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By Lieut. Harry Kirsner, Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review
July-August 1931

WHEN we speak of ”uniforms,” we immediately think of clothing of similar design made of cloth of like construction and color worn by personnel of military as well as of some civilian and semi-civilian organizations, such as the police departments, fire departments, postal departments and fraternal orders. While, generally speaking, the manufacture of uniform fabrics for non-military purposes follows closely the requirements of fabrics for military use, there seems to be a tendency on the part of some of the manufacturers supplying these fabrics, not to be as particular and painstaking as in the manufacture of similar cloths for military use.

The reasons for stressing uniformity in the manufacture of military cloths are numerous. In the first place, military organizations afford a much better opportunity for making comparisons in uniformity than civilian or semi-civilian organizations, as the former are assembled more frequently and in larger units. Also, clothing inspection of the former is a rigid requirement. One of the prime considerations in this respect is color. The acceptable degree of color uniformity, however, will largely depend upon the personal equation of the inspecting officer.

Secondly, uniforms manufactured for non-military purposes are used immediately while those manufactured for military purposes, in most instances, are not. The stock carried by manufacturers supplying uniforms for civilian organizations is generally limited to not more than what is required for a three to six months’ supply. Thus the storage factor is practically nil in the case of the former but of prime importance when considering the uniformity of the latter.

Thirdly, when civilian or semi-civilian uniformed organizations turn out for inspection, we find that most of the uniforms are new and of recent manufacture; certainly, the uniforms are usually not more than one year old. All the members of the organization inspected being from one locality, the chances are that they were all supplied by one uniform house; which in turn purchased the cloth from one manufacturer. The problem of obtaining uniformity in the quality of the material as well as the color is then a simple matter as compared with the procedure followed in supplying cloth for military purposes when the following is considered.

Military organizations will have in their assembled units, persons who have perhaps joined the organization as recently as within the last day or two. It is safe to say that the whole organization, whether it be a company or one hundred men or a regiment of twelve hundred men, will seldom have in it more than fifty per cent of the men who have been with the organization a year or longer, the balance being recruited either from new men or by transfer from other organizations throughout the country. When such men are transferred, their uniforms are, of course, transferred with them. Again, uniforms supplied to military personnel are very seldom made on order for the particular individual, but rather are drawn from a common supply depot having stock sizes which have been in storage for a considerable length of time.

Uniform Cloth From Various Sources

The purchasing of textiles that enter into the manufacture of military uniforms in the United States is done on sealed bids and the contract is given to the lowest bidder complying with all the conditions of the sealed bid. In most instances, the quantity of cloth to be purchased is large and the competitive conditions are such that it invariably results in the splitting up of the quantity among various manufacturers and when the cloth is received at the clothing manufacturing depot it is then amalgamated into a common stock from which the uniforms are manufactured.

Note here the difference in the mode of manufacture between civilian uniform tailors and military tailors. The civilian tailor, when he makes uniforms for a non-military uniformed organization, will proceed in the same manner as for an individual and he will invariably cut the suit out of one bolt of cloth, resulting in the finished uniform being of like color and quality. Whereas, in tailoring for the military service, an order for the manufacture of uniforms in a quantity ranging from 25,000 upward may be received at one time. The procedure in this case is different. The first steps would be to lay, cut and make one size of one component of the uniforms, which may be the coat or the breeches, out of whatever cloth may be first drawn from stock. The cloth may or may not be from one manufacturer. When all the uniforms are made up, instead of packing them by suits, they are usually baled or packed separately; for instance, 45 pairs of breeches or 60 pairs of trousers or 36 coats to a bale. When a requisition is received from a particular organization or supply officer for so many hundred or thousand uniforms, the supply depot will withdraw from stock the required number of bales of each of the sizes and ship them to the various destinations. In fitting the soldier, the officer in charge will extract the size breeches and the size coat to suit the soldier’s measurements and usually two garments made from cloth produced by different manufacturers will be issued to him. Hence, a slight difference in color between the coat and breeches can be noted by the critical eye and perhaps a slight difference in the quality which may be solely due to the difference in the manufacturing methods of the two manufacturers who were the original suppliers of the cloth.

