Monthly Archives: September 2011

News on the Blog Front; American Prime Meridian

Recently, the U S Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Office of Medical History announced the addition of Archivist Mike Rhode to the staff. I was doing research in the historical library the week Mike came aboard, and I can report that he brings real energy  to the Navy’s operation. He brings experience, as well: for 22 1/2 years, he was in charge of the Otis Historical Archives at the Army Medical Museum (just recently folded into the National Museum of Health and Medicine).

Now, just a little over two weeks after he reported for duty at BuMed, Mike’s demonstrated his energy and skill in a new blog, Tranquillity, Solace & Mercy. Here’s Mike’s announcement as it appeared a couple of days ago on the “caduceus-L” listserv:

The office's two historians and I have launched a new blog Tranquillity,
Solace & Mercy: The history of US Navy medicine at
< >

We'll be highlighting parts of the collections of the Bureau of Medicine
and Surgery's Office of Medical History as the whole collection is
little known by the larger medical history community. Here's an
introductory post
< ollections.html> about that.

Michael Rhode
Archivist / Curator
US Navy BUMED Office of Medical History
202-762-3813 <>


While I was researching at BuMed,  located in the old Naval Observatory in Washington DC’s “Foggy Bottom” district, historian Andre Sobocinski pointed out to me that the dome of the observatory once served as a marker for an “American Meridian” (or Washington Meridian).

American Prime Meridian

American Prime Meridian, based on the dome of the old Naval Observatory in Washington DC. Between plaque and dome is a statue of Benjamin Rush, famed 18-19th C American physician, placed by the American Medical Association in 1904

Perhaps in part an expression of revolutionary hubris, Congress established this Meridian in the Navy Appropriation of 1849. It served as the U. S. surveying reference (it was never extensively used for navigational purposes) until we adopted the International Meridian at Greenwich in 1912. Borders of Wyoming, Arizona, Utah and Nevada are based on the American Meridian.

(source:, accessed 30 Sep 2011).

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

Society for the History of Navy Medicine–Fifth Annual Meeting a Success

The Society held its Fifth Annual Meeting and Papers Session in conjunction with the U S Naval Academy’s McMullen Naval Historical Symposium last week. The Society sponsored two panels:

Dr Beeler, Dr Convertito-Farrar, Mr Rath

Panel One, “The Health of Sailors” featured papers by Professor John Beeler, Dr Cori Convertito-Farrar and Mr Andrew Rath, with Commentary by Professor Chris McKee.

Both Professor Beeler’s and Dr Convertito-Farrar’s papers concerned Yellow Fever in the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries while Mr Rath discussed the impact of an Admiral’s suicide upon naval operations in the Pacific during the Crimean War.

Panel Two, “From Guantanamo to Puerto Rico to Project X231”, highlighted scholarly work of Doctors Gerard Fitzgerald

Professor Langley (Commentator), Dr Fitzgerald, Dr Schiappacasse, Mr Moustafa

(Project X231–a World War II study of the effectiveness of ultraviolet lighting in reducing respiratory infections among troops) and Paola Schiappacasse (the history of a quarantine station in Puerto Rico utilizing primary written and archeological resources), and Mr Raed Moustafa (ethical dilemmas facing medical personnel at the U S detainee facility in Guantanamo, Cuba).

At the end of each panel, Society Executive Director Captain Tom Snyder presented the student (or recently student) authors, Mr Rath, Mr Moustafa, and Doctors Convertito-Farrar and Schiappacasse with the first-ever Society Graduate Student Travel Grant of $750 each.

Our panels, which faced rigorous competition from a large variety of outstanding–if more “traditional”–naval historical fare, were well attended. The Society garnered five new members at Annapolis, bringing our membership to 165 people from around the world.

We plan to publish most if not all of these papers in a Session “Proceedings”. This will appear in The Grog, a quarterly digest of naval medical history and heritage published electronically by the Office of Medical History at the U S Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. We will announce the publication here.

In the evening, a few authors and conference attendees gathered at a local Annapolis restaurant for the “Meeting” portion of our Annual Meeting and Papers Session. Over a pleasant meal, we discussed the panels-just-past, and plans for the Society’s panel at the April 26-29 2012 meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine in Baltimore. Mark your calendars now and plan to join us!

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder

U S Naval Medical Corps Insignia–A Brief History, Part II

In an earlier post, I detailed this history up to the 1841 Uniform Regulations. Herewith, the story goes forward.

The 1841 Regulations made no specification for the standing collar decoration except to call for live oak to run around it:


In May 1847, the Navy Department once again called for a device specific to medical officers, a silver “MD” embroidered on shoulder strap; an epaulette with the same device was added; and three sprigs of live oak were to be placed in the blank area on the collar.(1) Rank devices accompanied the corps device.  Below, the insignia of a surgeon with more than 12 years’ service: 


 A new Navy Regulation in 1852 (2) abolished the gilt “MD” and instead called for “an olive sprig, one inch and a quarter long embroidered at the center” of the shoulder strap, shown here for a medical officer of less than 12 years’ service:    (b).  The same olive sprig was prescribed for the medical officer’s cap.

