Saturday, September 15, 2012

U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia

usnr insignia U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve insignia.
Single construction.
Eagle stamped brass with gold-plate.
badge: 2-3/4in from tip to tip of wings.

In October 1942, a curious chain of memoranda was passed between the New York State Maritime Academy Superintendent and various U.S. Navy officials. Prompted by Kings Point cadet uniforms having sewn on them a previously professional only device in preparation for a parade on the 24th of the month, the NYSMA Superintendent had a valid question, and perhaps potentially a little egg-on-face for his counterpart across Long Island Sound. The notes touched on the eligibility of cadets at the aforementioned academy to wear a relatively recent badge: the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. This insignia came to be called the U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia, or simply the Sea Chicken.

(580) Dy

October 14, 1942

From:    The Superintendent, New York State Maritime 
To:      The Chief of Naval Personnel.
Via:     The Commandant, Third Naval District.
Subject: Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia.
         Wear On Academy Uniform.
Reference: (a) Art. 16-9 of Chapter XVI of U.S. Navy 
            Uniform Regulations, 1941.

1. Information is requested whether the insignia 
described in reference (a) is authorized to be worn on 
the dress uniform of cadets enrolled in this academy who
hold appointments as Midshipmen in the Merchant Marine 
Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve, and who do not hold licenses
issued by Marine Inspection Service.

/s/ Thos. T. Craven.
[Vice Admiral T. T. Craven, U.S.N.]

1st endorsemnet


19 October 1942.

From:  The Commandant, Third Naval District.
To:    The Chief of Naval Personnel.

1. Forwarded.
2. The Commandant considers that the Merchant Marine 
Reserve insignia is intended to give recognition to 
merchant marine officers employed by private companies 
who are members of the Naval Reserve, and, therefore, 
does not recommend that cadets enrolled in the New 
York State Maritime Academy be authorized to wear this 

/s/ Paul P. Blackburn,
By direction.

26 October 1942


From:  The Chief of Naval Personnel.
To:    The Superintendent,
       New York State Maritime Academy,
       Fort Schuyler, The Bronx, N.Y.
Via:   The Commandant Third Naval District.
Subject: Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia - to be 
         worn by midshipmen, Merchant Marine 
References: (a) Supt. N.Y.St.Mar.Acs.ltr (580)Dy 
            of Oct. 14, 1942.
            (b) Art. 16-9, Uniform Regulations, 
            U.S. Navy.
Enclosure:  (A) Copy of BuNav ltr. Nav-1644-XKS 
            (QR2(C)(66) of Oct. 4, 1941.

1. As midshipmen, Merchant Marine Reserve, at the State 
Maritime Academies are required to wear a uniform 
appropriate to an officer, and as these Academies are 
under the supervision of the War Shipping Administration, 
which succeeded to the training functions formerly 
performed by the U.S. Maritime Commission, midshipmen, 
Merchant Marine Reserve, under instruction at these 
Academies, are authorized to wear the Merchant Marine 
Reserve insignia on their Academy uniforms.

/s/ L. E. Denfield,
The Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel.

Apparently, the Maritime Academies had a friend in the Chief of Naval Personnel, as in 1942 the matter was settled in that all cadets may indeed wear the insignia. All of this begs the question: what was this insignia, that caused such a stir of interest among Naval and Maritime Academy officials?

The Merchant Marine Reserve had its beginnings in 1913 when US Congress wrote into law a reformulated the Naval Reserve Force. At the time, the Reserve was separated into five classes, and soon became six:
Class I: The Fleet Naval Reserve:  Consisting of personnel having former active Naval Service.

Class II: The Naval Reserve:  Consisting of persons of the seagoing profession who had served at least two years aboard a vessel on the high seas or larger lakes.

Class III: Naval Auxiliary Reserve: Consisting of persons who had served or were serving in the Merchant Marine of the United States.

Class IV:  Naval Coast Defense Reserve:  Consisting of personnel capable of performing special and useful service in the time of war.

Class V:  Volunteer Naval Reserve:  Consisting of personnel qualifying for the other classes of the Reserve, who were willing to serve without pay in the time of peace.

Class VI:  Naval Reserve Flying Corps:  Consisting of personnel who were from the Naval Flying Corps.
Class III, Naval Auxiliary Reserve, comprised of officers and unlicensed seamen, was the precursor of the Merchant Marine Reserve program, and the one for which the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia would ultimately be destined.

Insignia for the Reserve was first prescribed in “Changes in Uniform Regulations United State Navy, 1913 No. 10” in 1915. This was the first official publication of distinctive uniform elements for the entire Naval Reserve. At the time, those Merchant Marine Officers in Class III wore their steamship line or company uniform with the Naval Reserve Force device on the collar of the “military coat,” or on the lapels of the “box coat.”  This device was a miniature of the commissioned officers cap device. There were also special buttons worn on Merchant Marine uniforms. The button field was plain, with an anchor and the letters “U.S.” on either side of the shackle above the stock, and with the letters “N.R.” on either side of the shank between the stock and the flukes.

