Paddy Wagon

by Charles McGrath

What was the origin of the name "Paddy Wagon"?

The Newark Police Paddy Wagon was a common site in the 1940-1950’s. I believe its main function was to transport arrested persons to the station house (precinct). It was a square shaped van with two externally lockable doors on the back. The interior of the vehicle consisted of two wooden benches facing each other. The exterior rear of the van had two vertical handrails. One of the policemen could hang on to these handrails as they transported the prisoners. This is a poor analogy, but sort of like the garbage men hanging on the back of their truck. My father who was a Newark Policeman worked on one in the 1930's. Sometime in circa 1960 they went to sleep. I believe the four door (sedan) police radio car replaced it. A metal divider separating the front seat from the rear seat provided the necessary security needed for the safe transfer of prisoners.

Over the years I often thought about this vehicle and wondered about the origin of its name. Few will argue that the Irish were referred to as "Paddy” which was considered derogatory. I think the runoff of the name Paddy was from Saint Patrick (in Ireland they loving referred to those you immigrated to this country as “Narrow Backs”). It was also called the Black Mariah, which was related to a tough black woman from the early 1900's. When I was a teenager in the 1950's it was called a "Pie Wagon". Maybe that was a parochial expression because I can't find it any other place, than in my youth.1

Many Irish became politicians, barkeeps, laborers, firemen and policemen. To the best of my knowledge the Irish policemen were not referred to as "Paddies”. They were referred to as "Whales". They were called this because they were big men and had large stomachs not unlike my father. The Irish deservingly or not, were referred to as the "Fighting Irish”. They would only argue so long and then they would start fighting. Remember the nickname of Notre Dame's football team?

It's my contention that the name came from the transportee rather than the transporter.

It wouldn’t be politically correct today but it didn’t seem to bother the Irish. Not unlike the Jews and the Blacks they countered it with humor. I think that’s why most comedians came from those three groups.



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