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Ratings and the Evolution of Jobs in the Navy

The United States Navy's World of Work: Nearly 200 Years of Evolution.

By Charles A. Malin, Recorder, Rating Review Board, Bureau of Naval Personnel (Pers-A3122), Navy Department, Washington DC, 1971

Table of Contents

Forward Pigeons in the Navy Naval Aviation
Editorial Note Uniforms Oil
Introduction Training Radar
From the Beginning Apprentice Boys Submarines
The Boatswain Steam Seabees
The Hospital Corpsman Grog Disbursing Clerks
Cooks Rating Symbols World War II
Mates in the Navy Flogging Post War Rating Structure
Navy Bands Classification of Jobs Enlisted Ratings Abbreviations

Compilation of Enlisted Ratings and Apprentices, U.S. Navy 1775 to 1969


Appreciation is expressed for the cooperation and assistance received from the many persons and organizations that contributed data during the course of this research. Thanks are especially due to the Staff of All Hands magazine for their outstanding cooperation.

This history of ratings and apprenticeships in the U.S. Navy has been compiled primarily for use by members of the Rating Review Board which has the responsibility for conducting a continuing study of the enlisted rating structure. It will also prove helpful in answering many questions that are received at frequent intervals concerning the past enlisted rating structure.

While the ratings and historical notes referred to in this work are based on factual data extracted from official publications and other historical sources, it is recognized that there may be some discrepancies or omissions.

Editorial Note

The staff of the Naval Historical Center's Homepage Committee have corrected obvious errors of fact, spelling and grammar in this manuscript, while maintaining the style and flavor of the original text. Suggested corrections with photocopies of supporting documentation should be mailed to: Homepage Committee, Naval Historical Center, 805 Kidder Breese Street, Washington Navy Yard, Washington DC 20374-5060.


The Navy's enlisted occupational system of today is a product of continuing evolution during the Navy's almost 200 years of existence. Ratings come and go as new techniques and equipment are introduced. Fulton could be said to be the father of our engineering ratings, and also responsible for the disestablishment of the Sailmaker rating, for when steam came, sails went, and the Sailmaker rating followed. Marconi, with a new invention, could be considered responsible for the Radioman rating; and, the Wright brothers could be called the fathers of aviation ratings.

As the Navy's rating structure has changed, so too, has the Navy. The first steamship, the first mine, the first radar, the first torpedo, the first aircraft carrier, and many other "firsts" all established a new era in the Navy, and each had a direct impact on the enlisted occupational structure.

And so, after nearly 200 years of evolution, today's Navy enlisted rating structure still plays a key role in career development, serves as a basis for training programs, detailing, advancement, and simply keeping tabs on several hundred thousand Navymen.

From the Beginning

The Navy of the United Colonies of the 1775 era offered only a few different jobs above the ordinary seaman level. These included Boatswain's Mate, Quartermaster, Gunner's Mate, Master-at-Arms, Cook, Armorer, Sailmaker's Mate, Cooper, Cockswain, Carpenter's Yeoman, and Yeoman of the Gun Room. These were titles of the jobs that individuals were actually performing and thus became the basis for petty officers and ratings. Also, there were Ordinary Seaman, Loblolly Boy, and Boy, but these are more related to our apprentices of today.

During this period in the history of the new Navy, crews were taken directly from civilian life and enlisted only for the duration of one cruise. Because of this enlistment practice, the job at hand, rather than career possibilities, was the primary consideration. The Continental Congress back in April 1776, and its "Instruction to Commanders of Privateers" stated "One third, at least, of your whole company shall be landsmen" (that is, men on shipboard with no experience in seagoing). This could have been a colonial recruiting expedient, but at any rate, it had the effect of making more landlubbers sea-conscious and willing to serve in defense of the youthful United States.

The Boatswain

The early Boatswain was appointed Warrant, and was among the most important men on board ship. He was usually a grizzled old salt who wasn't timid about giving orders and it never occurred to him that they wouldn't be obeyed. He was assisted by his mates, or Boatswain's Mates, and though it was unlikely that he was unrecognizable, he nevertheless carried a silver Bos'ns pipe and rattan cane that identified his position. His pipe was the sailing ship's PA system. It could be heard 120 feet up in the rigging and in the deepest and darkest hold. His cane was an instrument of persuasion which it was said, cured more scurvy than the doctor, made cripples take up their beds and walk, and made the lame skip and run up the shrouds like monkeys...

As you know, the Boatswain's Mate play an extremely important role in replenishment at sea in today's Navy. However, transfer-at-sea methods were actually used as early as 1804. During the war with Tripoli, for example, the ketch Intrepid transferred a cargo of fresh provisions to USS Constitution which was engaged in enforcing a continental blockade of the port of Tripoli. This cargo included four bullocks, one calf, 13 pigs, 300 pounds of hay, two baskets of peas, and three casks of old Hock. This maneuver was the springboard for the modern, mobile logistical support now provided through underway replenishment that enables the fleet to remain at sea almost indefinitely.

