Related Resources: Ratings (Jobs) of Enlisted Personnel in the U.S. Navy
The uniform regulations of 19 February 1841 introduced a sleeve mark for the uniforms of petty officers consisting of an eagle facing left (from the wearer's perspective) with wings pointed down, while perched on a fouled anchor. It was to be worn half way between the elbow and shoulder on the front of the sleeve. Boatswain's Mates, Gunner's Mates, Carpenter's Mates, Masters at Arms, Ship's Stewards and Ship's Cooks wore it on the right sleeve while Quarter Masters, Quarter Gunners, Captains of the Forecastle, Captains of Tops, Captains of the Afterguard, Armorers, Coopers, Ship's Corporals and Captains of the Hold wore it on the left sleeve. It was difficult to distinguish between different ratings using this system.
The uniform regulations of 1 December 1866 introduced a system of rating badges, with eight specialty marks. Depending on design and where these badges were worn, thirteen ratings could be identified.
A petty officer rating badge incorporating an eagle, specialty mark and chevrons with points down was introduced in the uniform regulations of 1886. The eagle faced left with its wings pointed horizontally to the sides. The regulations specified that petty officers of the starboard watch were to wear rating badges on their right sleeves. The left sleeve was to be used for those on the port watch.
General Order 431, dated 24 September 1894, changed the eagle's wings to point upward, though the eagle continued to face to the left.
The uniform regulations of 25 January 1913 changed the location of rating badges so that ratings badges were no longer worn on the sleeves corresponding to assigned watches. Right arm rates were to signify men of the Seamen Branch; left arm rates were to be used by personnel of the Artificer Branch, Engine Room Force, and all other petty officers. The eagle continued to face left on all rating badges.
The uniform regulations of 31 May 1941 specified that the eagle was to face to the left in the rates comprising the Seaman Branch: Boatswain Mate, Turret Captain, Signalman, Gunner's Mate, Fire Controlman, Quartermaster, Mineman and Torpedoman's Mate. All other rating badges were to have an eagle facing to the right.
Right arm rates were disestablished 2 April 1949, after having been eliminated by Change #1, dated 24 February 1948, to the 1947 uniform regulations. All rating badges were to be worn on the left sleeve with the eagle facing to the right.
For further information:
Stacy, John A. U.S. Navy Rating Badges, Specialty Marks and Distinguishing Marks, 1885-1982. Ft. Washington MD: The author, 1982.
Tily, James C. The Uniforms of the United States Navy. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1964.