Girl Power–1918 Style

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Girl filing in plant. U.S. Naval Aircraft factory, Navy Yard, Phila., 1918. Mariners’ Museum Collection #P0005—U-PA0087

When the United States Navy’s Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia needed to ramp up their labor force in early 1918, it began to train and employ women. According to William F. Trimble, author of Wings for the Navy: A History of the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1917-1956, the factory’s first female factory worker was Marion Elderton, already on staff as a secretary. That transition happened in December of 1917, and by June of 1918, the labor force included 218 women. One year later (Dec.1918), NAF female employment reached 890, which was 24.5% of the work force.

Yes-they were referred to as girls

Not to put too fine a point on it, I suspect that the writer of the captions on these photographs was male, perhaps referencing the novelty of the subject. Trimble’s use of female and women is fitting for 1990, the time of his publication. Not so in 1918, when women were still fighting for the right to vote.   Read more

The Tales Candy Can Tell

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Riley’s Rum and Butter Toffee, QB68.

In the spirit of Halloween I searched the collection looking for something unique to share. I came across a small candy tin with two ships on the lid. The name across the front said Riley’s Rum and Butter (Flavoured) Toffee, which sounded fun so I started to research.

The British company had fairly humble beginnings on a mother’s dining room table. Ellen Riley was born in 1848 to William and Mary Ann Bates. She worked as a dressmaker until she married John Henry Riley on August 7, 1872. John Henry was a woolstapler, meaning that he sorted and traded wool between the producers and the manufacturers. It kind of sounds like he was a middleman to sort out the details and grade the wool for sale. They had two sons, Frederick William and John Herbert Riley. John Herbert became a bank clerk and Fred initially followed in his father’s footsteps working as a woolstapler by 1901. Those career plans changed a few years later.   Read more

A Look at the Unknown and Hope for the Future: The Artwork of Shipyard and Museum Staff Artist Thomas C. Skinner

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CRUISER USS PORTSMOUTH AT PIER, oil on canvas 1945, by THOMAS C. SKINNER 1956.47.04

Thomas Catlett Skinner’s office was a loft overlooking the dry dock at the Newport News shipyard.  Frequently he would gather his tools and wander through the yard, stopping to observe and document the many scenes unfolding before him.  A vat of molten steel.  Red hot metal beams being bent into shape.  Yards of canvas transformed into sails.  The welcome respite of a lunch break.  The intensity of a foreman’s face.  A ship being refitted for the next voyage.  Scenes that were rarely seen by anyone outside the shipyard and activities that many people never knew existed.

Skinner’s tools were paint, pencils, canvas and paper.  His loft workspace shook with the unending pounding from riveting hammers and vibrations from heavy machinery.  And when he set up his easel beside the piers, dry docks and workers, he was surrounded by noise and dirt and exposed to the fickleness of the weather.   Yet despite the adversity, he created amazing drawings and paintings that transport the viewer back in time.  His body of work contains striking, colorful images that make it easy to imagine all the noises in the shipyard, the sound and feeling of waves acting on a ship and the harsh sounds of battle. Today, as part of our 90th Anniversary celebration, we take a look at the Mariners’ Museum staff artist, Thomas Skinner, some of his work, and its importance.   Read more

The Forgotten Faces of Titanic series: The Story of Richard Norris Williams II

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People in life jackets
Women and Children First, ca. 1912-1915
Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park

One fateful night 107 years ago, a ship on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, struck an iceberg and began its long journey into the annals of maritime history. Passengers and crew members came from all corners of the world, including close to 300 Americans. Richard Norris Williams II was one of those traveling on board Titanic

At just 21 years old, Richard Norris Williams II was already an accomplished tennis player and was studying at Harvard University. Richard and his father were heading home to play in a tournament and came aboard as first-class passengers in Cherbourg, France. As first-class passengers onboard a White Star liner, they enjoyed all the amenities that the ship had to offer, including barbershop, daily newspaper, gymnasium, heated pools, elegant meals, and more.   Read more

Additions to the Collection

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Back in the early days of the museum, we received numerous donations of posters from steamship companies, recruiting stations, the shipyard, etc.  We would put one or two of these into the collection and the rest have been sitting around since.  We still have a pile that was never completely cataloged and from time to time (when we have a spare moment) we go through it to see what should be added to the collection and what is duplicate material.  I was moving the pile the other day and came across two beautiful WWI posters that are now going to be added to the collection.

This first poster is from 1917 and was done by artist Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925), who was born in Malmo, Sweden and emigrated to the United States as a boy.  In 1917 he became a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve Force (hence his signature followed by USNRF).  This seems to be one of his most famous pieces and is quite interesting.  It shows an American sailor embracing one from Britain.  To the American’s left are sailors from Japan and France, and to the right from Russia and Italy.   Read more