On June 25, 1938, the Naval Reserve Force underwent a name change to become simply the Naval Reserve. The classes were reduced to three with the original Naval Auxiliary Reserve renamed the U.S. Naval Merchant Marine Reserve, and still remaining the class III program. The “Naval Reserve (Merchant Marine) Insignia, Special Distinguishing Insignia for certain licensed officers” as it was first known and later called the “breast insignia of the Merchant Marine Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve (Eagle and Scroll badge)”, was approved for wear on Merchant Marine uniforms on April 7, 1938, by then Secretary of the Navy, Claude A. Swanson. This insignia replaced the miniature cap device and buttons originally approved for the Naval Auxiliary Reserve. The authorization for the aforementioned insignia was the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, in which it was stated: “Licensed Officers who are members of the United States Naval Reserve shall wear on their uniforms such special distinguishing insignia as may be approved by the Secretary of the Navy.”  The 1936 Act was based on the earlier Shipping Act of 1916 that required officers serving on vessels receiving a Federal government operating subsidy to be, if eligible, members of the United States Naval Reserve. Other Naval Reserve officers serving in merchant ships in positions that required them to wear “a uniform appropriate to an officer,” were authorized to wear the insignia. The insignia was emphatically not authorized to be worn with the naval uniform. Moreover, enlisted men of the Naval Reserve were not permitted to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia.

As authorized in 1938, the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia was composed of a gold embroidered bronze or gold plated metal pin consisting of a spread eagle surcharged with crossed anchors and shield 5/8in in height, 2-3/4in from tip to tip of wings; length of anchors 7/8in; and underset with 3/16 scroll bearing the letters “US” on one side of the shield and “NR” on the opposite side. Wearers were required to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia on the left breast of their Merchant Marine uniform and nowhere else.

The eagle design is based on the original eagle carved into the stern of the USS Constitution. The scroll pattern was often found on the stern of ships and contained the ships’ names. The shield has 13 stars and stripes with crossed anchors taken from the then current US Navy officer’s cap device and recalling the original Naval Auxiliary Reserve insignia. Following the design of the cap device, the original insignia design had the eagle looking to its own left. In 1941, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox prescribed a change wherein all Navy insignia bearing eagles were henceforth to have the heads facing their own right. According to heraldic law, the right side (dexter) of the shield is the honor side, and the left side (sinister) indicated dishonor or illegitimacy. The suggestion also has been made that the change was to have the eagle look toward the olive branches on the left side and peace as appears on the Great Seal of the United States, rather than the warlike arrows to the right. More information may be found here.

The 1930s was a turbulent time. The U.S. shipping industry was in free fall due to the Great Depression, with foreign firms having taken over most overseas and making strident end-runs in domestic shipping. As war erupted across Europe and Asia, the belligerent nations, which once carried the majority of U.S. trade, swept their ships into national service, leaving the U.S. both lacking in both ships and men. The Federal government stepped into the fray by subsidizing ship construction and encouraging the training of young men to enter the trade, and the U.S. Navy found itself looking for warm bodies to man its ships in the eventuality of war in Europe and in the Pacific. Naturally, the U.S. Navy looked to Nautical Schools and Merchant Marine Academies for potential manpower. Nevertheless, manpower could only be had with concessions from both sides: military and civilian.

At the invitation of the Navy Department, an informal conference of the governing bodies and Superintendents of the State nautical schools was held in Washington from April 12-14, 1938. The conference was attended by representatives from the then four State schools: New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and California. The object of the conference was to bring about a closer cooperation between the Navy Department and the State nautical schools; also to coordinate the work of the four schoolships. The end goal was to create a professional class of ship officers both adequately trained for the rapidly modernizing maritime industry and serve as potential U.S. Navy officers. Never before had a closer relationship between the two been groups been attempted.