Not all ratings of this early era have retained their identity, because the majority of our ratings today resulted from later technical developments. While jobs and duties have changed, the rating titles of Boatswain's Mates, Quartermasters and Gunner's Mates have remained the same since the American Revolution.

The Hospital Corpsman

An interesting trend concerning the development of a modern rating is the Hospital Corpsman. Early day Surgeons were assisted by the Surgeon's Mate. Surgeon's Mates were medical men, and like the Surgeon, were considered non-combatant civil officers. Actually, the Surgeon's Mate was a combination of Yeoman, Corpsman, and Leading Chief. He kept a journal of diseases and treatment, weighed and accounted for every article of medicine, dressed wounds and ulcers and performed blood-letting. He also supervised the orderlies and Loblolly Boys.

Loblolly Boys first appear in Navy records on the 1798 muster roll of USS Constitution. Loblolly actually was a thick gruel served to patients in sick bay, and was also a nautical term for medicine. This is perhaps how the boy who served it to the patients derived his unusual appellation. As the requirements of his job expanded, in 1839, the Navy established the Surgeon's Steward Rating, which in turn became Apothecary in 1866. Navy regulations of 1870 refer to the rating as Bayman (possibly sick-bay-man), and in 1898 it became Hospital Steward, in turn becoming Pharmacist's Mate in 1917 and to the present rating of Hospital Corpsman in 1948. So, from the Loblolly Boy of 1797 to the Hospital Corpsman of today represents a long and interesting trend in the development of a modern rating.


Today's Navymen are among the best fed people in the world, but back in the days of the sloop, frigate and corvette, a Sailor's stomach had to be nearly as strong as his back. A typical week's bill of fare in the Navy in the year 1799 left much to be desired. It read something like this: Seven pounds of bread, two pounds of beef, three pounds of pork, one pound of salt fish, one quart of fish, one and a half pints of peas or beans, twelve ounces of cheese, two pounds of potatoes or turnips, and six ounces of molasses. One gil (four ounces) of oil could be substituted for four ounces of butter and further lubrication was provided by the daily issue of one-half pint of rum.

Some of the principal foods consisted of "salt junk" and "hard tack." Salt junk was a term used for partly dried pork, pickled in brine, but sometimes the same name also applied to either salt pork or salt beef. Hard tack accurately described the biscuits baked without salt and kiln-dried.

Generally, however, the Sailor of bygone days was content to sink his chops into a meal that was called "lobscouse," "daddyfunk," or "plumduff." Then for an after dinner demitasse he would wash it down with "pale ale." As an added attraction, if the menu did not suit his culinary taste he could try some "schooner on the rocks." The term "lobscouse" came into being as a byword for what we now call hash. It was a concoction of meat, vegetables and hardtack, and was usually stewed. "Daddyfunk" was a messy concoction of hardtack soaked in water and bake with grease and molasses. "Plumduff" was originally a plain flour pudding containing raisins or currants, boiled in a bag or cloth. "Schooner on the rocks" was the nautical name for to a roast beef surrounded by potatoes, and "pale ale" is known to us today as water.

Commissarymen today put out a mighty fine menu when compared to years-gone-by. A couple of centuries ago, qualifications for a man to become a cook were quite simple. It seemed to be a rule that no Sailor who had not lost eye or leg in battle could be eligible for this office, though all were required to have two arms. Whether or not a man could cook apparently was overlooked in the qualifications for that position, and an exalted position it was, for all the men tried to get on the good side of "cookie," although, in private, less complementary nicknames were used. During this time the cook was in most cases an unscrupulous individual, and it was often found that cooks could be bribed into giving double rations to the messes. Instructions drawn up for sea cooks in the middle 19th Century were few and included: (1) He is to take upon him the care of the meat in the steeping tub, (2) In stormy weather, he is to preserve it from being lost, (3) He is to boil the provisions, and to deliver them out to the men. And that's about it.

There was no refrigeration aboard ship in olden days. Foodstuffs were apt to spoil easily, and as a result the cook's tasks were made even harder. Fresh meat was carried only in small quantities and fresh vegetables were almost unheard of. When ships were in foreign ports hunting parties were organized to seek fresh meat. In larger ships and on short passages, live beasts were carried for fresh meat, but on long voyages oxen, like men, could get scurvy too, or at any rate thin down to uselessness, and sheep took poorly to the sea life. In good weather hens prospered and about the only animal to prosper at sea was the goat, and the goats prospered always.

So from the chow served during the early U.S. Navy to the present time the Commissaryman's qualifications have advanced to the point where today's meals are prepared in such a fashion that they will activate the taste buds of any connoisseur of good cooking.

