Housing problems are not new. When the Naval School moved in, one hundred years ago, to occupy Fort Severn, the “site so graciously surrendered by the War Department,” Commander Franklin Buchanan, the first Superintendent, was confronted with a double duty. He had first to work out a program of instruction adapted equally to the needs of midshipmen seasoned by years of service at sea and of acting midshipmen who had never gone to sea; and secondly, to provide for both these groups, differing widely in age and experience, a way of living within which the new program might take root and thrive.
Much has been written upon the difficulties of the new educational experiment, but little has been said of the provisions (or lack of them) for food, clothing, housing, and other safeguards for the well-being of the students. Yet upon these the success of the new venture largely depended. In fact, early requisitions, order books, and correspondence indicate that Commander Buchanan’s duties as educational administrator and as housekeeper were equally important.
The first Superintendent had all the problems of fitting an over-sized family into a house too small, but partly furnished, and out of repair. Students were quartered in rickety whitewashed barracks, partitioned into rooms which housed 4, 6, or 8 men. An iron camp-bed was provided, but, for lack of a sufficient number in the early months, some were obliged to sleep on the floor. There was one pine table for each two occupants, but if a bureau was wanted, the midshipman must supply it. Rooms were dimly lighted by candles and ventilation was through the open chimney, with or without wall-boards. An early requisition for a barrel of glue implies an effort by the carpenter to make the best use of furniture on hand.
In referring to the “utter cheerlessness” of the lodgings, Professor T. G. Ford says that those “who first passed through the ordeal of the Naval School. . . enjoyed there none of the convenience or auxiliaries of student life.”1
Superintendent Buchanan had little or no money for improving these conditions. It should be remembered that the Naval School was established by transferring to Annapolis instruction heretofore provided at the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia or on ships at sea. There was, at the beginning, no Congressional appropriation for the school.
The Secretary of the Navy, George Bancroft, therefore was in no position to approve more than bare necessities. It is for this reason that, along with the better known problems of organization and curriculum, there were equally serious ones of housekeeping and supply. Three months after the new school opened, the Superintendent wrote to Secretary Bancroft: “There are now 80 midshipmen attached to the school, but they are rather more crowded than is desirable for study. I have just completed 2 more comfortable rooms by fitting up an old shed, occupied as a carpenter’s and blacksmith’s shop.”2
One feels a sympathy for Commander Buchanan in the undercurrent of uncertainty and explanation revealed in some of his letters to the Secretary of the Navy. The Superintendent apparently wanted to justify every request. For example, in May of the first year, he gives these details as to the need for $114.79:
Stanchions for battery, repairing steps to Professors’ houses, fences and gates, whitewashing frame buildings outside, and rooms occupied by mid’n, glazing windows and painting shutters, to make blinds for windows of the rooms occupied as chambers by the families of the Professors, all of which arc absolutely necessary for the comfort of the mid’n and others attached to the school.3
This hesitancy extended also to academic supplies. In a requisition for 3 sextants, the Superintendent explained that he had learned that there were some on hand at the Observatory which “Could be spared without inconvenience.” He adds, “We have 3 old sextants which were sent here from Philadelphia with other instruments belonging to the Naval School. As they are unfit for use, I will forward them by your sanction, to the Observatory to be put in order, or disposed of as you may direct.”4
Details of many forgotten troubles can be pieced together from early requisitions. For example, in November of 1845, 6 lamps with posts for the Yard, and a barrel of “lamp oil” were ordered. Some weeks later, as if overlooked, was an order for “4 pounds of lamp wicks for Yard lamps.” These orders reveal also that the fireplaces were gradually being supplied with grates which burned anthracite coal, 20 tons of which came into the Yard early in 1846. And along with the grates came coal scuttles, pokers and “one dusting brush for Supd’ts office.” But these luxuries went only to the kitchen, recitation rooms, and public offices. Wood was used elsewhere, and the midshipmen were responsible for putting out the fires in their rooms before retiring. Help toward a quick relighting in the morning, however, is implied through the purchase of “One iron pan for carrying fire.”