Captain Felix X. Gygax, U.S.N., Director of the Naval Reserve, in the Bureau of Navigation, presided over the conference. The opening addresses at the conference were made by Captain Chester W. Nimitz, U.S.N., Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, and Captain Gygax. In referring to the State nautical schools, Captain Gygax said:
The Navy Department acknowledges and commends the splendid results that have been achieved, as attested by the fine record of the graduates of these nautical schools at sea, and the success of many more in positions of high trust and responsibility in connection with the administration and operation of the maritime industry ashore.
The conference resulted in the following: First, the curricula of the State nautical schools were extended with schools preparing young men not only for service in the American Merchant Marine but also in the United States Naval Reserve. The following nine naval subjects were added to the course of study: Navy Regulations, Naval Law, International Law, Types and Characteristics of Naval ships and aircraft, Tactics and Manoeuvering, Ship Drills, Gunnery, Communications and Damage Control. The instruction in these subjects was to be given the form of lectures by commissioned and active duty Naval officers. Second, the Bureau of Navigation, under the authority of the Secretary of the Navy, issued instructions to local Naval District Commandants providing for the admission of nautical school students in the Naval Reserve as Merchant Marine Cadets, in accordance with the Naval Reserve Act, approved June 25, 1938. Third, the Chief of Bureau of Navigation and the Chief of Naval Operations recommended to the Secretary of the Navy that appropriate steps be taken to secure from the Maritime Commission the allocation of funds for the construction of suitable vessels as replacements for the then present State schoolships, as necessary; these ships were to be of such a character as to be readily usable as naval auxiliaries in an emergency. The recommendation was immediately approved by the Secretary of the Navy. Thus was the inception of the Merchant Marine Midshipman Reserve program which provided the beginnings of Naval Science Program at the Maritime Academies. The New York State Maritime Academy was the first of the schools to open its doors to Naval instructors in 1939; by the end of the year, a big gun found its way to Fort Schuyler.

NYSMA cadets marching at World's Fair 1939.
Soon thereafter, with the storm clouds of war looming over the Atlantic, civilian instructors the Nautical Schools joined the Merchant Marine Reserve and sewed the new insignia on their reefer jackets. By 1940 the criteria for valid wearers of the insignia was broadened to include staff officers licensed under the Bureau of Marine Inspection and serving on ships with certificated of registry issued by the Secretary of Commerce under contract with the Maritime Commission. That same year, Merchant Marine officers employed by or under the supervision of the U.S. Maritime Commission and enlisted members of the Naval Reserve who were actually licensed and serving as licensed officers were authorized to wear the insignia. And other Naval Reserve Officers serving on merchant ships or under the supervision of the United States Maritime Commission were authorized to wear it; with the same stipulation that it not be worn on the Navy uniform.

On the coattails of the limited National Emergency of September 8, 1939, Roosevelt declared a National Emergency on June 27, 1940; and finally an Unlimited National Emergency on May 27, 1941. The first declaration brought with it the activation of the Naval Fleet Reserve; the last, all members of the Naval Reserve not in deferred status were called to active duty. Members of the Merchant Marine Reserve immediately found themselves in reserve officer status if on requisitioned ships between the former and later declarations as per the Merchant Marine Act, 1936 Title III Section 302(g). Along with them, on October 5, 1940, cadets of the Maritime Commission aboard these ships were placed on active duty as Midshipmen, Merchant Marine Reserve due to previous Maritime Commission and Navy interagency agreements. By early 1942:
[...]There were 60 cadets serving as Midshipman, Merchant Marine Reserve, on active duty on Merchant Marine vessels taken over by the Navy.
The school ships of the state maritime academies were not taken out of auxiliary status and activated; thus, students and non-Naval Reserve instructors remained unaffected. At the same time, with the allocation of government funds and provision of schoolships, schools (now academies) had their training programs vetted by the Maritime Commission. However, these same instructors became inducted into the Maritime Commission’s uniformed training organization – the Maritime Service. With the final action, came membership in the Merchant Marine Reserve. After the formal declaration of war on December 8, 1941:
The Supervisor,  three Assistant Supervisors, the three District Cadet Training Instructors, the three Commanding Officers of Cadet Schools, and almost all Cadet Training Instructors in districts and at Cadet Schools hold licenses as officers of the Merchant Marine, and commissions in the United States Naval Reserve.  On January 6, 1942, the Navy ordered these Naval Reserve officer instructors to active duty status.
It may be due to creative thinking by a Navy supply officer, a Maritime Commission purser or New York uniform supply house salesman, but Corps of Cadets members began to sporadically wear the insignia in 1940.  This would be due to a perceived de facto, and not codified de jure reserve status of the cadets and cadets holding a nominal officer status.  Ship officers, as defined by U.S. law, are those sailing under or holding a license as issued by the US Bureau of Marine Inspection.  Nautical tradition held that cadets were officers-in-training with rank below the lowest officer grade but rating privileges held by a mid-level unlicensed mariner.  Some shipboard cadets, known as "cadet officers", previously held licenses but did not sail under them, and could conceivably claim  Merchant Marine Reserve status.  Others cadets perhaps (and did) don the insignia while on ships activated during the first emergency periods.  Either way, on paper this insignia was only valid while in active employ aboard merchant vessels.  If a ship were seized directly by the Navy, cadets became midshipmen - as happened to some merchantmen namely oilers and Maritime Commission designed freighters - and were officially barred from wearing the insignia on their uniforms aboard ship.  Moreover, the regulations did not state that the insignia was not for midshipmen, rather licensed officers.