Mates in the Navy

The term "Mate" comes from the French word matelot, meaning Sailor and the term has long been part of our sea language. At one time it was also the official title of a Navy rating. It goes back to the early days of the sea service, appearing first as Master's Mate. The duties of mates in those days were many and varied, chief of which was the stowing and discharging of cargo. They were also responsible for the cleanliness of the ship, taking care of boats and being mate of the deck. As time went on, Boatswains, Gunners, Machinists and many other petty officers became known as mates.

In the year 1799, men with the Mate's rating were recognized as warrant officers. After 1843 no more warrants were issued but those who had been appointed continued to hold their office and received their pay. In 1847 a Navy Department regulation stopped commanding officers from making these appointments. However, the expansion of the Navy during the Civil War also had an effect and on 7 October 1863 the Secretary of the Navy issued the following circular:

Seamen enlisted in the naval service may hereafter, as formerly, be advanced to the rating of Master's Mate, and such ratings may be bestowed by the commander of the squadron, subject to approval of the Department, or by the commander of a vessel, with the previous sanction of the Department. Seamen rated as Master's Mates will not be discharged with that rating, and will be considered as disrated to seaman upon the expiration of their enlistment, but upon their immediate reenlistment the rating of Master's Mate may be considered as renewed.

By an act of 3 March 1865, Master Mate was changed to "mates," and the Secretary of the Navy was authorized to increase their pay and to rate them from Seaman to Ordinary Seaman who had enlisted in the naval service for not less than two years. The act of 15 July 1870 gave formal recognition to mates as part of the naval forces and their pay was fixed at $900 when at sea, $700 on shore duty, and $500 on leave or awaiting orders. The quota of mates in the Navy was not fixed, but from a maximum of about 842 on 1 January 1865, the number gradually diminished until 1 July 1894 when there were only 27 remaining. Before 1 August 1894 there had been no authority for retirement of these men, but on that date a law was passed increasing the pay of those in the Navy and providing that they should have the same benefits of retirement as warrant officers. One purpose of the act was to make the retired pay of mates large enough to induce them to retire. By an act of 1906 the mates on the Navy retired list were promoted to the next higher grade if they had creditable Civil War service, which most of them had. They were given warrant rank and rated with the lowest grade of warrant officer. They were still called mates, but whether they were officers or enlisted men apparently was not clear. A year after the passage of this act the Attorney General of the United States published the legal opinion that mates "occupy the status of both officers in the Navy and enlisted men."

Navy Bands

There were many other changes taking place in the early era of the Navy. While it is impossible to determine exactly when the first Navy band was formed, one of the early recollections of a band was back in 1802 in the Italian port of Messina. A local group of musicians was invited to play aboard a visiting Navy ship. This turned out to be the last they saw of the shore line for some time. The Sailors liked their music so well that they forgot to tell the musicians the ship was getting underway.

In 1812 the American frigate United States acquired an eight-piece band of French-Italian musicians who had enlisted aboard a French ship, but were captured by the Portugese and taken to Lisbon. Here they signed on the British warship Macedonian which was captured by the Americans. The band ended up playing on the decks of the famous ship United States.

Later, many ships, such as the warship Cyane, organized various types of musical units as early as 1820. The crew of Constitution formed a 20-piece band in 1825. By 1827 this unit became the first known Navy band to be formally shipped aboard an American warship.

William Raymond enlisted as a Musician in 1820 at Norfolk, Virginia and received 10 dollars a month for his efforts. Musician James F. Draper signed aboard the frigate Brandywine in July 1825, and had the notation "$10 a month" entered next to his name in the ship's log. On 31 August 1826, John Page had his rating changed from Seaman to Master of the Band, and in September Ordinary Seaman William Tuton became a Musician, both aboard Constellation.

Navy bandsmen were first recognized officially in 1838, when the pay tables of the Navy Register listed the grades of Bandmaster, First and Second Class Musicians. The number of Navy bands fluctuated but gradually increased in succeeding years through the Civil War until the turn of the century, although it appears that no particular method of procurement or training of musicians was practiced.

The first of a series of fleet musician schools was established in 1903 at St. Helena, Virginia in an effort to improve the training and performance of bands in the Navy. In 1935 Lt. Charles Benter, Leader of the Navy Band, Washington, D.C., established a Band School. In 1941 the school was detached from the Navy Band, and became the United States Navy School of Music with Boatswain (later Lieutenant) James Thurmond as the first officer in charge. The Navy School of Music remained at the Naval Receiving Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C. until 1964 when the school was redesignated as the School of Music, with a Commanding Officer, and moved to its present quarters on the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Norfolk, Virginia. The School of Music is now a multi-service command which provides training for Army, Navy and Marine Corps Musicians. Today some 50 bands and 1,500 enlisted and officer musician personnel serve in Navy bands throughout the world.

