Lancaster County Historical Society Member Badge and Ribbon

Founding and Growth

Organized in 1886 and incorporated in 1901, the Lancaster County Historical Society (precursor to LancasterHistory) got off to a rather rough start. After holding thirteen meetings between 1886 and 1887, the Society would not hold another meeting until 1896. A revitalized Society held regular monthly meetings on Friday afternoons at 2:00 pm. Each meeting featured several research papers read by members. In an effort to increase membership, meetings were eventually moved to Tuesday afternoons. To help raise the profile of the organization within the community, the Society incorporated in 1901. According to the Report of the Secretary dated January 3, 1902:

One of the most important steps taken by your Society during the year was your instruction to the Executive Committee to take steps to have the society chartered. This was done, and on the 17th day of June the Court of the county, under its official seal, issued the desired decree.

Membership Badges and Ribbons

Perhaps buoyed by their success in receiving a charter and in an effort to further promote membership and a sense of belonging, the Society hit upon the idea of creating membership badges. The minutes of the monthly meeting held on February 7, 1902 (Friday) noted that “Mrs. M.N. Robinson, James D. Law and F.R. Diffenderfer were named a committee on looking up a badge for members’ use.” Frank R. Diffenderfer, editor of the Lancaster New Era, originally served as the recording secretary for the Society and later, as third president.

The effort to design, procure, and manufacture an appropriate badge seems to have progressed rather quickly. The minutes of the monthly meeting held on April 4, 1902 (Friday) stated that “The Committee on Badges was instructed to procure a suitable one for the use of the members.” At the very next meeting held on May 2, 1902, the meeting minutes observed that “The badges recently ordered by the Society were shown, and the best method of distribution among the members was discussed.” While there is no more mention of badges in the next few monthly or annual reports, it seems likely—based on the condition of the three badges in our collection—that these badges were kept onsite by the Society and only worn by members or officers at meetings.

Creating the Badges and Ribbons

The wording under the celluloid red rose button in the middle of the red silk ribbon reads “PAT. W. & H. CO. NEWARK, N.J.” The red rose of Lancaster, the emblem of the House of Lancaster in England, became an early symbol of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The label on the back of the ribbon shows that the button and ribbon were manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag Company of Newark New Jersey. Benjamin S. Whitehead and Chester Hoag founded the company in 1892. They quickly became a leader in the manufacture of buttons, ribbon badges, and commemorative medals. By the late 1890s, the company had branch offices across the United States as well as England, Australia, and Argentina.

Label sewn onto back of ribbon with name and location of badge manufacturer.
Lancaster County Historical Society badge and ribbon label on reverse of ribbon, 1902. LancasterHistory.

Political parties and commercial business as well as various club and fraternal organizations employed these types of novelty items as a cost-effective means of advertising. Although Whitehead and Hoag remained profitable for many years, increasing competition and a loss of market share resulted in the sale of the company to a rival manufacturer in 1959.

Even though it is difficult to say with any certainty when the practice of wearing member badges and ribbons ended at the Historical Society, a quick search of the internet shows that a multitude of companies continue to offer both custom and pre-printed badges and ribbons, albeit of much simpler designs and more modern materials. Today, organizations can even design their own member badges with available online templates!


From Object Lessons