Difficulties In Securing Uniform Colors

The foregoing acquaints one with the factors which tend to make the military uniforms not precisely uniform in color and quality in so far as the individual is Concerned.

As to the question of color-in the case of uniform fabrics, certain colors or combinations of colors may be satisfactory for certain localities. This may be due to the climatic conditions of the particular locality where the cloth is used, and while, generally speaking, no particular study is made by manufacturers as to what colors will be the fastest for certain localities, the economic laws have a weeding-out effect which determines the demand for certain cloths for certain localities, due to the mere subconscious preference of the consumers. Whereas, for military purposes, the soldier has little or no voice as to his preference and this rightly so since his preference would change as often as his military orders would change his locality. Therefore, military fabrics have to be colored to a better extent than ordinary uniform fabrics and the coloring at best is a compromise covering the climatic conditions of all the territories where the military personnel for whom the textiles are purchased are located.

Take for instance the coloring for woolens-in a good many wool fabrics for certain localities, acid colors have proven themselves to be quite satisfactory while in other localities, alizarine colors were found more satisfactory. Usually, chrome colors are used and in their application it is very seldom that a top and bottom chrome dyeing is given the fabric, but in an effort to gain the desired fastness of color for military use, it is always necessary, and it is usually prescribed with the sole idea of obtaining the best the market has available for the purpose.

In fancy woolens used for decorative purposes, from time immemorial, cloths dyed with acid colors were and are used. This because acid colors have the greatest brightness and when a bright color is wanted, the easiest and cheapest way for the manufacturer to obtain this brightness is by the use of an acid dye and by dyeing the fabric in the piece.

While this was found to be satisfactory when no one ever thought of attempting to obtain something better, the idea of changing the decorations on uniforms, particularly for military use, on account of fading of color, was very much discouraged; that is to say, the consumer or the military person could not see why it was necessary for him to change the stripes on his trousers or the trimming on his coat so often, and yet if he did not change them, the discoloration would reach such a stage that it would be hardly recognizable from the original stripes or trimming. With the advance of the science of dye manufacture, it was discovered that certain new dyes had become available for the coloring of wool which are much faster and more satisfactory than the acid colors used heretofore but their use and application are limited and hence their cost in some instances has proven prohibitive for ordinary purposes. It is perhaps safe to say that if it were not for the military field such a dyestuff, no matter how satisfactory, would probably never really find a market. But here the military field is a pioneer and an assistant to the industry as it is by military use that the civilian and uniform houses become more familiar with the desirability of the so-called new discoveries and after a time come to look favorably upon a change from the old to the new.

For the past two years we have been investigating the fast colors on cotton cloth. Vat dyes on cotton cloth cannot be said to be a new innovation. The trade has used vat colors on cotton piece goods for perhaps a period of ten years but the degree of fastness that can be obtained by vat colors depends entirely on the combinations of colors used. The military field is not so much interested in the method of obtaining an article as it is interested in the result, that is to say, the result is of prime importance and we usually leave the method entirely to the manufacturer. But there comes a time when the method may have a decided bearing on the result of the fastness of color. A case in point is the application of vat dyes to cotton cloths and the final decision as to how it should be handled. After a period of about two years’ experimentation we found that, generally speaking, the vat colors on cotton are fast, provided however, that a proper penetration has been obtained in their application.

Many attempts were made to fix the color of the olive drab cotton cloth so that it would not bleach and wash out to a dirty brown or white. Attempts in that direction ranged from making up samples of cloth by dyeing the raw cotton before it was spun, dyeing the yarn ‘before the cloth was woven, to mixing various dyed yarns in an endeavor to obtain a resultant effect of an olive drab mixture that would be stable and would not break down in washing.

In all these attempts, while some proved slightly better than others, the general result was unsatisfactory as invariably factors were injected that made procurement of any of the cloths in such quantities as required by the Army, impracticable.