Pigeons in the Navy

As a matter of history, the U.S. Navy, late in the 19th Century, sent Professor Francis Marion, U.S. Naval Academy, to Belgium to obtain information on the care and training of homing pigeons and as a result in 1899 the U.S. Navy's Manual for the Care and Training of Homing Pigeons was published. This manual required that a flying book be kept on each pigeon and recorded such information as number of flights, length, and rate of miles per hour. According to a Bureau of Navigation (now BUPERS) enlisted code book of 1919, pigeon trainers (or Pigeoneers as they were known) were a part of the Quartermaster rating and were identified as Quartermaster (Pigeon), Q.M.(P).

The advent of radio tended to dampen interest in pigeons. However, as late as 1926 the pigeon service in the Navy consisted of 12 lofts and approximately 800 birds. Pigeons at that time were used only in the aviation branch of the Navy inasmuch as they were dependent upon a fixed base or house. As late as 1942, orders were issued to expand the flock for use between dirigibles and their naval air stations.

During World War II, the Pigeoneers were identified as Specialist X and had the abbreviation SPX(PI). On 1 January 1948, when the Navy converted to a peacetime rating structure, the SPX(PI) was changed to the Exclusive Emergency Service rating of ESX and identified by Navy Job Classification Code 87200 and later ESX-9792. When the new peacetime rating structure was promulgated, the separate identity of the Pigeoneers was lost as far as full time active duty was concerned and personnel were transferred to one of the peacetime general service ratings (now called general ratings). Because of this, the last date possible for a person in this specialty to be identified, employed as a Pigeoneer, and on active duty would have been 1 January 1948.

All exclusive emergency service ratings (except one) were disestablished by the Secretary of the Navy on 10 January 1961. That is the official date for the deletion of the ESX-9792 (pigeon trainer). The reason the Rating Review Board gave for recommending disestablishment was the lack of written requirements for anyone with that skill.

As a matter of interest, the following is quoted from the Director, Naval Communications, to the Bureau of Navigation in 1921: "It has been brought to the attention of this office that occasionally men who have been made expert pigeon trainers have been transferred by commanding officers to other duties, and the work and care of training the birds is left to inexperienced hands." The Bureau of Navigation in Circular Letter #88 of 10 March 1921 to all commanding officers responded: "All men who have qualified as expert pigeon trainers will be immediately assigned to such duty and will not be transferred to other details without reference to the Bureau of Navigation. In case expert pigeon trainers are now attached to air stations on which there are no pigeon lofts, please report to the Bureau."

Finally, duties of the Pigeoneers were to feed, train, and otherwise care for the various strains of pigeons for use in communications, night flying and homing.


Prior to 1817, files of the Navy Department show no regulations providing for enlisted men's uniforms. But it is noted that in January 1813, upon the arrival of Commodore Decatur at New York with the frigates United States and Macedonia the crew was dressed in blue jackets buttoned loosely over waistcoats, blue bell-bottomed trousers and glazed canvas hats with stiff brims decked with streamers and ribbons. The first regulations covering enlisted men's clothes that can be found appears in the regulations of the Navy issued by Benjamin W. Crowninshiel in September 1817. These regulations provided for both the enlisted man's summer and winter dress. White duck jacket, trousers and vest made up the summer uniform, while the colorful winter outfit included blue jacket and trousers, red vest, yellow buttons and black hat. These regulations also provided that when men swabbed the decks they were to be barefooted and their trousers were to be rolled up. This regulation is often quoted as being the reason for Sailors' bell- bottomed trousers, that is, they were made so as to facilitate pulling the bottom up over the thigh. As a result of the introduction of uniforms there became the need for a tailor, so, the rating Ship's Tailor was established in 1869 and changed to Tailor in 1885, and finally Ship's Serviceman was established in 1943.


Training of the American seaman commenced early in the days of our naval history. Ever since John Paul Jones went aboard the flagship Alfred and started to train her crew, the Navy has recognized the value of this training. Training in the U.S. Navy was generally better than other navies, and in the large part the American seamen were easier to train than men in other navies. This was because the American seaman was an independent operator. If he could not find a captain who suited him, he was just as likely to hire out as a farmhand for the season. The British and other navies, however, often went to crimping houses, jail and vagabondage to find seamen and often adopted the most fantastic methods to fill crews, taking anyone who had muscle enough to pull a rope.

Apprentice Boys

Apprentice boys were introduced during the period 1875-1880 and lasted only a short time until 1904. For a number of years, however, the apprentice system formed a major part of the Navy's training program for enlisted men. Its purpose was to attract high caliber youngsters into the Navy and give them instructions in seamanship, gunnery and the rudiments of a general education.

