within the Department of Highways to enforce the vehicle laws of Pennsylvania's burgeoning highway system. The same year saw the State Police install the nation's first statewide police radio telegraph system. The system remained operational until 1947. A State Police Training School was established on Cocoa Avenue in Hershey, Dauphin County, in 1924. That training school would remain at that site until 1960. The State Highway Patrol secured the use of the Hershey Inn in Hershey to train Highway Patrol recruits.

Also in 1924, the Headquarters for Troop E was moved to Harrisburg and Troop C, Pottsville, relocated to Reading. That same year saw the first drivers' license examination for Pennsylvania motorists.

In 1926, the State Highway Patrol Training School was moved from the Hershey Inn to 19th and Swatara Streets, Harrisburg. The Highway Patrol at that time consisted of 46 sub­stations.

In 1927, the Superintendent established the first two State Highway Patrol Troops. They were Troop A, Harrisburg, and Troop B, Greensburg. That year also saw the first State Highway Patrolman killed in the line of duty.

Also in 1927, State Police issued a regulation that prohibited any member from marrying without the Superintendent's approval. That same year saw the State Police establish a public radio station in Harrisburg, WBAK. In 1929, the Superintendent issued a General Order requiring all members of the Department to memorize the State Police Call of Honor.

On June 1, 1928, the State Highway Patrol established Troop C, Bellefonte.  On Sept. 1, 1929, Troop D, Williamsport, was established. The year 1930 saw the Superintendent establish a Headquarters Detective Division. In 1931, Governor Gifford Pinchot formally dedicated a new Highway Patrol Building at 21st and Herr Streets in Harrisburg. It became Troop A, with a supply unit and training school for the State Highway Patrol. In 1932, the State Highway Patrol established Troop E, Philadelphia.

The State Police in 1932 established a Photographic Section and a small Crime Laboratory Division. That year the first polygraph was purchased and a Criminal Intelligence Section was formed.

In 1933, the Highway Patrol celebrated its 10th anniversary with a formal inspection at Long­wood Gardens near Kennett Square, Chester County. Original members were presented with a uniform star insignia representing 10 years of service. The practice of issuing service insignias continues today.

In 1935, Troop F, Franklin, became the sixth and last Troop to be established by the Highway Patrol before the merger with the State Police on June 29, 1937. The new Department was called the Pennsylvania Motor Police. In addition, the new Department administrator would be known as the Commissioner. The new Commissioner appointed himself a Colonel and his Deputy Commissioner as a Lieutenant Colonel. This represented the first time these ranks were used.

The Commissioner divided the Department into four districts, with district headquarters established in Greensburg, Harrisburg, Wyoming and Philadelphia on July 21, 1937. There were 11 troops within the district structure. 
That year also saw the rank of Private Second Class (P2C) and Private First Class (PFC) established.

On Jan. 1, 1938, the Commissioner established a Medical Unit and the first Medical Officer was appointed to the rank of Major. Additionally, the Commissioner established a Communications Division.

In February 1938, the Commissioner ordered 267 passenger cars painted white with black hoods and Pennsylvania Motor Police lettering on the door. These cars became known as Ghost Cars.

Legislation passed in June 1939 that gave the Pennsylvania Motor Police the responsibility for the return of escaped convicts and parole violators. Other laws gave the Motor Police responsibility for annual school bus inspection and inspection station supervision.

During 1940, 150 men were trained at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation because the Hershey Training School was inadequate for that number of recruits.

On Oct. 1, 1940, Troop B, Chambersburg, was dissolved and reestablished as a special patrol unit in Bedford. It was given the responsibility of patrolling the newly established Pennsylvania Turnpike System. The former Troop's duties were divided among Troop A, Greensburg; Troop A. Harrisburg; and Troop C, Hollidaysburg.


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