It is worth mentioning that the personnel of the Merchant Marine, Government Marine (e.g. Army Transport Service and Coast and Geodetic Survey) and Armed Marine (US Navy and Coast Guard) shared similar trades, but diverged in organizational culture. The Merchant Marine sailor of the late 1930s suffered through the deprivations of the Great Depression and union struggles against shipowners. Except for ship officers, many held no particular allegiance to ship or employer. With the Jones Act, foreign colleagues were ejected from vessels, thereby removing skilled labor, and introducing gaps in overall ship manning. Depending on the union, mariners could be militantly left-leaning or thoroughly apathetic in their daily struggle to make a living. The Navy rank and file also came from the same lower-middle-class background as the merchant sailors – although tempered by grueling training and autocratic hierarchy. Men in the Regular Navy took a dim view of civilians and reservists on shore and in their midst. Many officers of the former worked their way from the deck to the pilothouse; a small number came from the nautical schools and academies. Most active Navy officers came from the Naval Academy where they were molded and inducted into an efficient warrior class. It is at this intersection where academy graduates and the service found themselves: outsiders making an entrance into an unforgiving hierarchy bound by custom and regulation. It is no surprise that despite coexisting on the same waterfronts, the two groups held each other at arm’s length.

Nevertheless, only after the formal granting of Midshipman, Merchant Marine Reserve status to all cadets in state and federal maritime academies in August 1942 – some months after the move of the East Coast Corps of Cadets from Fort Schuyler to their permanent home at Kings Point – did the mass distribution of the insignia to all Corps of Cadets members occur. This was done by the administrators of the Merchant Marine Academies, not the Navy. Absent is period documentation indicating Navy complicity. However, the insignia was only granted after a cadet completed preliminary training in basic Navy Science and swearing an oath. This oath was not compulsory but was done by all cadets. In fact, the Maritime Commission distributed a pamphlet depicting the insignia as an award granted cadets: “U.S. Naval Reserve Insignia Worn by Cadets of U. S. Maritime Commission and Officers of Merchant Marine Enrolled in Naval Reserve.”  Interestingly, at the time of press in early 1942, cadets were not yet called cadet-midshipmen.

State maritime academy cadets did not wear the insignia at any point up to October 1942; graduating class photos attest to this fact. The lack of insignia would not be due to the absence of a Naval Science curriculum; a course of study created by a gentlemen’s agreement in 1938, and put into practice in 1939 – which coincidentally was the same year that the Corps of Cadets was invited to the NYSMA grounds by then Superintendent Tomb. Nor did not having Midshipmen, Reserve status; which state cadets were afforded in August 1942. Nor even lack of connection to the Maritime Commission; with accepting federal monies and federal ships with which came Federal curricula and staff. It would be due to a creative reading of provisions of wear of the Merchant Marine Reserve insignia did the Corps of Cadets come to wear the insignia; and a rather conservative reading that state cadets did not. It is notable in that the wide-spread distribution of the insignia to cadets only came with Tomb coming to Kings Point a month after its inception as the first superintendent in April 1942.

Kings Point, from its outset, was linked strongly to NYSMA, although both diverged in raison d’ĂȘtre. The NYSMA was created to educate young men from New York for the maritime industry operating out of the Port of New York. The Maritime Commission Corps of Cadets, to bring young men from around the country without access to state schools, the opportunity to become licensed officers of the subsidized blue-water U.S. Merchant Marine. Thus, having looked at the successful model of staffing, cadet structure and uniforming, the early Merchant Marine Academy had similar components as the NYSMA. There was a strong cross-pollination of Kings Point and NYSMA instructors and potential students, Kings Point copying NYSMA regimental and honor system and using practically the same uniforms. At the permanent establishment of the NYSMA at Fort Schuyler, Tomb hailed the facility as being the future Annapolis of the U.S. Merchant Marine; after his transfer to Kings Point, he hailed the Merchant Marine Academy as the same. As such, there existed a friendly rivalry between the two. The mass distribution of the badge, and with it, a perceived honor status, can be viewed as a slight affront to – perhaps even antagonizing – the older school. NYSMA was hampered by New York bureaucracy and its expansion plans stymied by Federal land use provisos and local political posturing.  In this light, the Superintendent’s letter makes sense; as does that of the Commandant, Third Naval District. In essence, if the upstart institution may have the insignia, then so should NYSMA – or vice-versa. Whatever the case may be, all maritime academies, having their cadets subject to Midshipmen, Reserve status and the blessing of the Chief of Naval Personnel secured the insignia on October 26, 1942 – but not in time for the big New York Navy Day parade just two days prior. Thus, as an administrative matter in 1942, the Chief of Naval Personnel authorized Merchant Marine Midshipmen, USNR, under instruction at the state maritime academies, to wear the Merchant Marine Insignia on their academy uniforms, since these academies were under the supervision of the War Shipping Administration.