Apprentices entered the Navy between the ages of 14 and 18 and served until their 21st birthday. Unlike other applicants of that time they could not be enlisted at recruiting stations. Instead, they reported to one of the Navy's receiving ships at Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Mare Island. After 1883 they could also enlist at the training station at Newport. It was preferred that their parents or guardian accompany them when they applied.

Apprentices were examined by a board consisting of the commanding officer, one other line officer and a medical officer. By regulations of the time, the board could qualify some very small lads at the age of 14 years. However, for the 14 year olds, 4 foot nine and 70 pounds were the minimum height and weight, while for the 16 year olds the figures were 5 foot one and 90 pounds. Applicants had to be able to read and write, or in special cases where the boy showed general intelligence and was otherwise qualified he could be enlisted notwithstanding that his reading and writing were imperfect. Their character had to be well above average and upon being accepted they became Apprentice Third Class. Pay was $9.00 per month. Within one month after enlisting, the apprentice was transferred to the naval station at Newport. There he received instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and the basic subjects of the seaman's profession. This period of shoreside training lasted six months. Next came a period aboard a cruiser training ship. Cruiser training ships formed a regular squadron. In 1897, for example, the apprentice training squadron was formed on Essex, Adams and Alliance. Bark-rigged and wooden hulled, they were 185 feet long and displaced 1,375 tons. The permanent ship's company of these vessels were mature Navymen especially adapted for that particular service, as regards to character, intelligence and professional qualifications.

Apprentices were stationed in one part of the ship for three months, as royal yardmen at the maintop, for example. Only in case of necessity were they detailed for duty as messmen. Cruiser training ships made a summer cruise and a winter cruise. After making both cruises the apprentices were transferred to a cruising ship of war. At this time they were advanced to Apprentice Second Class. Pay was then $10.00 per month. Aboard the cruising ship their duties continued to include considerable training. After one year's service, they were advanced to Apprentice First Class, monthly pay of $11.00.

Apprentices First Class had a grade equal to that of Seaman Second Class, or Ordinary Seaman; and an Apprentice Third Class was equal to that of Seaman Third Class, or Landsman. As a group these were the "Apprentice Boys" (there was also a rating of Boy in the Navy in 1797).

In view of the difficult entrance requirements, the low pay, and the varied duty they were subjected to, the question often was asked why would a youngster want to become an apprentice. One of the reasons was that they received a good education for the time, and at the same time received systematic instruction in seamanship.

The apprentice training system in the Navy ended in December 1904 when it became merged with the landsman training system of that time. The main emphasis shifted to basic training ashore, with a three months' course of instruction at one of the Navy's three training stations. These were Newport, Norfolk, and San Francisco. The last Apprentice Boy payed off was Harry Morris, TMC who served from 1903 to 1958. Chief Morris, like the other ex-apprentices, wore a figure eight knot insignia on his uniform.


From 1797 to the advent of steam there were only a few changes to the enlisted rating structure, however with the new shipboard environment as a result of steam, many new ratings were established. If you were asked to pinpoint the greatest advance in the Navy, the chances are that your answer would be the conversion from "sail" to "steam."

Shortly after the War of 1812, the Navy launched Demologos. She was our first warship to use steam and was later rechristened Fulton in honor of the builder of America's first steamboat. Many old-time Navymen, however, could not picture steam-powered machinery replacing wind and sail. Fulton was later equipped with sails by leaders of the old school and was not very active during her short career. She was used as a receiving ship until June 1829 when her magazine exploded and she was destroyed.

Through the efforts of far-seeing men like Commodore Matthew Perry, USN, the Navy was becoming steam-conscious. Perry, who is referred to as the father of the steam Navy, had been enthusiastic about the possibilities of steam while in charge of construction and in command of the Navy's second steam frigate Fulton II. Steam in time to come was hailed as the most important naval development since the cannon. Within four years after Fulton II, came the 1,700-ton side-wheelers Mississippi and Missouri, the U.S. Navy's first ocean-going side-wheeled steamers and first ocean-going steam driven capital ships. Later, in 1843, the U.S. Navy's first screw-driven steam-powered warship came into service as Princeton.

The steam era brought along many new changes that were swept up and carried ahead on the crest of modernization. These changes, moving slowly at first, quickly gathered speed. It has been said that it took 400 years for navies to shift from spears to gunpowder, 75 years from sail to steam, but less than 12 years from the unlocking of the atom, to nuclear power.

As steam in the Navy began to grow, changes to the enlisted rating structure began to appear to handle this new phase in the Navy's history. The Coal Heaver and Fireman in 1842; Machinist in 1866; Boilermaker in 1869; Engineer's Force Seaman in 1871; Engineer's Yeoman in 1874; Engineer's Blacksmith in 1880; Electrician in 1883 (Trenton in 1883 was the first electrical ship and had a 13.2KW generator for lighting only); Oiler and Watertender in 1884, and "Plumber and Fitter" in 1893. These changes represented the birth of the Engineer's force, and the start of the "Black Gang" as they were to be called for many years.


