The final regulation “gum rubber”, Civil War style poncho of the 20th century was adopted by the Army in 1906. The primary difference between the 1906 pattern rubber poncho and its predecessor was that a new and improved rubberizing compound was used, and it also featured a contract label.
Specification No. 849, adopted by the Army on December 8, 1906
(Rubberized Cotton Sheeting)
Dimensions: According to its specifications, the 1906 Poncho was to be 90 inches in length and 66 inches in width. It was to weigh not less than 3 pounds, 12 ounces and not more than 4 pounds, 2 ounces.
Material: The body was made from “good quality one-half bleached sheeting weighing not less than four (4) ounces to the linear yard (36 inches wide).” The sheeting was thoroughly coated with a compound composed of various rubbers, tar, lampblack, and sulfur.
Hardware: Three ball and socket fasteners were used to seal the flap that covered the poncho’s center opening. Twenty brass grommets were placed around the edge of the poncho. Seven grommets were placed on each side, equally spaced and running from corner to corner. Three additional grommets, also equally spaced, were placed on the top and the bottom between the two corners.
Description: The 1906 Poncho was made from two halves divided in the center lengthwise. The center opening through which the head passed when the poncho was worn as a “cape” was 13 ½ inches long. The opening was covered by a flap made from the same rubberized fabric as the poncho that was 3 inches wide at the center and approximately 5 inches wide at both ends. When worn as a cape the flap formed a collar that could be secured by a ball and socket fastener glove fastener. The edges of the poncho had a ½ inch wide flat ribbon binding cemented to each of its edges. Each brass grommet was also reinforced by a 1 ½ inch square “stay piece”.
Contract Label: The name of the contractor and the date of the contract were to be stamped in one corner of the poncho.
Size: The 1906 Poncho was available only in one size.
U.S. Army Oiled Slickers & Ponchos
In service from approximately 1907 to 1917
Oilskin in the U.S. Army
After nine disappointing attempts at perfecting the black rubber poncho, the Quartermaster Department had entirely given up on the use of gum rubber as a means to waterproof clothing. It turned its attention instead, to oil treated fabrics which were collectively known as “Oilskin”.
Oilskin is a heavy cotton cloth that had been rendered waterproof by means of a hot solution made from a combination of oil, gum or wax. When saturated, the oil soaked into the cotton material, filled its pores, and thus prevented the fabric from absorbing water. It also created a smooth slick surface which allowed water to easily run off.
Although the Chinese were the first to develop an oilskin fabric, oilskin garments have traditionally been associated with sailors and fishermen. Apparently, during the late 1700’s, early 1800’s sailors began to smear their clothing with fish oil, tar and even paint to protect them from inclement weather and ocean spray. Before long worn out sails were being recycled into foul weather deck coats that had been painted with a concoction of fish or linseed oil and wax. By the mid 19th century oilskins had become the established rough weather attire for sea going men.
Landsmen took notice of the curious, durable, and weatherproof oilskins worn by the sailors who came ashore. Enterprising clothing manufacturers realized the need for practical waterproof garments and adapted the sailor’s oiled clothing for use on land. Shortly thereafter, a host of oilskin hats, gloves, trousers, ponchos, capes, and jackets were being produced and marketed for land based outdoorsmen and military men.
Early oilskins were far from perfect. The oil impregnated garments were found to be durable and waterproof, but they were also heavy, stiff and uncomfortable to wear. In addition, the natural oils used had a low melting point. During hot weather this caused the garments to become sticky, and in extreme cases the oil actually liquefied and ran. Later manufacturers of oilskin garments developed various formulas which combined oils with other elements, such as paraffin, gum or beeswax to minimize the sticky nature of traditional oilcloth.
An early 20th century Cavalry Boards investigation into what type of garments might best be suited for mounted duty had this to say about the various oilskin slickers tested. Ultimately the Board left the decision as to which type of slicker to adopt in the hands of the Quartermaster General:
In compliance with this request the Board received 66 slickers made of Protex cloth and 11 slickers made of Federal cloth, (5 of the latter being sail cloth and 6 sheeting), all designed after a pattern which the Board had submitted. When these slickers had been received from the manufacturer, it was observed that the Protex garments were somewhat sticky while those of the Federal cloth and sheeting were not. This was surprising because the reports of the service tests, above mentioned, had show especially that Protex cloth had no tendency to stick together even in the Hawaiian Islands where the 5th Cavalry had made a test …
The 77 slickers were carried on the pommels of saddles during a 500 mile march for 23days and were worn for 5 rainy days. All the slickers wore well. The Protex stuck together objectionably while the Federal did not stick to any extent which was noticeable.