Development Of Suitable Cotton Uniform Cloth

In the Spring of 1928 the Office of The Quartermaster General took definite steps to develop a cotton cloth that would be an improvement on the then olive drab cotton and which would be generally suitable for uniforms.

As a result, a meeting of producers and finishers of cotton cloth was held. It was agreed at that meeting that the Quartermaster Corps should furnish a set of requirements in general terms covering the needs of the Army for the desired cloth and its color fastness. Accordingly, the Philadelphia Depot drew up and distributed to the cotton textile trade (through the Cotton Textile Institute) for the purpose of unifying their effort in a definite direction, the following general requirements.

The cotton was to be either combed or carded and of a grade to meet certain specific requirements, the yarn to be single or two-ply, the texture to be such as to produce a clean-cut twill, the weave to be three up and one down twill, the weight to be not more than six ounces to the linear yard of 28/2 inches wide, with normal moisture content and having proper body and handle, the finish to be clear, properly singed, an acceptable material for the outer uniform of a soldier, the tensile strength to be 115 in the warp and 80 in the filling and the color to be approximately the shade of an approved sample, fast under all conditions of military service, including exposure to extreme rays of a tropical sun and washing under all conditions. Methods of inspection and testing were specified which included breaking, color, scrubbing, washing, chemical, exposure, and shrinkage tests.

Thereafter, numerous samples embodying various types of spinning, construction and dyeing were submitted through 1928 and part of 1929 by manufacturers for test by the Philadelphia Depot in accordance with the tentative requirements. Results of the tests on these samples indicated that the principal fault with the color was the fact that on scrubbing, the cloth invariably turned white. Careful analyses indicated that this condition was due to the fact that on scrubbing, certain fibers were raised on the cloth and the dyestuffs physically removed from the tips of these fibres, giving the white appearance. In other instances, it was indicated that while the dye used withstood all the chemical tests (the assumption, therefore, being that the dyestuffs represented the best quality in possession of the trade), the scrubbing tests showed that the method of application of these fast dyestuffs was faulty.

The problem was to overcome the mechanical breaking down of the color. A study indicated that the solution to the problem was to devise a method of not permitting as many cotton fibres to come through the cloth itself as was previously possible.

Early in 1929, it has become evident to the Philadelphia Depot that while considerable strides had been made in obtaining a degree of color fastness on the dyeing of cotton cloth, the principal fault appeared to be mechanical. During the many conferences held between the representatives of the Philadelphia Depot and the trade it was apparent that there was a general disinclination of the cotton trade to venture into what may be said to be a new field, that is, they all agreed that the fault of lack of color fastness was due to mechanical rather than chemical action but they could not agree as to the manner in which it could be overcome. The Philadelphia Depot suggested that a method be devised wherein the cotton fibres in each thread would be so twisted and finally placed in the cloth that it would be more difficult, in scrubbing, for individual fibres to come to the surface.

After several unsuccessful attempts to have the trade experiment along this direction, the Philadelphia Depot prepared a specification which calculated in the main to cover this requirement and it was done as follows:

1st-The specification prescribed that all the yarns were to be combed for the reason that when fibres are combed, the structure of the yarn itself is such that each fibre then lies perfectly parallel to its neighbor.

2nd-It was provided in making the thread or yarn that it should be double or two-ply instead of single. This was done to provide a medium of more closely burying the tips of the fibres in the yarn itself.

3rd-The direction of the twill line in the cloth was required to be to the right. This was done to further conceal the tips of the fibres within the cloth itself and this was determined by the direction of the various twists given the thread in the process of manufacture.

To afford better penetration of the dyestuffs, the specification provided that the cloth before dyeing, be made perfectly absorbent and that was to be done by having cloth fully mercerized and bleached. The truth of that can be tested by almost anyone familiar with cotton. If a small quantity of unprocessed cotton is immersed in water, it will be found that the cotton will not absorb the water but it will float on the surface. This is due to the natural waxes of the cotton coating the fibres, thus preventing the cotton from absorbing water, but if the cotton is mercerized or bleached it becomes absorbent and when immersed in water it will immediately sink to the bottom of the vessel. It was this principle that was embodied in the specification to provide for a greater dye absorbency in the khaki uniform cloth.

