Railway Patches - The Birth and Where They Are Now

Last few times when I did themed patch stories, it was about NASA patches, National Park patches, and this time I decided to dive into historic railroad system of America and vintage patches we can still buy today.

Railway patches are popular because they combine people’s love of patch collection with the romance and nostalgia of trains and railways. This is especially true in America where the railroad had such a huge historical impact on the formation of the country by opening up the interior and the west coast to Europeans looking to start new lives.

The first passenger railroad was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that opened to the public in 1830. That started the railway boom that saw more than 9,000 miles of railway track being laid over the next two decades.

By 1860, railroad companies had linked nearly every major city in the North and Midwest, helping to power the industrial revolution in those regions. The railroads then played a huge role in the settlement of the West from the 1850’s to the 1890’s.

Part of the nostalgia surrounding rail travel is due to the huge changes they offered the average person who was used to traveling only by horse or stage coach. The network of roads and trails in the 1800’s was riddled with ditches and potholes, making any kind of long distance travel extremely uncomfortable. The railways changed all that. The common person could now travel in style, giving them a smooth ride with plenty of room to move around and even meals or private sleeping quarters for long distance trips.

This was years ahead of Route 66 construction and the implementation of the highways in America. These brought tremendous changes of their own, but that is for the next post. Expect to see a lot more interesting stuff on the blog in the future.

Iconic companies and their iconic logos

The popularity of rail travel for the public and financial success they generated for new towns and entire regions, led to the creation of many lucrative and iconic railroad companies. These included the Union Pacific, Missouri Pacific, Denver & Rio Grande, Southern Pacific, and Northern Pacific.

Each of the company’s trains were emblazoned with the company logos, which soon became iconic for fans of the railways and then went on to become iconic in American history itself, such were the success of the railways.

Although minor changes were made to some of the railway logos over many decades, many others saw their company logo little changes over many decades. Union Pacific, one of the few railroad companies that was founded in the glory days of the American railways and still exists today, has essentially had the same logo for more than 150 years.

Iconic Logos


It is these railway company logos that became the patches that company workers wore on their uniforms including train drivers, mechanics, and maintenance staff. They came to symbolize not just the company itself but also everything that the railroads represented. The railways gave people newfound freedoms to travel and seek out new opportunities in frontier towns springing up all over the country. 

These logos and company patches have become the basis for many of the railway patches that are available today for patch and railway enthusiasts. Most of them can be found at antique stores and eBay for around $4-6 and upwards of $40 for the rare ones. Many of the patches available for sale today came off the uniforms, so expect some normal multi-decade wear. The also didn’t have any iron backing and are very soft, but also don’t keep their shape too well.

Alton and Southern Lines

Alton and Southern Lines

Northern Pacific Railway

Alaska RailRoad

Akron, Canton, and Youngstown Railroad

Railway Police Patches

There is also strong historical usage and popularity of patches worn by police officers assigned to duties on the railways. Due to the long time use of patches in police departments around the world, where their insignia identified their department and distinguished them from other law enforcement officers, this meant that railway officers also often wore distinctive patches on their uniforms.

People working in police departments around the world have for a long time exchanged memorabilia between various police forces, where exchange of patches is seen as a sign of respect and cooperation between agencies. This has occurred steadily since patches came into common use in the 1920s for agency identification purposes.

In the United States, there are laws in effect that control the possession of law enforcement insignia for security purposes, which has had impacts on civilian collecting. However, this has only added to the interest of collectors capable of getting their hands on police insignias and patches so any that are available become much sought after.

Railway patches are a great niche for patch collectors because they capture the unique historical aspect of the railways and the distinctive logos of the railroad companies. The fact that there is also a crossover element with police memorabilia, itself a very popular part of the world of patch collecting, also adds another interesting and distinguishing element to these types of patches.


There are two websites where you can buy railway patches in good condition and for fair prices: historicrail.com and railphotosunlimited.com. I own two vintage railroad patches and they are small, soft, and definitely a nice piece of history. 

Image Sources:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0d/Southern_Pacific_Lines_(logo).png https://goo.gl/vmddkd
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/4/4a/NorthernPacificLogo.png http://railphotosunlimited.com/Gifts/product_info.php/alton-southern-railway-patch-p-98?osCsid=74qciqudft8sfu6rpsos1dach7 http://railphotosunlimited.com/Gifts/product_info.php/akron-canton-youngstown-railroad-patch-p-92
http://railphotosunlimited.com/Gifts/product_info.php/alaska-railroad-patch-p-94 http://www.ebay.com/itm/NORTHERN-PACIFIC-RAILWAY-Railroad-PATCH-/401197730794 http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2788/4490640352_4534517e72_z.jpg http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2690/4490640070_9057a333b1_z.jpg https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/current/moving-the-mail/mail-by-rail/owney-mascot-of-the-railway-mail-service/index.html


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