At 99 years old, Ed Steele is the oldest surviving Connecticut state trooper, and is believed to be the oldest surviving state trooper in the country. He sat down with Patch at the brand new Connecticut State Police Museum in Meriden to share some of the changes he has seen in the police force over the years. (By the way, he drove himself to the interview.)
By his own admission, Ed Steele was not the typical little boy who wanted to be a policeman when he grew up. He got into police work for more practical reasons: job security.
Steele graduated from high school in 1932 during the Great Depression. “You couldn’t buy a job then,” he recounts.
After getting laid off twice from a factory called New Departure—the second time after only eight days back on the job—he decided he needed something more permanent. He underwent a three- or four-month training program to become a state police officer.
Looking back on his training days, Steele recalls that his class was the first to train in uniform. They wore pith helmets and trained on motorcycles, though they rarely rode them after training, he says.
His class was also the first to be trained on the police radio. At that time there were only two radio outlets in the state, according to Steele.
In 1940, Steele joined the force, becoming part of another first—the introduction of the iconic felt Stetson hat to the state police uniform.
Steele spent 21 years as a Connecticut state trooper, serving in Bethany, Groton and Hartford. He remembers working 60 hours a week with no overtime pay. “More than once I worked around the clock,” he shares.
At that time, each police barracks had a kitchen and a chef, but not anymore. “Now everybody eats on the road,” he says.
Steele didn’t marry until after he retired from the force in 1961. “It’s tough on the women,” he says of the state trooper’s lifestyle.
Besides the long hours, Steele remembers wearing heavy britches that were very hot in the summer. After riding around all day in a police car with no air conditioning, it was hard to get them off, he jokes.
Steele grew somber as he recalled some of the tougher aspects of the job: gruesome crime scenes, fatal accidents and pulling bodies out of rivers. But he also shared some of the more rewarding moments, like the time he stopped a drunk driver, preventing him from killing himself—or someone else.
The man was driving the wrong way on the Berlin Turnpike, heading south on the northbound side. The only way Steele could stop the vehicle was to get in front of it and let it hit him a few times until it stopped.
“His wife came to court and thanked me for arresting him,” Steele laughs.
After retiring from the police force, Steele worked as a safety supervisor for a large trucking company and as assistant to the security director at Yale University. When his boss left Yale to form his own campus security consulting business, he took Steele along as his chief consultant. There, Steele spent more than a decade advising colleges and universities all over the East Coast on security issues.
These days, Steele’s main interest is genealogy. He has spent a lot of time investigating his family tree, which includes ancestor John Steele, the first family member to come to this area. John Steele landed in Boston in 1635 and migrated to Connecticut, where he became active in governing circles, Steele notes.
As a result of his research, Ed Steele became a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Descendants of the Founders of Hartford. He bought a computer to help with his genealogy explorations. He uses it for research and email. His son is trying to get him to join Facebook. “I don’t want to have any part of it,” he insists.
Steele also helps out at the new Connecticut State Police Museum at 294 Colony St. in Meriden. According to Jerry Longo, Director of the Museum, Steele’s memory comes in handy. He helps identify people in historic photographs and can explain the use of some of the donated artifacts.
How long have you lived in Meriden? I’ve lived my whole life in Meriden. I’ve lived on Dexter Avenue since 1950. I built the house and never moved out.
How has Meriden changed over the years? Meriden is nothing like it was when I was growing up. There were a lot of big factories back then: International Silver, New Departure, Bradley and Hubbard. Meriden went through a depression, particularly when International Silver closed down.
What is the most memorable case you ever worked on? The Woodbury Bank robbery. A movie company had staged a bank robbery there not long before the actual robbery. I started my desk shift in Bethany at 8 a.m. that day. So many officers were out looking for the robbers that I was still there well after midnight. No one was available to relieve me. We caught them—two brothers. We sewed them up into a small area so they couldn’t escape. It took about a week.
Do you have any children or grandchildren? I had two sons. One died very young. The other one does real estate appraisal in New Hampshire. I just had my first great-grandchild—a little girl. Her name is Iris.
What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in law enforcement? The most important thing today is to get some college training. It’s becoming increasingly important, especially if you want to rise in the ranks.
What is the secret to your longevity? My genes.