How Young Americans Are Taught To Man Our New Merchant Marine, 1918

Emergency Fleet News, published by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, Philadelphia. May 20, 1918
[Newsletter written for shipyard employees]

As you wield the airgun, either on rivets or treenails, and see the steel and wood take the form of ships, and think of more than 150 shipyards working on the 4,000,000 tons of new merchant vessels planned for our 1918 output, have you ever wondered who is to man and sail all these ships?

U.S. Shipping Board flagIf you happen to be curious on that point, it would do you good to visit Boston about this time and see the work of the U. S. Shipping Board Recruiting and Training Service, which has the responsibility of providing these ships with both sailors and officers the moment they are ready for troops and cargo.

United States Shipping Board House Flag [at left]

Boston has become the center for this training partly because it was a famous old shipbuilding center and seaport in the clipper ship days, and partly because Henry Howard, a Boston business man of Revolutionary and seafaring ancestry, became active as soon as we went to war in the matter of repopulating the Seven Seas with American merchant sailors. The revival of our merchant marine has long been a passion with Howard, and upon visiting the Shipping Board at Washington with a definite plan for training merchant sailors, he was made Director of the Recruiting Service, and took steps immediately to train officers and engineers.

A free school of navigation was opened in Gloucester, Mass., and a fee course in engineering at the Massachusetts Institute Technology, Cambridge, Mass. These were intended only for seamen desiring to fit themselves for officers. There were so many enrollments and students were so successful in obtaining certificates, that other schools were opened. Today there are nearly 30 navigation schools from Maine and Massachusetts to California, Oregon and Washington, and about 10 marine engineering schools around the coasts and at inland cities like Chicago and Cleveland.

As shipbuilding progressed it was possible to make provisions for training seamen in the three departments of work aboard ship -- deck, engineering and steward's duties. On New Year's Day, 1918, the first training ship for seamen was put into commission at Boston, the "Calvin Austin," a coastwise passenger ship which had been taken over by the United States Shipping Board in November, and immediately came into notice because she was the first vessel to reach Halifax after the disaster.

Though she has facilities for training 500 to 600 apprentices, it was soon necessary to add her sister ship, the “Governor Dingley," and later a third coastwise steamer, the "Governor Cobb." Now a fourth vessel has just been assigned to the Boston school, the old army transport "Meade," brought up from Newport News, too old for sea service, but an excellent receiving ship, of large capacity, which will lie in Boston harbor.

On the Pacific Coast the "Iris," a mother ship for submarines, is being fitted out and will have apprentices in training by June.

Since something like 25,000 merchant sailors will be needed this year to man the ships now under construction, other training vessels will be located at Norfolk, Va., New Orleans, La., and Seattle, Wash. These ships, with the exception of the "Meade" train their students quickly and practically by taking them to sea four or five days a week.

United States Shipping Board Lapel Pin [at right]

U.S. Shipping Board pinThe training courses extend over a period of six weeks and include a wide range of work. There is an instructor for every 10 students, with a printed manual of seamanship, printed lesson cards and leaflets covering the compass, knotting and splicing, blocks, and other details of the seaman's duty on steel and wooden ships, steam and sail; also comprehensive libraries covering such matters as navigation laws, engines and the like. At the end of six weeks the apprentice is graduated and is ready to join a ship in our merchant service.

800 Seamen Graduated

Since the "Calvin Austin" went into commission last January she has sent more than 300 graduate seamen into merchant ships, and not a single bad report has come back concerning one of them. Moreover, she has made four engineers -- that is, apprentices in the engineering department, utilizing their training in connection with previous steam engineering experience, have been able to pass examination and procure marine engineers' certificates.

More than 300 graduates have been placed by other training ships, and there are now about 1,200 in training, while the land schools for navigators and engineers have been attended by more than 4,500 students, many of whom are at sea, with their certificates. The first engineering school at "Boston Tech" has graduated 250 engineers, and not one of them has failed to pass the Shipping Board examination.

Henry HowardMost novel of all is the recruiting organization for this service. Our merchant marine is being built up by the drug stores of the United States! Boston happens to be the center of a big system of drug stores which handle preparations manufactured there by a corporation in which the druggists are stockholders. When Henry Howard [seen at left] was planning a recruiting service for our merchant marine, Louis Liggett, at the head of this corporation, suggested that the druggists would be glad to co-operate. So in more than 6,800 drug stores today, located in 6,300 cities, towns and villages, in 48 States, you will find a booth or counter with printed literature describing our merchant shipping service. Each druggist is a "dollar-a-year man," sworn in as a recruiting officer and empowered to enroll recruits.

When any healthy young fellow between the ages of 21 and 30 desires to enlist in this service the druggist makes out his application, refers him to a local physician who has volunteered to examine applicants physically as a patriotic service. and forwards the application to Boston. If approved there the recruit is ordered to report at Boston, paying his own railroad fare, and is examined again by a Shipping Board physician.

If received into the service, his fare is refunded, and he goes to a training ship, is given a blue uniform and working clothes, and begins an intensive course of training in the particular department that he has chosen -- in deck and general ship duties, or in the engineer's department, or that of the steward. His hours are from 6 a. m. until 6 p. m., but meals and light duties make this practically an eight-hour day, and from 6 to 9 p. m. he is free for recreation, sometimes with shore leave.

During the period of training he is paid good wages, a the merchant marine service exempts him from military duty. On graduation, the Shipping Board undertakes to place him in a merchant vessel for service as a sailor, cook, messman, fireman, oiler or water tender, and from these positions it is possible for a bright, interested young fellow to rise and become an engineer or officer.

Another interesting detail of this service is the chantie singing. On the principle that music improves team work, the United States Shipping Board has appointed an official chantie instructor, Stanton H. King, of Boston, whose duty is to revive chantie singing among our merchant sailors on both steam and sail vessels. Mr. King is considered the best known chantie singer in this country, and has been singing these old sea work songs at a Boston mission for years. He not only knows the old chanties, but how to get the "punch" out of them, and teach them to others.

He is an old salt himself, got his experience in deepwater Yankee ships nearly 40 years ago, and has also served in the United States Navy. For years the chantie singing at his meetings in Boston has been famous, and now he is teaching our new merchant sailors such old sea songs as "Shenandoah," "Bound for the Rio Grande," "Blow the Man Down," "Paddy Doyle," and "Reuben Ranzo."

As a worker on ship construction you can feel the patriotic spirit which is pushing both the steel and wood ships along. You can feel it grow daily, as the ships themselves grow, and recognize it as something which could only come out of the nation's present need and the nation's war-time spirit. If you ever wonder who is to sail these ships, once they are launched and fitted, just remember that all around our coasts and far in-land there are recruiting stations, navigation schools, engineering schools and training ships, organizing and instructing the 50,000 to 100,000 officers, engineers and sailors who will be needed to operate the 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 tons of shipping which we are to build during 1918 and 1919.

The same patriotic spirit is at work among them. They have the "vibration" of this wonderful new American merchant marine, too, and as fast as the yards produce the ships they will sail them!

Note: A Liberty ship was named after Stanton H. King. The drugstores referred to were the Liggett and Rexall chain [see recruiting posters].

Emergency Fleet News, published by the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation, Philadelphia. May 20, 1918
Personal Collection

Photos of Training Program

World War I Recruiting Posters

Merchant Marine in World War I


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