[Ads-l] "Red Cap" - porter 1903 (railroad) and 1868 (Soldiers Messenger Corps - disabled veteran work program)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Apr 7 21:43:48 UTC 2021

Etymonline has "Redcap" as a railway station porter from 1914.
Barry Popik's entry for Skycap has an example of "red cap" from 1911.
Wiktionary cites a book published in the 1940s for the oral tradition 
that the wearing of red hats started on Labor Day 1890, when someone put 
a red ribbon on their hat and their earnings went up.

I have found a reference to a uniformed railway station porter referred 
to as a "Red Cap" as early as 1903.  Grand Central Station  put 
uniformed porters wearing blue uniforms and red caps into service in 

Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 10, 1903, page 16. "'Red Caps' a Flat 
Failure. One of the local roads for some time has been employing station 
porters - 'red caps' as the trainmen call them . . . ."

Other cities followed suit, and they were used across the country by 

But decades earlier, beginning in New York City in 1865, a work program 
primarily for disabled veterans called the Soldiers Messenger Corps wore 
blue uniforms and red caps, and were placed around the city to carry 
messages or packages for a set rate, according to a schedule of fees 
depending on distance.  The members of the Soldier Messenger Corps were 
routinely referred to as "Red Caps" as early as 1868.

Chicago Evening Post, September 24, 1868, page 2. "Since the close of 
the war the ‘Messenger Corps,’ or ‘Red Caps,’ as they are familiarly 
called, have monopolized the errand and small parcel business of [New 
York City]."

The service petered out over the years, with a few still in service in 
the mid-1890s, at about the time the red-capped porter services started.

The similarity of uniform color and job description suggests that the 
Soldier Messenger Corps may have been the model for the Red Cap porters.

I went down the Red Cap rabbit hole after seeing a story about an 
amputee baseball game with the one-legged players against the one-armed 
players.  The name of the one-armed team was the "Snorkeys," which was 
apparently borrowed from the name of a character in the first play 
(1867) to employ someone tied to a railroad track as a dramatic plot 
element.  The character of Snorkey was a one-armed soldier messenger who 
wore a red cap.  The victim was a man, the rescuer a woman, and the 
dialog following the rescue was a pro-women's suffrage line.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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