It was also during this period of modernization that another history-making event took place. Rum or "grog," as it was more commonly called in those days, was issued to men from the beginning. In the early days of the U.S. Navy rum was a part of daily life and the grog ration was a half-pint a day. During the days of Constellation there was a saying that showed the importance the men placed on their daily ration of grog. This saying was: "Blow up the magazines; throw the bread over the side and sink the salt horse - but handle them spirits gentle like." In 1806 the Navy Department introduced whiskey to replace the rum ration, but rum was still generally preferred by the Sailors. From then on, rum or whiskey were official parts of life afloat (A quart of beer a day; or 3 to 5 cents a day instead were also introduced later.).

On 1 September 1862 Congress ruled that "the spirit ration in the Navy of the United States shall forever cease." While this law abolished "grog" for the enlisted men it did not however, end the wardroom and captain's wine messes. These were closed on 1 July 1914 when Josephus Daniels, then Secretary of the Navy, issued his famous "bone-dry" General Order #99, to abolish these messes. In this country and all over the world the Secretary's order was ridiculed and criticized, but the Secretary was unperturbed. This was noted later when he wrote that "Naval officers always obey orders, whether they like them or not. That is the essence of honor and efficiency." Subsequently to this however, sale of alcoholic beverages has been permitted at shore stations.

While this transition in naval history did not have a direct effect on the occupational structure it did have a rather sobering effect on all Navy men. It could have though, with the size of our Navy today, if the tradition had not been abolished. We could in that case possibly have a rating such as "Bartender," or more modernly "Spirit or Grog Technician."

Rating Symbols

According to the records the early Navy took its time about identifying ratings by the symbols so familiar today. Not until 1841, in the Regulations of the Secretary of the Navy, were distinguishing marks prescribed. At that time, Boatswain's Mates, Gunner's Mates, Carpenter's Mates, Ship's Stewards, and Ship's Cooks, were to wear an eagle and anchor on the right sleeve. Quartermasters, Quartergunners, Captains of Fore-Castle, Corporals and Captains of the Hold were to wear the same device on the left sleeve. Specialty marks were added to the enlisted men's uniform for the first time in 1866. They consisted of the tools or instruments used in performing specific duties. The Master-at-Arms, the police officer of the ship, wore the star of authority, a white five-pointed star; the Quartermaster a double marine glass; and the Gunner's Mate two crossed cannons. Now, within the Bureau of Naval Personnel, the Permanent Naval Uniform Board approves new specialty marks for new ratings.


When President Millard Filmore signed the 1851 naval appropriations bill on 28 September 1850, flogging as a form of punishment in the US. Navy was legally abolished: "Provided, That flogging in the navy, and on board vessels of commerce, be, and the same time is hereby, abolished from and after the passage of this act."

Classification of Jobs

It was 1885 before the system of "job families" of the type in use today was devised for enlisted personnel. The next year a scale of pay grades extending from Third Class Seaman to First Class Petty Officer was adopted. Enlisted personnel were grouped into three general classes according to the type of work done; seaman, special, and artificer. The relatively few ratings of the day included Engineer Force Petty Officer, Ship's Corporal or Master at Arms (at that time the only petty officer with chief status), Schoolmaster, Sailmaker's Mate, and Apothecary.


Interest in airplanes as naval weapons was shown as early as 1898 when naval officers were appointed as members of an inter-service board to investigate the military possibilities of the airplane. In 1911 Navy Captain W. I. Chambers wrote requisitions for two items of wood, canvas, bamboo, rubber and metal. In short this was for two airplanes. One was to be equipped for arising from or alighting on land and water, to have a metal tipped wood propellor designed for a speed of at least 45 MPH, to have provisions for carrying a passenger alongside the pilot and to have controls that could be operated by pilot or passenger. This airplane took for as the A-1. It was named "triad" for its triple ability to fly in the air and land on either the ground or the sea.

Five more planes were added to the Navy's air force in 1912. One of these was the Navy's first flying boat, C-1, a 75 horsepower job with a chain-driven propellor.

When the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, the Navy's aviation establishment was still quite small. There was only one air station - at Pensacola, Florida, and only 38 qualified aviators and student aviators on board. At that time there were 163 men assigned to aviation and total aircraft was 54. However, by 11 November 1918 the Navy's aviation force in Europe alone numbered 1,147 officers and 18,308 enlisted men. The years following World War I saw a rapid development in aviation. The beginning of the carrier fleet, and new aeronautical innovations such as folding wings for carrier storage, improved catapults, accurate bombsights, and the water- cooled, in-line engine dictated the need for new ratings, and as a result the first full-fledged aviation ratings were introduced on 7 July 1921. These included Aviation Carpenter's Mate, Aviation Machinist's Mate, Aviation Metalsmith and Aviation Rigger. Prior to this the job skills were identified within a rating such as Machinist's Mate (Aviation).