Post-war saw a change in the military establishment’s view of the role of the Merchant Marine as an auxiliary and the desirability of Merchant Mariners in its reserves. In 1951, the Navy regulations were revised, and only cadets who were Midshipmen, USNR, at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy were allowed to wear the insignia on their academy uniforms – not on their uniforms if shipping out or serving on commissioned Naval vessels. With the 1952 abolition of the Merchant Marine Reserve under Public Law 467 by the 82nd Congress, came the resultant removing Midshipman, USNR status from Merchant Marine Academy cadets and therefore the eligibility of wearing the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. Despite being granted Federal status, having a military character and Naval Science courses, Merchant Marine Academy cadets became simply “officer candidates.”   This touched off a controversy in that one of the selling points in a Merchant Marine Academy (state or Federal) education were draft-deferment or exemption and the possibility to be granted a commission in the U.S. Navy upon graduation. Gone was the pin, escape clause, and privileges. However, due to an administrative oversight, cadets continued wearing the badge until mid-1954 with its overall disappearance on cadet uniforms in 1956. Apparently, the California Maritime Academy administration must not have gotten the memo, as in 1958, 18 of 50 graduates were sporting the insignia; in 1959, however, the insignia was absent. 1964 saw with the re-institution of the merchant marine naval reserve status at Kings Point; only to have it abolished in 1965 and superseded by a Naval Reserve commission for the class of 1968 with accompanying badge reappearance.

The state academies had to wait until 1977 when their cadets became Midshipmen, USNR, of the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) to pin the insignia back on their uniforms. Beginning in 1980, those cadets who signed a Training and Service Agreement and became Midshipmen, USNR, were also authorized to wear the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia. Up until recently, all Midshipmen USNR enrolled in maritime training programs leading to a merchant marine license, were eligible to wear the insignia.

With the start of the Merchant Marine Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve (MMR, USNR) program in 1977, the insignia was authorized for the first time for wear on the Navy uniform of officers by this officer community. The requirement for wear was published in the 1978 Navy Uniform Regulations:
To be eligible to wear this insignia, Naval Reservists must meet one of the following requirements:

a.  Be licensed merchant marine officers who sail on their license at least four months every two years and are members of the MMR , USNR program.
b.  Be officers in the Maritime Service holding merchant marine licenses and who are instructors at Federal, State and Regional Academies, and at industry, or union maritime schools who are members of the MMR, USNR, program.
c.  Be merchant marine officers holding licenses as Chief Mate/First Assistant Engineer/Radio Officer or higher, with eight years of licensed sailing experience and currently employed in a maritime related position ashore, and who are members of the MMR, USNR program.

On June 10, 2011, a change in the Merchant Marine, U.S. Naval Reserve program resulted in it being called the Strategic Sealift Officer program, and along with it a replacement of insignia (OPNAVINST 1534.1D § 12.b.5). The new device, Strategic Sealift Officer Warfare Insignia, will be available in May 2012. Despite patterns yet to be struck:
The SSOWI is approved for wear by officers who have successfully completed the qualification requirements outlined in OPNAVINST 1534.1D. The insignia is gold in color and is two and three-quarter inches by seven eighths of an inch in dimension, reflecting the background of an eagle from the USS Constitution's stern, crossed naval officer swords and a U.S. shield with fouled anchor from the U.S. Merchant Marine flag. The SSOWI will be available in two sizes (normal and miniature). The normal size SSOWI shall be worn on all uniforms, less dinner dress. The miniature SSOWI shall be worn with miniature medals on dinner dress uniforms (NAVADMIN 164/12 § 2.B).
Good to know, I guess.  To the way of the shadow box and collector the illustrious "Sea Chicken" - once symbol of the larger debate of how Merchant Mariners figure in U.S. National Defense - shall go.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Education.  Public Document 42:  III Annual Report of the Commissioners of the Massachusetts Nautical School for the Year Ending November 30, 1938.  Boston:  Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1938.

U.S. Congress.  Naval auxiliaries for use in the Merchant marine. Hearings before a special subcommittee of the Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives, Sixty-third Congress, second session, on S. 5259, a bill to establish one or more United States Navy mail lines between the United States, South America, and Europe; and H.R. 5980, a bill to authorize the President of the United States to build or acquire steamships for use as naval auxiliaries and transports, and to arrange for the use of these ships when not needed for such service, and to make an appropriation therefor.  Washington D.C.: GPO, August 1914.

Department of the Navy. "STRATEGIC SEALIFT OFFICER PROGRAM." OPNAVINST 1534.1D § 12.b.5. Washington D.C., June 10, 2011.