A transition from the old to the new was taking place in ways other than in the gradual shift from wood to coal. Powder horns, slates, and slate pencils, quill pens and sand boxes for drying ink, appear in the same orders with blotting sheets, lead pencils, and “3 dz. steel pens, best quality.” Housekeeping, as well as education, was in an experimental stage.
Commander Buchanan showed genuine interest in his charges. In April, 1846, he wrote to Secretary Bancroft, “When the warm weather approaches, I am apprehensive that several of the rooms occupied by the Mid’n will be uncomfortable in consequence of their being unavoidably crowded. An expenditure of one or two thousand dollars ... for a few additional rooms would add greatly to their comfort.”5 When, at the beginning of the second year, the midshipmen respectfully petitioned that their fuel and light be furnished by the Government, he recommended that their request be granted on the ground that midshipmen formerly in the Naval Asylum in Philadelphia had enjoyed these benefits, and that the $350 annual pay was insufficient to meet the many incidental expenses of the School.
The operation of the first midshipmen’s mess was somewhat casual. When the Superintendent complained at the great number of eggs consumed, the Mess Steward for the first five years, Darius King, swore that one midshipman ate 20 eggs a day. The result was an order that egg consumption must be limited to 2 per day. “King Darius,” as he was commonly called, knew nothing of the law of averages. In consequence, the mess alternated between fits of economy and extravagance, dependent upon nearness to the day for payment of the $12 monthly mess credit. In times of plenty, Darius was known to open the food storage rooms to midshipmen prowlers at midnight; but in periods of poverty, he sometimes met a shower of bread balls and turkey bones hurled by those who were incensed at the scarcity of food.
There was no officer in charge of the Mess Hall. Perhaps too much confidence was put in the regulation against “Indecorous conduct at the Mess Table,” for a squabble sometimes grew to great proportions—as the famous Battle of the Sugar Bowl in the spring of 1846. One midshipman told the mess attendant, “Don’t take the sugar bowl to that end of the table.” Another came down and demanded, “By what right have you stopped the sugar bowl when you know it has been called for?” Testimony by many witnesses to the ensuing quarrel is filed in the first Letter Book.
Although after two or three years, shingles, lumber, and other necessities were ordered in greater quantity, nevertheless, economy continued paramount. Four lanterns for the fire engine were required, “substantial and cheap,” and “250 feet of common cullings, dressed for partition in Professor Lockwood’s house.” Out of an order of 3,000 pounds of powder, it was specified that 1,000 pounds “May be condemned as inferior, as it is intended for salutes.”
The first Requisition Book which covers the twenty years until the return of the Naval Academy from Newport in 1865, tells a story of early uncertainty and caution, of the trifling details that had to pass the personal approval of the Superintendent, and a story that is sometimes pathetic and humorous in the succession of such approvals as: 1 paper of needles and 2 thimbles, I Signal Book “which Lieutenant Ward requires to explain certain matters in connection with his course of lectures,” 2 tin cups, 1 officer’s receipt book, 1 china pitcher and 2 glasses, 1 Iron Safe for use of Sup’dt and Purser.
With the reorganization of the school into the Naval Academy in 1850, a new air of permanence developed. Although the Regulations of 1851 prescribe that “The Superintendent or Executive Officer will carefully inspect, at least once a day, the mess and recitation halls, quarters and grounds,” there was a definite distribution of duties to departments responsible for them. After five years of experimentation, new policies for mess and for living arrangements were worked out, along with those for the curriculum. “Prudential restraints” were still imposed, as, “Midshipmen are strictly forbidden to cut, mark, or in any way deface the public buildings or property of any kind.”
Within the decade that followed the reorganization, there were new buildings and new equipment. Safeguards for the health of the midshipmen are revealed in Commander Buchanan’s earliest reports to the Secretary of the Navy. But in 1853, a handsome 3-story hospital replaced the small 4-room frame building in use since 1846. In contrast to the hardships of earlier years, and in contrast also to present custom, 12 new office chairs for the library were ordered “cushioned.” The Steam Works were in operation, but wood was still largely used for fuel. The Gas Works installed in 1857 provided a rather unsatisfactory illumination for public rooms and some officers’ quarters, but candles were still in use in many private rooms. Orchard grass and clover were beginning to make the public grounds attractive.