A November 1863 article in the Army and Navy Journal (3) reported the demise of the olive sprig. From thence, a fleet surgeon with more than 12 years’ service wore a silver eagle 2 inches long embroidered to the center of his shoulder strap,  (c)  ;

no corps device identified the shoulder straps of less senior surgeons; here, a shoulder strap for a surgeon with over 5 years, showing only a rank device, the spread oak leaf in silver:  (c).

Surgeons’ caps carried an “Oak leaf, 9/10 inch in length, embroidered in silver”.

General Order of the Navy Department No 90 of March 1869 (4) introduced a unique color placed between rank stripes on the sleeve to identify each corps; the medical corps received cobalt blue,  (d), here on the sleeve of a Medical Officer with the rank equivalent to Commander. This color scheme continued until 1883, when the color for medical officers was changed to dark maroon. The regulations (5) now specified this device to denote a medical corps officer: “a silver Maltese cross with a small maroon velvet Geneva cross in the center”. [Ed.: I have searched high and low for an image of this device, to no avail. Dear reader, if you come across one, please let me know how to procure it by leaving a comment below.]  

Finally, in 1897, the device by which we identify a medical corps officer, the spread oak leaf of dead gold with a silver acorn embroidered at the center, was prescribed.(6) The dark maroon color between rank stripes persisted:  (d).   Note that a collar device was also prescribed with the rank at the leading edge and the corps device just aft, worn on both sides of the standing collar.

Regulations of 1913 (7) prescribed that Medical reserve officers should sport crimson between sleeve rank stripes, in contrast to the dark maroon required for regular medical corps officers. No Corps device was called for upon the sleeve.

At last, in 1919 (8), the maroon color was eliminated, and the corps device placed above the rank stripes on both sleeves. Collar devices were simplified (some say complicated) in that now, the rank device was to be worn on the right collar, and the corps device on the left. This is the scheme that is used up to today (sleeve on left, shoulder board on right in illustration below):


Image Credits:
(a) Perrenot, Preston B, “United States Navy Grade Insignia, 1776-1852”, pdf, 2010. Available for purchase on line at
(b) National Archives and Records Administration (NARA 1), Records Group 45, Office of Naval Records and Library, Subject File, U. S. Navy, 1775-1910, O-1898. NU-Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Box No 358, File “No date NU-Uniforms, U.S. Navy, officers & men. Pictures, etc., collected together to show details of uniforms.”
(c) Ibid., O-1945, NU-Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Officers, and Men. Box No 359, File “Box#359/03”, 1862, Uniform for Officers of the United States Navy As Prescribed in the General Order of the Secretary of the Navy Dated July 31, 1862. 
(d) Perrenot, Preston C., “United States Navy Grade Insignia Since 1852”, pdf, 2010. Available for purchase on line at I found one error is this publication:the medical corps device is shown the compiler’s illustration of the 1883-1897 insignia is the modern version–the spread gold oak leaf with silver acorn embroidered at its center–rather than the Maltese Cross with small maroon velvet Geneva cross at its center called for in Navy Uniform Regulations. The modern device was introduced in 1897. 
Text References:
(1)  Naval History and Heritage Command, Navy Department Library, RARE  VC 303 .E39 MSS Box 4, Published uniform regulations and changes to 1781-1942, File: William Edwards Collection    Resolutions, Regulations, and Circular Letters 1781 – 1889, page “1847”, REGULATION CHANGES AND MODIFICATIONS OF UNIFORM, Navy Department, May 27, 1847.
(2) ibid., page “1852”, REGULATION NAVY DEPARTMENT, September 24, 1852, UNIFORM OF SURGEONS AND PURSERS. 
(4) ibid;, page “1869”, GENERAL ORDER No. 90  NAVY DEPARTMENT, Washington, March 11, 1869.
(5) National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA 1”), Records Group 45, Office of Naval Records and Library, Subject File, U. S. Navy, 1775-1910, 0-1945, NU- Uniforms, U. S. Navy, Officers, and Men. Box No 359, Volume, “Regulations Relating to the Uniform of the Officers of the United States Navy, Navy Department, January 22, 1883”, paragraph “Corps Devices”.
(6) ibid., Volume “Regulations Governing the Uniforms of Commissioned Officers, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Men of the Navy of the United States, with Plates, 1897 (with typewritten annotation ‘July 1, 1897’)”, p 14, paragraph “Corps Devices”.
(7) San Diego Navy Historical Foundation, Inc., “Uniform Regulations of the United States Navy, Together with Uniform Regulations Common to Both Navy and Marine Corps, Navy Department, [January 25] 1913, page 32, paragraph 72., accessed 7 Sep 2011.
(8)  Naval History and heritage Command, The Navy Department Library, “Insignias”,, accessed 7 Sep 2011, section “Insignia of the Medical Corps”. Lt Kenneth Lankin, MC, USN (Lankin, Kenneth M, “The History of the Navy Medical Corps Insignia: A Case for Diagnosis”, MilMed 156, 11:615, 1991) gives the date for this change as 1918, and cites Tily, J. C., “The Uniforms of the United States Navy”, New York, A. S. Barnes and Company, 1964, p 174.

© 2011 Thomas L Snyder