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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Stoked: 1897

Stoked: 1897

Circa 1897. "U.S.S. Massachusetts, fire room." Tending the battleship's coal-fired boilers. Photo by Edward H. Hart, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

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Coal Questions

Coal for the boilers would actually be kept in bunkers a distance away from the boilers themselves. This was due in part to the fact it had tendency to catch on fire. Typically, they would load a few hundred pounds of coal at a time into this traveling bucket that was suspended from an overhead rail. The bucket would then be trundled down the track to a place in front of the firebox doors where it would be dumped on the floor in a heap. They'd repeat this regularly, till a ton or so of coal was on the floor. Then the stokers would shovel from that pile, placing it in the various spots along the boiler.

Depending on the boiler size and number of firebox doors ,they would sometimes have two or three piles of coal dumped out, ready to be loaded in. Looking closely at this picture, you can see in the three open firebox doors flames licking around. Also in the nearer one, you can actually see the coal bed burning. From the looks of it, there are four firebox doors open, with a fireman (stoker) checking the bed of the fires before deciding where in the box he wants to place his shovel of coal. Since we don't see it, it's likely that there's a pile of coal somewhere off shot. Most probably, the fires were banked in port and these fellows are just tending them keeping them ready for when they're needed.

"4 to 8 cleaned"

I would imagine that the shovels are for emptying the cinders -- the chalk notations on the doors seem to indicate which ash boxes have been cleaned. I love the oil lamp in front of the brass gauges!

What are they doing

I see a fellow with a shovel, but I can't tell what he's shoveling. Where's the coal? Also, it seems to me that the 1890s were the height of the mechanical era and it seems hard to believe that they didn't use mechanical stokers in this application.

[The tenders had to shovel out the ashes. - Dave]


To maintain full-speed these fellows had to shovel coal nonstop. My grandfather was a chief water tender on the old New Jersey and went around the world with the "Great White Fleet." What stories that man could tell!

The Black Gang.

They never worked in Navy Whites and their shoes were always shiny black. Note the pipes covered in asbestos. That is the way it was is those days.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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