Clothing for the midshipmen was not a problem in the earliest years of the Naval School. Regulations for uniforms were first printed in 1851. Minimum requirements listed in 1847 included only: 1 good dark blue coat jacket and vest, 1 pair dark blue pantaloons, 6 white shirts, 6 pair of socks, 4 pair of drawers, 6 pocket handkerchiefs, 2 pair of sheets, 4 pillow cases, 6 towels. These might be brought from home, or, if preferred, the sum of $50 deposited with the Superintendent would purchase a suitable outfit from the civilian storekeeper. He operated a store within the Yard on a concession. All articles were sold, supposedly, at cost plus a prescribed allowed profit. In addition to clothing, he carried other essentials such as foot tubs, water pails, jackknives, and mattresses, which were not supplied with the camp bed.
With the coming of regulation uniforms, there were added also the earlier list of candidate’s requirements: 4 pair white pantaloons, 2 pair shoes or boots, and such toilet articles as hairbrush, toothbrush, comb, and thread and needle case.
With the reorganization too, King Darius’ haphazard methods were replaced by a systematic mess in charge of the Master, an Assistant to the Executive Officer. Loud talking, abuse of servants, and wasting of food were prohibited. Any dissatisfaction with the quality of the food was reported by the Master to the Superintendent. The same bill of fare covered every week, and, as in the old-fashioned boarding house, it was usually possible to tell the day of the week by the kind of meat.
The custom of setting aside a small table at which the quality and preparation of the food is inspected, and at which designated officers test the fare by taking their own meals, as required by the Regulations of 1855, has continued until the present time. There seems to be either mystery or suspicion, however, in the designation of the Professor of Field Artillery and Infantry Tactics, as the Inspector who presided at the mess table and had charge of the police and order of the mess hall.
In the 1850’s, every breakfast offered wheat and corn bread, butter and molasses, tea and coffee, but no fruit. Cold or hashed meat, fresh or salt fish, fried potatoes, or 2 hard boiled eggs were added on designated days, and in winter on Sundays, stewed oysters. The last were regarded as a great treat. In fact, one of the early secret and unauthorized supper clubs of Oldsters had on its badge Greek letters indicating the way it liked its oysters, “Fried, Roasted & Stewed.”6
Midday dinner offered soup, cold wheat bread without butter, potatoes and one other vegetable, and an amazing assortment of meat, poultry and fish. Castors contained “vinegar, pepper and mustard only.” Pickles were served twice weekly. The only desserts were pudding on Wednesday, fruit in season on Friday, and “cold pie and cheese” on Sunday.
Judged by modern standards, the supper seems a bit monotonous, if not inadequate: the same thing every day—tea and coffee, cold wheat bread, butter and molasses.
There was no gracious living aboard the ships that housed the midshipmen at Newport, 1861-65. The agreeableness of life at the Atlantic House, however, was described 30 years later by a former midshipman:
Here we took up our residence after a year aboard ship, [where we had had), a small locker for wardrobe, and a common washroom with tin basins for toilet purposes. It seemed like luxury to have a narrow iron bedstead, a bureau, a washstand apiece,. . . and a table in common, all in a comfortable apartment with doors and windows.7
In other respects, life in Newport was not a complete satisfaction. The same man recalls,
Our annoyance when being stared at—as if we were some strange kind of wild animals, and the mixture of disgust and merriment with which we one day overheard a question addressed to one of our officers by an old lady—whom he was showing about the ship,—“Do you give them meat?” Whether the good old dame judged from our youthful appearance that we ought to be restricted to a milk diet, or that from the savage nature of the profession for which we were trained we ought to he brought up on rum and gunpowder, was never discovered.8
With the return to Annapolis in 1865, revolutionary changes began at the Nayal Academy. Either because of worth demonstrated by Academy graduates during the war, or because of the persuasiveness of the Superintendent, Vice Admiral D. D. Porter, or both, an era of expansion and rebuilding took place. In contrast to the former timid requisitions, there appear such bold items as “For purchase of land adjacent to Naval Academy, $25,000,” and “Prize money, $6,000.” A “Dagucrrean Gallery” was completed in 1868 at the cost of $2,500. New quarters for midshipmen had central heat, ventilation through transom windows and registers opening into flues, and bathing rooms at either end of the building supplied with city water introduced into Annapolis in 1867.
