Digest>Archives> October 2005

Collecting Nautical Antiques

USLHS Engineers


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Recently, we found a stereoview by the Keystone View Company showing a lighthouse tender, its bow shrouded with canvas, tied up to a pier. The caption notes that this is “The lighthouse tender on which President Roosevelt nearly lost his life, Mississippi River.” To date, we have not been able to discover the circumstances of this incident, but we wonder if the President was on board when a collision occurred. If you know of this incident, we would be most interested in hearing from you with the details, and we will include them in a future column. One never knows what one will come across next in those boxes of photos.

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Last time, we talked about uniforms for masters and mates of lighthouse tenders. Now let’s take a look at the engineering officers:

Engineering officers were vital on these vessels, especially during the era of steam propulsion. The engineering crew consisted of a chief engineer and up to three assistant engineers. Engineers were to wear the

same uniform as masters of tenders, except

that the sleeve ornaments indicated this specialty and rank.

Sleeve ornaments for the chief engineer consisted of three stripes of 1/4-inch (gold braid) lace, surmounted by a silver embroidered three-bladed propeller 3/4 inch in diameter. For first assistant engineers, sleeve ornaments consisted of two stripes of lace, surmounted by a silver embroidered propeller. Likewise, second assistant engineers’ sleeve ornaments consisted of one stripe of 1/4-inch gold lace, surmounted by a propeller while the third assistant engineer’s sleeve ornament consisted of just the silver embroidered three-bladed propeller 3/4 inch in diameter. Note in the c.1890 photo, the first assistant engineer’s sleeve ornaments are easily visible as is the standard Lighthouse Service hat. Later, Coast Guard sleeve rating badge for engineers would be similar.

Hats of Mackinaw straw were permitted to be worn in summer or in southern climates, the crown to be not less than 4 inches in height and the brim not less than 3 1/2 inches wide with a black silk ribbon band not less than 2 inches wide. Engineers of light vessels were to wear similar uniforms in all respects.

Firemen on board were to wear a navy-blue flannel shirt, cut in the navy style, with rolling collar 6 inches deep, with two stripes of 1/4-inch red tape, laid on, 1/2 inch apart, extending to the bottom or the bosom opening of the shirt, and joined so as to form a continuous red line. The cuffs were to have two stripes of red tape 1/4 inch around them, the upper edge of upper stripe to join the gathering of sleeve to cuff, the second 1/2 inch below the first. The corners of the collars were to have, in red thread or cotton, a lighthouse 3/4 inch high. Hats for winter were to be dark blue cloth, round crowned, with a stitched band above the brim 1/4 inch wide. The brim was 2 1/2 inches broad of double cloth stitched through and through with 12 or 14 rows of stitching of black silk to stiffen it. A black silk ribbon 1 1/4 inches wide, with “Lighthouse Service” embroidered in gold wire letters 1/2 inch high, to be worn around the crown, joining the binding of crown. We have never yet seen an example of this type of uniform, nor have we found photos as firemen were rarely photographed, but we keep hoping. We do see the winter hats on other crew members now and then in photos. Hats of similar design in brown canvas, the same shade as the canvas overall worksuits, but without ribbons, were to be worn with overall suits when working. For winter weather work, a watch cap of the navy pattern, knitted of dark blue yarn, was allowed to be worn by the crew to protect the ears.

Next time we will take a look at other crew members on lighthouse tenders, and maybe, another recent find. We will include the answer to a selected inquiry as a regular feature each month in our column.

This story appeared in the October 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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