How the World's Police and Army Got Khaki Uniforms

The khaki cloth, now a sign of power and style worldwide, was first manufactured in Mangaluru, exactly 165 years ago.

Published: 14th February 2016 05:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th February 2016 08:58 AM   |  A+A-

By Harsha

MANGALURU: The khaki cloth, now a sign of power and style worldwide, was first manufactured in Mangaluru, exactly 165 years ago.

Johannes Haller, a qualified master weaver from Europe, invented the new khaki dye from the bark of semicarpus tree at Basel Mission’s weaving establishment in Balmatta in 1851, reveals Jaiprakash Raghavaiah’s doctoral work (‘Basel Mission industries in Malabar and South Canara: 1834-1914’) and reports of German evangelical mission in the department of archives, Karnataka Theological College (KTC), Balmatta.

How.jpgIn 1844, Basal Mission set up a weaving factory staffed by lower caste Christian converts on land donated by Collector H M Blair at Balmatta. Initially the fabrics produced were of poor quality, the documents reveal. The Industrial Commission set up in 1846 to help missionary industrial activities deputed a trained weaving specialist, Johnnes Haller. Archives say that with his arrival, the weaving industry ‘developed by leaps and bounds’. In 1851, he installed a dye house. How khaki came to be adopted as police and army uniform in many countries is fascinating. British-Indian Army Commander-in-Chief Lord Roberts, during his visit to the weaving factory, was pleased with the colour. He describes khaki as an ‘attractive uniform’ in Rodney Atwood’s The Life of Field Marshal Lord Roberts and  introduced it as the everyday uniform of the British Army the world over. The Commonwealth Trust Ltd, which took over the factory, renamed it as a ‘Hosiery factory’. Due to the decline in handloom fabrics, the Hosiery factory was closed down in 1960.

Howa.jpgThe weaving establishment’s symbol in Balmatta Institute of Printing Technology is the only proof that the building was a weaving factory years ago. Benet G Amanna of the department of archives, KTC, recollects that schools in and around Mulki had included weaving as part of their syllabus. With no market for handloom clothes, Christians had stopped weaving a decade ago.


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