One of the greatest innovations was in the service of supply. The civilian storekeeper had not always paid his bills for merchandise. At the request of Admiral Porter, a Paymaster of the Navy took charge in 1867, and the Midshipmen’s Store was launched. Admiral Porter explains his satisfaction in a letter to the Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing: “Amidst all my duties here, it has been almost an impossibility for me to check the Storekeepers. I have a board of officers who maintain a strict supervision over the Storekeeper, but I never feel satisfied, and am glad that a regular Paymaster has been sent here. It will give me great relief.”9
Among other duties, the Paymaster, successor to the earlier pursers, was to keep accounts of individual midshipmen, covering charges against his monthly pay for bills of steward, laundress, barber, postmaster, and store.
In passing, an effort toward control of supplies issued to the faculty is worth notice. An order of the Superintendent in 1862 directed all officers and professors, when detached from the Academy, to turn over the balance of unused stationery in their possession.
Progress, scientific or social, is noted through items on sale at the new store. Along with slates which were still carried, were nail brushes, rubber coats, gas shades at 75¢, looking glasses, large and small, and in the interest of health, Ox Marrow at 45¢ per bottle.
Required clothing included much not found on the earlier list, as uniform overcoat and cap, 4 white linen vests, and a straw hat. A committee appointed by the Superintendent examined quality and standards, and the course of their labors was not always smooth. In defense of an estimate a representative of a tailoring company declared “I am certain that parties seeking this contract have no conception whatever of the requirements of the Naval Academy in the clothing business.”10 He pointed out that materials similar in appearance, but not in wearing quality, enabled his competitors to offer lower bids. The negotiations, however, did bring about a reduction in the cost of parade jackets in question.
Only a continued vigilance maintained fair prices for the midshipmen. In the early 1870’s, it was found that the Yard shoemaker, who had his light and heat free of cost, and both his work and his pay assured, was employing the bugler to repair shoes when he “was not engaged in blowing the calls or at practice.” For this service, the bugler, supposedly learning the trade, received no pay. An investigation resulted in a 30-cent reduction in the price for half- soling shoes.
Supplies came into the Yard through three agencies, merchant steamers on Chesapeake Bay, the Adams Express Company, and by freight over the Annapolis and Elk Ridge Railroad which ran on the south side of the Severn River. During the 1870’s also a steam ferry, operated across the river, enabled farmers on the North Shore to share in the Academy’s patronage.
With all of this modernization, perhaps the mess changed the least. Although by 1870 the allowance for food averaged $22 per month, there were few alterations over a period of 20 years, except more potatoes for breakfast, beefsteak for breakfast on Sundays, a greater variety of meats, butter for dinner, and pickles every day. Desserts were still in disfavor. A medical officer in 1877 reported:
I have recommended the entire omission of pies from the Sunday dessert and the substitution of fruit as often as possible. ... I have also recommended that the sale of pastry at the stand in the basement of the new quarters be interdicted.. . . Ripe fruit also may properly exclude fried pastry, nauseous sweetmeats, and indigestible nuts from the stock offered for sale.11
To justify this opinion he adds that, in the quarter just ended, there were more than “200 cases of disorders due to avoidable errors of diet.” In spite of this complaint, however, his report cites the great gain in weight due to the diet and regularity of habits of the midshipmen.
A noteworthy custom of the mess that continues today was its economy through salvage of waste. Yeast, tomato cans, and empty barrels were sold regularly, and amounts received from the sale of grease and fats ran from $50 to $70 per month. The mess was not averse to turning a penny in its favor by any reasonable means. To its credit in 1880 is, “Use of Tableware by Board of Visitors Reception—$20.00.”
