Letter to the Editor

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  • This Letter to the Editor opens with praise for the journal's objective editorial policy, and cites Peter H. Spectre's profile of Howard I. Chapelle as an excellent example of the journal's recognition of both adversaries and supporters of Chapelle.
  • Dunne declares that Chapelle, former Curator of Transportation at the Smithsonian, was no friend of the United States Navy. He states that though Chapelle's principal interest in life was maritime history, he had an aversion to it partly because of his publisher, W. W. Norton. In 1948, Chapelle had proposed a book on American fishing schooners, a subject dear to his heart, but Norton turned him down, presumably because of strong reader interest in things military during the postwar period, and asked him to produce a book on the history of the U. S. Navy instead.
  • The resulting book, "The History of the American Sailing Navy," was published in 1949. It contains allegations against the naval hierarchy, especially concerning Chapelle's theory of an under-the-table Navy Department rebuilding policy; he also cast doubt upon the origins of the frigate "Constellation," afloat in Baltimore today. In addition to criticisms about the early leadership of the Navy, the writer contends that Chapelle poorly researched his "overgunning theory," made alterations to primary source drafts, and included more than 400 documentable errors in the book's text. The letter concludes with the writer's comments regarding an article he wrote for the Winter 1989 issue of "American Neptune" on Chapelle's abilities as a naval historian.


  • Chapelle, Howard Irving
  • United States Dept. of the Navy


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


  • This letter was written in response to Peter H. Spectre's article "In Profile -- Howard I. Chapelle," which appeared in the Winter 1990 issue of Naval History.
  • W. M. P. Dunne is with the Department of History, State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Contained within

Naval History Vol. 4, No. 2 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520, SIHistory@si.edu


Spring 1990


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Washington (D.C.)

Physical description

Number of pages : 2; Page numbers : 8 & 9

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