Department of the Navy. "STRATEGIC SEALIFT OFFICER WARFARE INSIGNIA (SSOWI)." NAVADMIN 164/12 § 2.B. Washington D.C., May 18, 2012.

Original design of insignia as found in Uniform Board notes 1938.
usnr badge design

Dating the Merchant Marine Reserve Insignia is not very tricky. There are two main variations in design and two types: stamped metal and embroidered. The former continued to be worn until 2012 with planned phase-out in 2013. The embroidered device fell out of use in the mid-1950s along with all embroidered badges on US Navy officer uniforms. It has the interesting quality of being one of the longest-lived badges in the Navy and least awarded.

usnr insignia

The first pattern, as noted in the text is the own left-facing eagle.  It was issued until mid-1941.

This specific item is part of a Panama Railroad Steamship Company pursur grouping.  It is displayed along with a Merchant Marine Defense Ribbon; meaning it was worn at least until mid-Second World War.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

This is a gold-plated pin from the pre-war period.  It was issued prior to mid-1941.  The insignia lacks a hallmark; as is the case with many pre-war items.

This item is of particular interest as it comes from a U.S. Maritime Commission Corps of Cadets cadet grouping dating to the regiment's sojourn at Fort Schuyler.  Of interest is the fact that the original owner was relatively old at the time of enrollment, being 22; meaning he was probably a "cadet officer" and sailed under his license until Navy enlistment in 1943.  At the time college students were less apt to drop their course of study to join the Corps of Cadets, with hawsepipers making up a handful of cadets during this period.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

This is a Vanguard insignia that comes from a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy graduate that ended up being a junior radio officer; or a radio officer attached to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Further research is required on my part.

usnr insignia


The above is from March 1943 granted after the Acceptance of Appointment as Midshipman, Merchant Marine in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

Embroidery of the insignia was still of a high standard in 1944. Notice the overall difference with...

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The following two insignias are from 1946.  Do note the difference in embroidery.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The first is on a black wool backing for wear with the USMMA dress jacket as well as on the Service Dress Blue coat.

The second is on a khaki twill backing; it was sewn on the khaki working coat.  This is an unusual example, as previously, cadet-midshipmen were directed to wear the pin device on khaki - khaki was commonly steamed, as opposed to dry-cleaned like the worsted wool.  When the pin was reinstated, this failed experiment was not repeated, as khaki working coats were no longer in a cadets-midshipman's sea bag.

usnr insignia

The third device, with a Coro hallmark, also dates from the same period and was worn on dress whites of the period.

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

usnr insignia

The last item is a Vanguard insignia from 2010.  It was manufactured by International Insignia in Providence, Rhode Island.  Many Vanguard insignia items are actually jobbed out to International Insignia as Vanguard in recent years has apparently found contracting low volume orders more cost effective than striking them inhouse.  Notable would be the occasional IOH I-21 as opposed to V-21-N hallmark.

usnr insignia

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Robin Line

Robin Line ship officer hat badge.
Three piece construction.
Eagle and shield sterling; wreath brass/gold-plate. Company insigne brass and enamel. Late Second World War era.
badge: 60mm x 65mm

On the second page of the March 17, 1954 edition of the Wilton Connecticut Bulletin there is long column about a GOP Sunday Tea. The Bulletin reports that the tea was a breezy affair attended by the community's upper crust; although not mentioned was the striking absence of Arthur Lewis, Jr. This would be explained by a single line next to the column reading: "Arthur Lewis Dies", followed by  a pithy obit - speaking nothing about his frantic life nor his high-paced career or even funeral arrangements.  Perhaps the same-page announcement of solo-trumpeter Roland Kutik indicated him more a town favorite than the two decade cut-throat steamship executive.

On his first vacation in years, Arthur R. Lewis, Jr. died of a heart attack in sunny Fort Lauderdale. He was the workaholic president of Seas Shipping Company, whose main and best-known subsidiary was the Robin Line. Lewis' professional life was driven by his twin obsessions: profits and desire to crush his firm's competition - the Farrell Line. The Robin Line and Farrell Line rivalry was one of the most vicious and vindictive rate wars in United States maritime history. This is striking in that the Lewis and Farrell families once shared a close personal and business relationship; in fact the Robin Line was established in 1920 by his father, Arthur R. Lewis, Sr. in concert with the Farrell family. Robin Line ships operated in the intercoastal trade as auxiliaries to various Farrell concerns; mainly the Isthmian Steamship Company - the US Steel shipping company - and the American South African Line - in which Lewis, Sr. had partial ownership. However for reasons not public and perhaps secreted away in the exclusive India House, this immediate and irreconcilable rift between the families resulted in the 1933 separation of ownership and management of all shared firms. The Farrells ended up with full control of the American South African Line and the Argonaut Line; the Lewises gained the Sea Shipping Company and its Robin Line.