Within its first half century, the Naval Academy was working out its problems of logistics. Crude as they were, in comparison with scientific techniques of today, nevertheless the trial and error of those early days dictated the course of improved policies and practices. And with each advance, there comes the question, “Why hasn’t somebody thought of that before?” For example, in getting himself settled in former years the entering plebe, loaded down with all he could carry, had to make several long trips through Bancroft Hall and up long flights of steps. Today, as a result of someone’s common sense, all articles except clothing that must be fitted are assembled in cartons and placed in advance on the proper floor where the plebe may claim them. He is given an inventory against which he may check numbers and prices of his whisk broom, strong box, drawing outfit or Hammond Atlas. The meager requirements of a century ago have grown to include about 100 listings. And what would the midshipmen of the 1840’s think of the 12 undershirts and 10 white work suits?
There is no better illustration of the fact that feeding and clothing the midshipmen has now become a science than the Naval Academy Dairy. Following an outbreak of typhoid fever in the Naval Academy in the fall of 1910, it was decided to erect a modern sanitary dairy to be owned and operated by the Academy. In less than a year after the work was begun, the midshipmen were receiving from their own scientifically fed and regularly inspected cows a supply of milk whose purity was assured. The goal of the dairy was not to save money, but to furnish a better product than was purchasable through commercial sources.
Midshipmen have had a fondness for milk ever since the days when Superintendent Buchanan and Lieutenant Ward, the first Executive Officer, complained that their cows, well fed on the government grass within the Yard, gave only one quart of milk per day. The mystery was solved when, after graduation, some midshipmen confessed that they had milked both cows late every night to make milk punches in their quarters.12
Although a number of officers and professors pastured their cows on the Naval Reservation, milk for the midshipmen was purchased from neighboring farmers. From time to time there were illnesses which later came to be known as milk-borne diseases. But with the establishment of the Naval Academy Dairy conditions within the institution improved until diseases traceable to milk are now nonexistent. Even in the early years of its operation there was a phenomenal decrease in the number of sick days among students. The venture was so successful that Great Britain patterned a dairy for its army in India upon a similar plan.
The purchase of the farm was made possible by an original advance to the Midshipmen’s Store which was later returned. The farm has operated as a function of the Store ever since. Congress appropriated altogether $255,000 for the purchase of property and its initial equipment. This was to be paid back from the income which the farm received by selling milk to the midshipmen. After $100,000 was accumulated for this purpose, it was decided to cancel the remainder in order that the price of milk to the midshipmen might be reduced.
The farm of 900 acres at Gambrills, 18 miles from Annapolis, is really a small village. Eleven miles of roads are maintained within the farm. In addition to the home of the Resident Manager, a Commander in the Supply Corps, there are 19 cottages, a bachelors’ mess, office, milk houses, a barn to each 50 cows, pasteurizing plant, silos, hospital, maternity barns, power house, artesian well house, and grain and hay barns.
War has lessened the number of employees, usually 56 in normal times, but, along with the veterinarian and the herdsmen, there are an engineer, automobile mechanic, carpenter, laundryman, painters, gardeners, and others. And the sole purpose of all of these is to minister to the health, contentment, and productivity of a herd of 500 Holstein-Friesian cattle—all except one, Navy Bill, the Goat. Of this number the milking herd runs from 180 to 200 cows. To protect the herd, and ultimately the midshipmen, every employee undergoes regular physical examination. It was formerly customary to buy a number of fresh cows each year. Gradually, however, the thoroughbred herd has been built up until now every animal is bred on the farm, for, as the Manager says, “When you buy, you buy trouble. When you breed your own, you can put your finger on the source of trouble.”
Holstein-Friesians were chosen because they give the most milk, not too rich for drinking, and because the fat globule is smaller and therefore more digestible.
The farm is divided into pasturage, tillable soil, and woodland. Two or three crops a year make the equivalent of about 850 acres under cultivation for hay, corn, and other foods. Meals, bran and minerals are bought elsewhere.
The life history of each animal is kept as accurately as in a hospital or a bureau of vital statistics. At birth each calf receives an ear tag, and all that qualify for registry are given a name, for example, USNAD Timonium Wee Wonder. The trade name, obviously standing for United Stales Naval Academy Dairy, goes to every animal. From the moment of its birth, the calf is watched like an heir to the throne. In much the same manner that a doctor records the case history of his patients, the file card made out for each animal at birth carries every detail of its family history, such as blood tests for detection of possible disease, and vaccination against Bangs. In addition, care includes foot baths to prevent hoof diseases, weekly visits from the State Veterinarian and two government inspections a year.