For the purpose of testing the specification, The Quartermaster General approved the recommendation of the Philadelphia Depot to make an initial purchase of 10,000 yards. Accordingly, invitations for bids were mailed to the trade April 12, 1929, thus broadcasting to the cotton textile trade the specification in the form of an advertisement for a quantity of the cloth and at the same time testing its practicability before purchasing large quantities.

t is interesting to note that after the invitation had been out in the trade for about ten days, personal and written protests were received by The Quartermaster General’s Office and the Philadelphia Depot stating in effect that the specifications were entirely theoretical, extremely impracticable, even suggesting that they were prepared by someone not familiar with the trade and stating in fact that it would be impracticable to produce the tensile strength called for on a cloth as light as 6-ounces per linear yard of 28-inch width. So vigorously did the protests continue that the Quartermaster General deemed it advisable to have the Philadelphia Depot test the specification it had prepared by having a sample piece of cloth produced under its direction.

Satisfactory Experimental Sample Produced

The feat of producing the sample is rather interesting. The trade as a whole maintained that the cloth could not be produced. The Philadelphia Depot has no spinning, weaving, dyeing or finishing facilities for the production of samples, yet the production of a sample within the shortest possible time was of the utmost importance as the Philadelphia Depot had a large accumulation of orders for cotton uniforms which could not be filled until a satisfactory cloth was produced.

Bids on the 10,000 yards of experimental cloth were to be opened on May 13, 1929, but in view of the contentions of the trade, the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot recommended to The Quartermaster General that it be permitted to postpone the opening for one month, maintaining that in that time it would actually bring about the production of the sample and present it to the trade and The Quartermaster General and disprove the claim that the cloth could not be produced.

Before the end of May the much disputed sample was actually produced, presented to The Quartermaster General and the trade, and thus the contentions of some of the cotton cloth producers were disproved and the production of the cloth became an accomplished fact.

It is interesting to note that whereas the disputed specification called for a tensile strength of only 125 pounds in the warp by 90 pounds in the filling, the sample produced by the Depot did not vary in weight as much as 1/10-ounce from the original 6-ounces set by the specification and had a tensile strength of 185 pounds in the warp and 112 pounds in the filling.

There was a further contention as to price, some maintaining that the price would run as high as 60 cents or more, while the figures compiled by the Philadelphia Depot indicated that in no instances should the price be more than 48 cents per square yard. The postponed bids for the 10,000 yards were opened June 13, 1929, but they were all rejected for the reason that it was no longer necessary to make an experimental sample as the Quartermaster Corps had otherwise brought about its production; therefore, the 10,000 yards were no longer required.

One thing, however, this bid opening proved-the prices were within reasonable limits; in other words, the average price bid was around 45 cents per square yard and purchases made since were about 42 to 43 cents per square yard.

The foregoing indicates the difficulties manufacturers as well as military authorities are having in their effort to obtain uniformity of color but the military authorities are not unmindful of the manufacturers’ problems, and are always studying the problem with a view of utilizing, if possible, means of alleviating this condition and at the same time giving them colors of as nearly a uniform character as it is possible to obtain.

It is believed that in so far as the eye is concerned, it is possible to overcome small differences in color by actually making greater differences in the general landscape view. You will all recall the camouflage idea that was tried out and used during the World War. The proposition then was that in order to make an object indistinguishable it must be painted with many colors, and thus made to blend the object with the background.

In the instance of the uniforms, after an agitation of several years, the War Department has recently approved a proposal to give the soldier a uniform of two distinct shades. the breeches of one shade and the coat of another, which in this instance is darker than that of the breeches.

While this principle has been tried out before, perhaps not for the purpose of uniformity of shade but rather as a general uniform color scheme, this is the first time that we have accepted this principle for our soldiers and it is the idea that the small differences in the shade between the coats themselves and the breeches themselves should become indistinguishable by the reason of the greater difference en masse view of the troops with one color coat and another color breeches.