Carrier aviation took a big leap forward with the commissioning in November and December, 1927, of the Saratoga and Lexington. Progress in lighter-than-air aviation was also active during the mid-20s and was keyed by an event when the rigid airship Shennandoah made fast to a mooring mast built on the stern of Patoka (AV-6).

As the 30s merged into the 40s the war situation grew more serious. After the fall of France in June 1940, Congress authorized the immediate purchase, first, of 4,500, then 10,000 and finally 13,000 naval aircraft during that year. This grew until on VJ Day (2 September 1945) naval air power consisted of 437,000 personnel (of whom 61,000 were pilots), 99 aircraft carriers and 41,000 planes.

Piston-driven aircraft did the job during World War II, but as the war ended, increased attention was given to the jet engine, and the first mass operation of jets from a carrier took place in 1948 when two FJ-1 Furies landed and took-off from Boxer in San Diego. Scientific and technical advances since this period have been great and aircraft speeds have leaped to supersonic, and so, as naval aviation advanced, the rating structure changed to keep pace with new developments. The Aerographer was established in 1924 (changed to Aerographer's Mate in 1942); the Aviation Ordnanceman in 1926; and so on until the Aviation Antisubmarine Warfare Operator (AW) was established in 1968.


Oil was first tested in the U.S. Navy on small ships. USS Palos, a tug in Boston Navy Yard, was apparently the first U.S. Navy ship to test this type of fuel. As a coal burner, Palos did eight knots. However, when converted to oil she did over 14. It was this highly successful test that led to the testing of oil on larger ships and in January 1909 the USS Cheyenne (formally USS Wyoming) was the first large ship to use oil. Her tests along the California coast were also successful. In 1912 the Navy's first two oil-burning capital ships USS Nevada (BB-36) and Oklahoma (BB-37) were laid down, and were commissioned in 1916.

As oil became the primary fuel in use in the Navy the rating of Coal Passer was no longer needed and it was changed to Fireman in 1917.


Before radar came along the art of stationkeeping in maneuvers and convoys was a very intricate and hazardous problem. In 1937, a 200-mc radar set was tested at sea on USS Leary (DD-158). Two years later, USS New York (BB-34), while she was in a fleet problem in the Carribean at night, tested a greatly improved 200-mc radar set. A group of destroyers (without radar) were attempting a torpedo run on a line of battleships. All ships were in darkness. Aboard New York a group of men in air plot were intently peering at a small flourescent screen when a slightly higher hump appeared in the jagged green line wavering across the screen. They let the "hump" come to 5,000 yards, trained a searchlight in its direction, illuminated, and picked off the oncoming destroyer. Radar had come to life. Upon the Radioman's shoulders fell the brunt of keeping up sound and radar equipment. Operators of this equipment (Soundmen and radar operators, then) were usually Yeomen, Storekeepers, or Seamen, who, if they could distinguish between a "ping" and a "pong" were awarded five extra dollars a month. Communications responsibilities increased and Radiomen couldn't be spared to keep up extra equipment, so in 1943, there were two more ratings established, Radarman and Sonarman.


Submarines, a mainstay of today's Navy, were under consideration way back in 1776 when David Bushnell built a craft that was perhaps too far ahead of its time. Turtle, as it was called, was submersible, had a screw type propeller, ballast tanks, a depth gauge, self contained propulsion, and torpedo-equipment still found in submarines today. It was designed to sink its target by boring a hole in the hull of an enemy ship and attaching an explosive. However, this craft had difficulty with copper-sheathed hulls. Robert Fulton, famous for developing a steamship, also tested a four-man submarine named Nautilus, which made successful submerged trips but failed to sink any enemy vessels.

The submarine reappeared during the Civil War. One so-called submarine, which was not really submersible at all, was the steam-driven David. It was developed by the Confederate Navy and operated with its stack and hatches above the surface of the water. It was not very successful. The Confederate Navy did, however, pioneer the development of submersibles. The most successful one was named for H.L. Hunley, under whose sponsorship it was built. It was propelled by hand cranks, had a screw type propellor and actually submerged, but it did not have means to store fresh air. This submarine however drowned two crews before it sank itself. Hunley torpedoed the U.S. Navy blockader Housatonic on 17 February 1864 with an explosive device at the end of a 15-foot-pole. When the underwater bomb exploded it sank the Union ship, but also sank Hunley, drowning a third and final crew. Housatonic was the first ship to be sunk by a sub in combat.