Animals disqualified for registry because of coloring or other reasons are sold within 5 days, unless the Bachelors’ Mess needs them for veal, canning, or baby beef. And when they are sent to be slaughtered a government veterinarian performs an autopsy. In this way, trouble is stopped before it starts, and the herd is kept to the highest possible standard.
Different mixes for calves, dry cows, heifers and bulls, made appetizing by molasses, salt to induce drinking toward a greater milk production, a “tossed green salad” of cow peas, millet, and soy beans cut by a salad chopper a few minutes before eating, and ground corncobs for roughage, are only a part of the scientific feeding. Amounts are weighed and the best milk producers are rewarded with more food. This is why, as the herdsman says, accurate weighing of milk “means a lot to the cow.”
The breeding is from 12 bulls through 4 different lines. Their special caretaker has the skill of a circus trainer with lariat and whip, but trouble is held to a minimum by exercising them one at a time. Their punching bag is a huge oak block that hangs by an iron chain. They charge it much as a football player tackles his leather dummy. It is mere coincidence that the bull christened “Commandant” should grow to be an enormous 2,500-pounder, the largest of the herd.
The night prowlers of a hundred years ago could pilfer little milk nowadays, for the Naval Academy cow knows only the mechanical milker. Except for the bathing before each of the 3 milkings, which for cow and keeper accounts for the laundry list of nearly 3,000 small towels daily, man has given way to machines. From the time that the freshly sterilized udder is attached to the milking machine until the finished product is sealed in the seamless, stainless steel cans that carry it to the Naval Academy, his part is chiefly to turn a valve or to throw a switch. Even today’s midshipmen who are gradually getting acquainted with their dairy by visiting the farm in groups of from 30 to 40 on Sundays are surprised at the cold plunges, the Turkish bath, and the paddling that the conditioning process for the milk entails. After passing from the milking machine through the strainer, the warm milk has its first plunge by dropping from an elevated trough down over freon coils which chill it to 38 degrees and thereby immediately retard bacterial action. The major protection against fermentation comes through pasteurization. Paddles in the great tank gently agitate the milk while it is held at a temperature of 145 degrees for 30 minutes. It is then ready for the second chilling to 38 degrees, and with this processing, the milk is considered to be ready for use.
Man’s work begins where the machines leave off. After each milking, at 2:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m., every joint, tube, coupling or pipe through which the milk has passed, must be broken down, cleansed, and thoroughly sterilized. Walls and floors are also washed in the sterilizing fluids. Once a week 15 samples are taken at various points along the line, and tested to determine where, or if, the bacteria jump. The finished product, 700 to 750 gallons, or well toward a quart for each midshipman, is brought by truck to the Naval Academy once a day. About 80 per cent is used for drinking; the remainder goes into cooking.
The supply of milk is scientifically controlled to meet needs. In other words, breeding is timed so that many cows are drying during the summer cruises and annual leave of the midshipmen. They freshen as the brigade returns in greatest numbers in fall. If there is a surplus, the cream goes to the Academy where it is held in freezing units until it is needed. Skim milk is sent to be powdered and is then sold to chocolate milk makers. There is no waste.
The farm is completely self-supporting. If there must be a new $12,000 well or a bulldozer to dig out stumps, the farm must pay for it out of the regular income from selling milk to midshipmen. Fertilizer goes back into the soil. To prevent the hollow stubble from acting as host to the cornborer, the fields are plowed immediately after the corn is cut. Like any other farmer, the Dairy must take the wallops—the storm that flattens the corn or the drouth that dries up the hay—save waste and knuckle down to hard work, if it is to break even.
Are the gains worth all this struggle? In comparison with an allowed bacteria count of 50,000 per cubic centimeter set by government regulation, the Naval Academy Dairy averages 2,000, a remarkable record under any circumstances. And this is the gain passed on to the midshipmen.
Daylight-saving time can neither help nor hinder the Naval Academy Dairy, for the sun never sets on its 24-hour schedule. And for its protection, there is always its fire bell, set in its own pagoda—a real trophy which has lately taken on new significance, “Presented to the U.S.S. Missouri by the Citizens of the State of Missouri, 1903.”