During the last few weeks of the Board’s sessions, two slickers were received from the office of the Quartermaster General, with information that they were made of the same material as that used in the infantry poncho. These slickers impressed the Board favorably but there was not sufficient time to test them as to wearing qualities.
Report of the U.S. Army Cavalry Board, Page 80, 81
The one thing that both the Infantry and Cavalry officers agreed upon in 1908 was that a type of long, loose, water repellant coat made from oiled fabric that was called a “Slicker” would henceforth be authorized for all mounted troops of the U.S. Army, and that a new pattern of rain poncho, also made from oiled fabric would be prescribed for all foot troops of the U.S. Army. This decision was summed up in all three editions of the Manual of Military Hygiene, which were published in 1909, 1914 and 1917 respectively:
In our service the question has been decided, and apparently wisely, by the issue of a “poncho” to the foot soldier and a “slicker” to the mounted man. These articles do not add much to the weight of the pack and are otherwise valuable in protecting the soldier from damp soil in camps and bivouacs.
Manual of Military Hygiene for the Military Services of the United States, 3rd Edition, Colonel Valery Havard, 1917, page 433
The 1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker, adopted on November 11, 1907, was the first oilskin garment approve for use by the U.S. Army. This was followed by the 1908 Poncho, adopted on June 4, 1908, and a suit of black oilskin clothing made up of a hat, trousers and coat that was adopted at the end of 1909 or the beginning of 1910.
Specification No. 960, adopted by the Army on June 4, 1908
(Oiled Cotton Sheeting)
At the time of posting no information or images of the 1908 Poncho were available. Because the Quartermaster Department had issued the 1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker only the year before, and waterproof cotton fabric would not be adopted until 1911, it is thought that the 1908 Poncho was made from oiled cotton, but that has yet to be proven.
If any Forum member or visitor has information or photos pertaining to this poncho, or any of the other ponchos, slickers and raincoats shown in this post, please add whatever you may have to this thread.
1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker
Specification No. 919, adopted by the Army on November 11, 1907
Dimensions: The overall length of the slicker varied depending on its size from 55 ½ inches to 60 inches. The overall weight of the garment also varied depending on the size. The largest of the four sizes (No. 0) was not to weigh more than 7 pounds, 10 ounces. The smallest of the four sizes (No. 3) was not to weigh less than 5 pounds, 12 ounces.
Material: Its outer shell was made from cotton sheeting* that weighed 14 ounces to the linear yard after it had been treated with the “proper oiled mixtures, fillers, etc.” The lining was composed of the same cotton sheeting material as the outer shell, but it was of a lighter weight. It was approximately 8 ½ ounces per linear yard after the oil treatment. Dark brown corduroy cloth was used for the collar. The inner sleeves were lined with fleece-flannel and each sleeve had an elastic cord at the wrist.
Hardware: The front of the 1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker was secured by four, solid brass, automatic Thomson No. 10 clasps and slots. Each clasp and slot was fixed in place by means of a 5/16 inch copper cap and a ¼ inch brassed rivet. Leather stays were inserted under each clasp. Three brass-covered, 27 ligne buttons were placed on the collar to fasten the “throat latch”. Ten ball and socket snap fasteners were utilized as follows:
- Four: to secure the storm flap at the front of the slicker.
- Two: one on each side of the skirt, to secure the right and left hand sides of the slicker around the respective leg of the rider wearing the slicker.
- Three: which, when engaged, fastened the lower half of the front opening. By doing so the wearer was able to transform the mounted slicker into a “walking coat”.
- One: to close the rear opening of the coat.
Description: The corduroy collar was approximately 3 inches deep at the center and 2 inches deep at either end. A “throat latch” with a buttonhole at each end was located under the right hand half of the collar. Each sleeve had a 3 inch deep “shoulder cap”. One outside patch pocket, made from the same material as the slicker which was approximately 7 inches wide by 7 inches deep and having a 2 ½ inch wide flap, was placed on the right hip, just below the waist. The rear of the coat was split nearly to the waist to prevent binding when mounted. The coat also featured a fantail, which was called the “cantle piece”, which, when spread out covered the equipment stowed on the rear of the saddle.
Contract Label: A standard contract label, fastened by four rivets, was located near the neck, under the flap on the left hand side of the slicker. The label was to show the name of the contractor, the date of the contract, the name of the depot, and it had a space at the bottom for the inspectors’ name to be stamped.
Size: The 1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker was available in four numbered sizes:
- Size No. 0 … 56 inch chest … 60 inches in length
- Size No. 1 … 54 inch chest … 59 inches in length
- Size No. 2 … 52 inch chest … 58 inches in length
- Size No. 3 … 50 inch chest … 55 ½ inches in length
Photo No. 11: Engravings of the 1907 Oiled Pommel Slicker. Note the capped shoulders and that the early pocket had clipped lower corners.