Soon afer the division of interests, Lewis, Sr. died and his son took up his mantle with gusto. Lewis, Jr. continued to operate the Robin Line's four ships in the intercoastal trade and did not foray into international shipping. Relations between the families remained combative, and the opportunity for Lewis to strike a blow against the Farrells presented itself in the person of Sylvester J. Maddock. Maddock, an employee fired by the Farrells, convinced Lewis to bring the Robin Line into the African trade in 1935. As general agent, Maddock knew the ports and shippers in Africa and thus was able to build up the cargo volumes for the Robin Line at the expense of the American South African Line.

When the United States Shipping Board established direct service between the United States and South Africa, British lines - which prior operated a triangular service via the British Isles and other regions - decided to mimic the American model to diminish the upstart competition in a once sole British preserve. In order to avoid destructive competition between each other and to stave off British ascendancy, the American lines involved in the trade, following the same framework for other regional conferences and agreed in 1924 to establish the U.S.A.-South Africa Conference. The Conference set rates, routes and number of sailings for its members. This was an outward conference with jurisdiction only over cargoes leaving the United States; the lines created a separate complimentary body - the South Africa-U.S.A. Conference - with jurisdiction over the inbound cargoes coming from South Africa to the United States. Although South Africa was the center of the trade, the conference, in spite of its title, held an undefined jurisdiction for decades over the east and west coasts of Africa, as far north as the Azores and the Canary Islands on the west coast of Africa and up to Tanzania on the east. When the Robin Line applied for membership in the conference in 1935, James A. Farrell, Jr., blocked the application, thus initiating a bitter rate war. To try to drive the Robin Line from the trade, the Farrells orchestrated the U.S.A.-South Africa Conference to reduce its rates from twenty dollars to eight dollars a ton, and eventually to four dollars; this last figure barely covered half of operating costs, and as a result both companies including the other conference members were taking heavy losses on each voyage. The Robin Line did not collapse, however, because it was shipping large volumes of automobiles to South Africa for Chrysler and Ford. When the Robin Line bid for membership in the Conference again as a way of ending the rate war in 1936, the Farrell family once again had the application rejected. The Farrels felt confident in the liquidity of the American South African Line since it had the advantage of a generous US mail contract under the provisions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1928 to keep it afloat; yet despite the lack of such a contract, the Robin Line managed to survive. The rate war continued until 1937, when a reduction in the government subsidy at last forced the Farrell family to call it off; but losses had been so great that the American South African Line was on the verge of bankruptcy and saved only by profits garnered from other Farrell shipping interests in the Atlantic trade.

In 1938 the Robin Line managed to secure its own subsidy from the U.S. Maritime Commission, and the next year the Second World War with its high shipping rates temporarily served to halt the destructive competition. At the same time the Robin Line gained entrance into the much-coveted conference.  Flush with cash and subsidies, the Robin Line acquired several new ships for the first time in almost a decade.  These new ships were streamlined and were dubbed the "best-looking" freighters on the oceans by mariners at the time. With the ubiquitous automobile, farm and road-building equipment cargoes inbound, the Robin Line carried rock lobsters (crayfish), exotic timber, gold bullion and freight-neutral diamond cargoes outbound. These new ships were known for their extensive refrigeration plants for the former and welded-shut safe compartments for the latter, and smart crew accommodations.

Although the two lines remained rivals, they preferred to respect the agreements of the U.S.A.-South Africa Conference. During the Second World War, the vessels of both lines were requisitioned, and both operated government ships for the War Shipping Administration under ships husband agreements. After the return of peace, the two lines resumed their bitter rivalry. In hearings before the U.S. Maritime Commission, the Robin Line, because of the opposition from the Farrell Line, lost the subsidies on the route from U.S. Atlantic ports to West Africa in 1947. However, when Farrell declined to handle the unusually large volume of automobile exports to South Africa, the Robin Line - who previously provided the service and won lasting goodwill among the automobile exporters - took up the slack to its benefit. In 1955 the last of the British lines withdrew from the route, leaving as active conference members only the Robin and Farrell Lines (American South African Lines renamed) in the region.

With Lewis, Jr.'s death none of the family members wished to follow his breakneck work ethic, instead they elected Winthrop O. Cook as Seas Shipping Company new president. As president, Cook found before him the expensive task of replacing the company's old wartime surplus vessels. Instead of investing in a costly and immediately unprofitable project, Lewis' heirs decided to avoid the problem altogether and sold the Robin Line to Moore-McCormack in March 1957; making a tidy profit, as seen in the transaction records as argued before United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit (371 F.2d 528): "Seas Shipping Company, Inc., sold ten ships to Moore-McCormack Lines, Inc. [...] for $5,466,668 in cash and notes and 300,000 shares of Mooremac stock." Soon thereafter, the new owner removed the vessels of the former Robin Line from the African trade, leaving only the Farrell Line in the U.S.A.-South Africa Conference.