When in 1867 Congress appropriated $24,500 for the new Paymaster to buy out the civilian storekeeper, even Admiral Porter, with all his genius for improvement, could scarcely have foreseen that the store would not only pay back that sum, but would expand until, eighty years later, its stock inventories at well toward half a million dollars, and its gross annual sales total a million and a half. The store aims to give the midshipmen necessary equipment of the best quality at the lowest possible price. Like the dairy, the store seeks no profit. A regulated small advance over purchase price covers handling, pay of employees, and has built up a sufficient reserve to take advantage of all cash discounts. An amount of $7,500 is transferred annually from Midshipmen’s Store profit to the Midshipmen’s Welfare Fund to help defray the cost of movies and other forms of entertainment for the Brigade.
Stocks are assembled from whatever source most satisfactorily meets the specific requirements. Leggings, for example, are bought for cash from the Marine Corps. Blue flannel drill shirts come from the Naval Clothing Depot in Brooklyn, a centralized agency for enlisted personnel. Contracts for articles made to specifications, shoes for example, are awarded through annual bids.
In addition to prescribed articles which are chargeable to his monthly pay of $65 and the few others purchasable from his small spending allowance, a midshipman may also buy at the store tennis rackets, films, radios, or such similar luxuries as he can personally afford. The midshipmen, incidentally, are known to have enjoyed the recent labor shortage. When attractive young daughters of some of the officers on the Station replaced the male clerks who had gone to war, the midshipmen had a new pleasure in doing their shopping in the Yard.
An officer in the Supply Corps, usually a Captain, is designated as Officer in Charge of the Midshipman’s Store; the Midshipmen’s Store Service Activities which include tailor, barber, and cobbler; and the Naval Academy Dairy. lie endeavors to pass on to the midshipmen every possible advantage. To illustrate, largely because of the renovation of clothing, the changing of stripes, and the repair of shoes while the midshipmen are gone on cruises in summer, the cost of these services varied greatly with the seasons—to the complete upsetting of limited budgets. A recent readjustment has fixed these charges at the average monthly rate, to the greater convenience and satisfaction of the Brigade. There is a consistent effort toward improvement. For some years it was believed that, with upwards of 30 different articles to be fitted or furnished according to size, the maximum number of plebes that could be outfitted along the production line in a single day was 80. But with a recent reorganization, 167 were outfitted in 4 ½ hours.
In looking over the present Entrance Outfit, one wonders what Professor Ford who years ago recorded that ‘‘the use of tobacco —the worst of all school habits—had been forever abolished,” would think if he could see on today’s list, “1 Ash Tray.”
The Midshipmen’s Mess in Bancroft Hall practices the same science of production and supply as the Naval Academy Dairy.
Many an old timer who thought that to feed a Navy man anything but beef, pork and beans, and coffee was to “coddle” him, would view with alarm the present varied diet of the midshipmen—fruit for breakfast, cheese omelet, clover honey, or French toast. He would be horrified too by Ritz Carlton salad, escalloped tomatoes, Tartar sauce, and mushroom gravy. And what would Dr. Gihon who frowned at pie on Sunday say of desserts twice a day? At raspberry sherbet, lemon meringue pie, and coffee ice cream? But those midshipmen of the 1840’s who had little for supper but bread and molasses would love the three good meals, for today’s luncheon is almost a second dinner, with lamb chops, baked macaroni and, occasionally, boiled navy beans.
Since the entire Brigade is served at one time, the problem of keeping such large quantities of food appetizing is more difficult even than in a hotel where moderate amounts can be prepared at various times during the several hours of serving dinner. And large amounts there are, 8,000 to 10,000 doughnuts, or 10,000 griddle cakes for a single meal. In order to prepare a balanced diet, all of highest quality, for more than 3,000 hungry young men on the 85 cents per day per man, as now allowed, a long- range policy of purchase must be followed. China, tableware, trucking of fresh vegetables brought twice weekly in the Commissary’s trucks, and some small equipment must also be charged against this account.