In 1900, the U.S. Navy's first combustion-electric powered submarine, USS Holland (SS-1) was commissioned. It was 54-feet long, displaced 74 tons while submerged, and had a screw type propellor. She was driven by a gasoline engine while surfaced and batteries while submerged. Holland's surface speed was about seven knots, and at full throttle she could make about the same while submerged. A diesel engine replaced the gasoline engine in 1912, and the diesel engine and the electric battery remained the power source for submarines until nuclear power was introduced as submarine power. On 17 January 1955 the hull SSN 571 (later to be known to the world as USS Nautilus), the first nuclear powered submarine, put to sea for the first time.


The Seabee ratings of today are an outgrowth of World War II, but they did have an earlier counterpart. The twelfth Public Works Regiment was organized in December 1917 from a number of public work companies engaged in construction and maintenance of 10 separate camps at Great Lakes Naval Training Center. The 12th Regiment trained several hundred men for construction duties in France during World War I, but the regiment was disbanded after the war.

The concept of assembling construction forces with skilled enlisted men was rekindled under the name of Construction Battalion when Rear Admiral Norman Smith became Chief, Bureau of Yards and Docks in 1933. The term Construction Battalion was used in the mid-30s when it was written into war plans. However, the U.S. Navy established the World War II date of 5 March 1942 as official for the founding of the Seabees, and in 1967 the Seabees celebrated their silver (25th) anniversary. It was not until the post-World War II rating structure went into effect that Seabee ratings were identified by their own specialty marks and names. For example, the Water Tender (CB) (WTCB) was the identification used for the Utilitiesman (UT) rating until after World War II.

Disbursing Clerks

The Disbursing Clerk rating was established in 1948 from the wartime rating of storekeeper (D) (Disbursing Clerk). However, way back in 1861 there was a Paymaster's Steward that was changed to Paymaster's Writer in 1870 and changed again to Paymaster's Yeoman in 1878.

Under the pay scale of today's Navy a seaman apprentice upon completion of recruit training is entitle to twice as much base pay as was a captain of the new Navy nearly 200 years ago. To protect our commerce at sea, an act of Congress (27 March 1794) authorized the building and manning of six frigates. The act contained only nine sections, three of which had to do with pay and subsistence and allowed that the monthly pay of commissioned and warrant officers and enlisted personnel should be as follows: Captains, $75.00; Surgeons, $50.00; Lieutenants, Chaplains, Sailing Masters, and Pursers, $40.00; Surgeon's Mates, $30.00; Lieutenants of Marines, $26.00; Boatswains, Gunners, Sailmakers and Carpenters, $14.00. Petty Officers, midshipmen, seamen, ordinary seamen, and marines would receive pay as fixed by the President, "provided that the whole sum to be given for the whole pay aforesaid shall not exceed $27,000 per month." When it is considered that the six vessels involved in the original law were authorized a total complement of close to 2,000 enlisted personnel it can be readily seen that the financial lot of the petty officer and seamen was anything but lucrative.

World War II

From 1913 to 1948, no major changes in the structure of enlisted ratings were made, although new ratings were authorized as technological changes, expansion of naval aviation for example, demanded. Hand in hand with this system of classification of personnel went the practice of supplying men according to numbers and ratings requested, without any special attention to the individual qualifications of the men or particular demands of the billets. By the beginning of World War II, the Navy's rating structure was becoming inadequate to the problem of distributing the best qualified personnel to billets in which they were most needed. In short, the structure had to be adjusted to meet the technological advances of the modern Navy.

Under pressure of necessity, during World War II, the Bureau of Naval Personnel and other commands charged with personnel administration found themselves dividing and subdividing existing ratings to reveal special skills. The Radioman (RM) rating, for example, split into Radioman (RM) and Radio Technician (RT); later some Radio Technicians were transferred to the newly established Radarman (RD) rating, and others to the new Sonarman (SO) rating. To the SO rating itself was later added SOH (Harbor Defense).

To supplement this process of subdividing old ratings, the Specialist (X) ratings were established, and eventually became the catch-all for jobs that could not be fitted elsewhere into the existing rating structure.

Post War Rating Structure

By V-J Day, the 30-odd prewar ratings had given way to nearly 200 wartime categories. In September 1945, the Navy launched studies directed toward finding a more orderly, scientific classification system which would serve both peacetime and wartime needs. The resulting rate and rating structure, implemented by the new Manual of Qualifications for Advancement in Rating, went into effect 2 April 1948. It was the product of intensive research by the Bureau of Naval Personnel, of numerous conferences with representatives of various Navy bureaus and offices, and of recommendations submitted by fleet and training commands.

Although the current rating structure was developed during the 1945-47 period its framework was the wartime rating structure, the traditions of the Navy rating system, and many additional factors necessary to develop a structure adapted to the modern Navy. Not the least of these factors were lessons learned from the Navy's successes and failures in personnel management during World War II, and tested principles of personnel management developed in recent years by industry and government. The result is a dynamic structure designed to meet the needs of the modern Navy today.


Published: Wed Aug 23 13:07:33 EDT 2017