House Flags of Robin Line
  • Blue with a white lozenge bearing a red R. 1920-1942.
  • Blue with a white oval in the hoist, with a stylized wing with three sections sweeping toward the fly; oval contains red R. 1942-1957.
Ships of Robin Line
It is worth noting that the Robin Line was so called because all its ship names began with the word "Robin".


Robin Adair (built at close of the Great War by Skinner & Eddy Shipyard, Seattle)
Robin Doncaster
Robin Goodfellow
Robin Gray

Second World War (1942-1948)

Robin Adair
Robin Doncaster
Robin Goodfellow
Robin Gray
Robin Locksley
Robin Sherwood
Robin Tuxford
Robin Wentley
Post-War (1948-1955)
Robin Doncaster
Robin Goodfellow
Robin Gray
Robin Hood
Robin Kettering
Robin Kirk
Robin Locksley
Robin Mowbray
Robin Sherwood
Robin Trent
Robin Tuxford
Robin Wentley


Robin Doncaster
Robin Gray
Robin Hood
Robin Kettering
Robin Kirk
Robin Locksley
Robin Sherwood
Robin Trent
Robin Tuxford
Robin Wenley

Moore-McCormack purchase (1957)

Robin Gray
Robin Hood
Robin Kirk
Robin Locksley
Robin Mowbray
Robin Sherwood
Robin Trent

Principal Executives
Arthur R. Lewis, Sr.: 1920-1933
Arthur R. Lewis, Jr.: 1934-1954
Winthrop O. Cook: 1954-1957

The Decisions volumes are particularly interesting as they document legislative activities around and Robin Lines gripes with the U.S.A.-South Africa Conference; relevant entries may be found under Seas Shipping Company.  Interestingly, the Maritime Commission and its successor Federal Maritime Board did not lend a kind ear to Lewis. Albion's monograph is interesting in that it is an economic history of the South Africa trade with a focus on the Farrell Line; it presents the family in a positive light and takes an apologetic approach to its foreign-flag activities, anti-union stance and ignores overall poor crew conditions; Lewis and the rate war is mentioned practically in passing.

"Arthur Lewis Dies." Bulletin, Wilton Connecticut. March 17, 1954: p 2.

Obituary. New York Times, March 17, 1954.

Federal Maritime Board. Decisions, Vol. 4, 1952-1956. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1963.

U.S. Maritime Commission. Decisions, Vol. 3, 1947-1952. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1963.

War Shipping Administration. United States Maritime Service Training Manual, Deck Branch Training. Washington, D.C.: Maritime Service, 1943. p. 45.

Robert G. Albion. Seaports South of Sahara: The Achievements of an American Steamship Service. New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1959.

Rene De La Pedraja.  A Historical Dictionary of the U.S. Merchant Marine and Shipping Industry: Since the Introduction of Steam.  New York:  Greenwood, 1994.

Colin Stewart. Flags, Funnels and Hull Colours. London: Adlard Coles Ltd., 1957.

Captain Frederick James Newdigate Wedge. Brown's Flags and Funnels of British and Foreign Steamship Companies, 5th Edition. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1951.

United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit. 371 F.2d 528: Seas Shipping Company, Inc., Petitioner, v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Respondent. Argued December 1, 1966 Decided January 16, 1967.

Many kind thanks to Captain Jack Misner for sharing his recollections of his time with the Robin Line.

Robin Line, Hat badge, obverse
Eagle and shield sterling; wreath brass/gold-plate. Company insigne brass and enamel.
Second World War era.
Mounted on wool backing and mohair band.
badge: 60mm x 65mm

This badge uses the US Maritime Service officer hat badge as a base and has the the anchor device replaced with a company insigne. As mentioned in previous posts, this was a common practice followed during the Second World War by ship officers throughout industry. This particular badge is interesting is that it does not use the company house flag on the the badge, rather a bow design element. Some Robin Line ships used the Blue-White-Red wings flanking the R in oval device on the bow; the slight incline of the R denotes speed, which the Line was famous for.

Do note the high degree of corrosion on exposed copper/brass elements and chipped enamel.
The insigne is without or has a corrosion obscured hallmark. I am unable to remove the the badge from backing to determine any hallmarks on the other component elements; the top keeper nut is welded in place by corrosion.

Robin Line, Hat badge, obverse detail

Robin Line, Hat badge, backing and mohair band detail

Robin Line, coat lapel badge
No hallmark. Gold-plate brass. Second World War era.

This badge would be found in pairs on either coat lapel of a ship officer's reefer. This badge is gold-plated brass, with most of the gold rubbed away. Although the badge itself is without a readable hallmark, the pin snap has a miniscule H&H (Hilborn & Hamburg) star hallmark on its face and is marked Sterling.