Flour is bought in carload lots. This, with potatoes and butter (12,000 pounds a month) comes in on the Naval Academy’s own siding. Canned goods, the best part of the pack, are ordered in amounts to last 6 months or a year. Against any possible delay in shipments, about 150,000 pounds of meat are kept always in the cooler, at a temperature of 10 degrees above zero. Temperatures for eggs and vegetables in another refrigerating room range just above freezing, 35 to 45 degrees. Weights and quality of every shipment are carefully checked before bills are approved.
At each step from the time of purchase until the food is served to the midshipmen, there is every possible safeguard of health. Eggs must be guaranteed to be no more than 4 days old, and every one of the 2,400 dozen used weekly is candled in the kitchen before cooking. In accordance with old custom, the Chief Cook, Chief Steward, and Assistant Steward check the meals by eating before the food is offered to the midshipmen. As an added precaution toward tracing any possible illness arising from food, samples of all food served are retained in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours after the meal. There is further protection of health through such varied methods as the grinding of meat to be used for meat loaf or hamburger immediately before it is needed, the rinsing of all glasses in almost boiling water just before using, a daily spray of the Mess Hall with DDT, and the electrifying of all outside screen doors to kill any fly or insect that tries to enter.
In order to be sure of the quality and to know exactly the nutritive and caloric value of all that is offered to the midshipmen, the Mess purchases no previously prepared foods. It makes its own bread, cakes, salad dressing, and ice cream from selected ingredients. Pressure cookers protect color, texture, and vitamin content of vegetables. A rotating cylinder full of small holes through which water is showered frees thousands of pounds of spinach from sand and dirt. Science is doing its best to give the midshipmen a wholesome diet.
For a family of 3,000 husky appetites, labor-saving devices are an economy; so there are bread mixers, piecrust cutters, and potato peelers. Even with all of these, there must be from 75 to 100 cooks and helpers, and about 225 enlisted mess boys, for thus far only a human hand can skin a potato- eye, carve a chicken, or set and clear tables.
The condition of the platters that return from the Mess Hall regulates the amount of food provided. If food is left over, the quantity cooked is decreased; but if platters are bare, more is prepared next time. Jellies from apple peelings and pickles from watermelon rinds are but a few of the many economies. Surplus fats, sold to the highest bidder, often bring in several hundred dollars a month. Egg crates, burlap bags, bushel baskets, and catsup bottles are also salvaged. Garbage, once disposed of at the Naval Academy Hog Farm then in operation near the Radio Station, is now sold to a farmer.
To assure all satisfaction possible in feeding so large a number from the allowance available, the Commissary Officer and his assistants are especially trained for these particular duties. The employees too are many of them skilled and loyal. During the Centennial Celebration in October, 1945, about 50 employees of the Midshipmen’s Store, Commissary and Naval Academy Dairy received citations in recognition of 25 or more years of service.
Feeding and clothing of the Brigade resolves itself into a problem of providing what is wanted, when it’s wanted, where it’s wanted. And sometimes, the timing and the placing have not clicked. When the midshipmen paraded at President Grant’s second inauguration, many of them wandered penniless and hungry throughout the day in Washington because the car that carried their cold lunch had been switched to a remote siding. When they found it, bread and meat had been frozen solid, for the day was the coldest of the year.
But these days are gone. Like the United States Navy, its midshipmen are the best fed in the world. By maintaining a reasonable well-being within the Brigade, the service of supply remains a vital factor in the development of the Naval Academy.
1. T. G. Ford, Unfinished Manuscript, Naval Academy Library, Chapter X, p. 1.
2. First Letter Book, Jan. 23, 1846, Naval Academy Museum.
3. First Rules and Regulations, 1845, Naval Academy Museum.
4. First Rules and Regulations, 1845, Item 52.
5. First Letter Book, Naval Academy Museum.
6. Ford, Chapter X, p. 6.
7. Naval Academy Items, Vol. VII, No. 15, Naval Academy Library.
8. Naval Academy Items, Vol. VII, No. 15, Naval Academy Library.
9. Correspondence, History Midshipmen’s Store, Supintendent’s Office.
10. Clothing Correspondence, Superintendent’s Office, 1870.
11. Naval Academy Items, Vol. VII, No. 3, p. 829-830.
12. Ford, Chapter XI, p. 30.