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Sleepy Sailors: 1899

Aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts circa 1899. "Ready to turn in." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative by Edward H. Hart for the Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.

Aboard the U.S.S. Massachusetts circa 1899. "Ready to turn in." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative by Edward H. Hart for the Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.


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Different times, different Navy

I too was struck by the somewhat rough appearance of these fine specimens of patriotic American young men. But it is worth noting that this was 1899. Potable water had to be stored on the ship in huge tanks and restocked whenever the ship pulled into port. This would have been part of the routine of refueling (loading and storing coal in the ship's bunkers) and reprovisioning (food water etc.). Because water was needed for drinking and cooking, it was not normal for enlisted men to have many opportunities for bathing at sea. If the weather was congenial, saltwater hoses might be rigged on the weather decks and the crew might be allowed to strip and take a communal shower. But in general, the past was dark, dangerous and stinky.

Even on the crack Atlantic liners, first-class passengers had to make an appointment with the bath steward to take a bath at sea. The second-class and steerage passengers generally had to make do with basic washroom facilities. Private bath and water closet facilities were more or less unknown for even wealthy passengers in this era. As late as 1912 on the Titanic; most of the first-class passengers still had to hoof it down the hall in their bathrobes and slippers when nature called in the middle of the night. And of course, this is not an ocean liner. It's a warship with little in the form of creature comforts. And lastly, in those days, men, especially those from the working class, were not typically accustomed to what we might call regular bathing. For some of these men, a regular bath might have meant "the first of the month whether I need it or not."

It would not be until well into the 20th century that freshwater evaporators and condensers became standard on ships at sea.

By the Second World War, times, social attitudes and very importantly, marine engineering had evolved dramatically. With the exception of smaller craft and submarines, most ships had a primitive form of evaporator which allowed for the production of a limited amount of potable water at sea. Men might not have been able to shower every day, but they were able to bath with some regularity. Even as late as the 1980s when I first joined, we were regularly lectured about the evils of taking a "Hollywood shower" while at sea. Thirty seconds of water to get wet. Water off while you soap up. And then no more than another minute or so of running water to rinse off. By time I retired from the Navy, things had improved to a point that I would almost call the heads a luxury spa compared to what those poor sods in 1899 had to live with.


The smell must have been unimaginable.

Forgive me for mentioning

But good lord man! Those sailors look like bums.

The Smoking Lamp Is Lit

But it's soon time for taps, taps, lights out, silence about the decks. Do the bosun's mates hit the rack in the fo'c'sle? Who knows ...

Terrible U.S.S. Massachusetts

This as one of the first "modern" battleships commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Top heavy and unstable, it was barely seaworthy. When the main guns were fired, the ship would come close to capsizing. The Navy chalked it up as a learning experience and soon learned to design much better vessels. These sailors were just very fortunate they never had to fight a battle in this ship.

Liberty call? No, thanks.

These boys are all in. Seventy plus years later, I never worked this hard in the Navy. Never!

The Iron Sheik

The guy with the pipe looks like a young Iron Sheik !!


Let's see ... one, two, three, four, five, six ... yep. The AI continues to improve, but it still can't quite get the extremities correct.

[Five, actually. - Dave]

Rust in Peace

After being used for target practice, now she's a habitat for marine life. Located near Pensacola in the Gulf of Mexico.

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