The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Category: Smithsonian History
The naming of ships in the United States Navy has a complex set of guidelines that has evolved over time. In the early years, there were no set rules. Vessels were named after people, places, character traits, and even insects. In 1819, Congress assigned the job to the Secretary of the Navy and defined certain classes of ships to be named after states, rivers, and cities and towns. Submarines became part of the Navy in 1900 and initially had no naming guidelines. Soon, however, submarines were named after "fish and land creatures that sting." With the rapid advancement in technology and the numerous submarines being built, the names evolved into a letter and numbering scheme. In 1931 they were again designated a naming category, but this time it was to be "fish and denizens of the deep." This convention was followed faithfully (with only 2 exceptions) until 1947 when the Secretary said that submarines should be named after famous World War II boats. But since most of these World War II vessels were named after fish, the naming did not change much in practice. However, with the increase in the types of submarines and the ideas of various Secretaries in subsequent years, these guidelines were often altered as it suited the moment's needs. (For more information about the naming of Naval ships, see "A Report on Policies and Practices of the U.S. Navy for Naming the Vessels of the Navy").
In 1958, the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings published a humorous account by Captain William F. Calkins, USNR, of his experience with naming ships in his position as Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Personnel during World War II. It fell to the Chief to provide naming recommendations from which the Secretary could choose. During this time, the naming of submarines still followed the convention of "fish and denizens of the deep," so Captain Calkins often consulted the United States National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History) for assistance.
Captain Calkins described the many difficulties involved in choosing a name for any vessel. The names could not be similar to another ship's name currently in the fleet and it had to be appropriate, i.e. not something that would easily be made fun of. In addition: "Spelling and pronunciation both had to be reasonably simple. The average enlisted man (and his girl friend) must be able to say the name comfortably. If his best girl couldn't spell it, he might not get her letters."
This proved a problem with fish names since ichthyologists like to use Latin names. The most common and recognizable names were used up fast leaving him to come up with some creative workarounds, such as names in different languages for the same fish type. The fleet was growing so fast that sometimes a popular fish name was created and then assigned to an already existing scientific name in order to have something more pronounceable.
Smithsonian Institution ArchivesAccession 12-530 is a small collection of correspondence between staff in the Division of Fishes and members of the U.S. Navy. Smithsonian curators would provide the requesting commander with information and pictures of the fish for which his ship was named. The letter and photograph were often hung onboard, and the sailors took pride in knowing about the ship's namesake.
- Frequently Asked Questions about Submarines, Submarine Welfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
- A Report on Policies and Practices of the U.S. Navy for Naming the Vessels of the Navy, Department of the Navy
- Accession 12-530 - National Museum of Natural History, Division of Fishes, Correspondence, 1943-1987, Smithsonian Institution Archives
Tomorrow marks the anniversay of a momentous occasion for children visiting the National Mall; on April 12, 1967, the Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley opened a carousel in front of the Arts and Industries Building.
Some people were concerned at the time that the carousel, along with popcorn wagons, outdoor puppet and musical performances, would lead to the Smithsonian becoming an "ivy-covered Disneyland" ("Some Fresh Air for the Nation's Attic," New York Times, April 9, 1967), but as we can see today, that did not happen.
The first carousel was a 1922 Denzel carousel that was accompanied by a 153 Wurlitzer Band Organ. It is hard to imagine now, but at the time , rides were 25 cents (currently the cost is $3.50).
Due to wear and tear the carousel was replaced in 1981 with a carousel from Baltimore's Gwynn Oak Amusement Park. This carousel is 10 feet larger in diameter and has 60 horses, as opposed to the former which had 33. The carousel was built in 1947 by Allan Herschell Company. The seemingly benign carousel however, has a rich history, best told in Amy Nathan's book, Round and Round Together: Taking a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement. Gwynn Oak Amusement Park was a segregated park and became integrated after a nearly decade-long effort in 1963.
The carousel continues to bring laughter and joy to those who ride it today, many of whom may not know of its place in history, but enjoy it nonetheless.
- Round and Round Together: Take a Merry-Go-Round Ride into the Civil Rights Movement, Amy Nathan
- The Carousel on the National Mall, Washington Post
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