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Two Worlds at Sea: Daily Lives of Officers and Enlisted Sailors

Crew of the USS Oregon

The crew of a warship must function as a team, with a precision gained through training and intense drills. This photo of the crew of the battleship USS Oregon in 1905 shows just one of the many groups of men that manned Navy warships during this period. Though this photograph portrays what is seemingly a single, unified crew, subtle hints of division can be seen. For example, the officers are seated on benches in the front row, while the enlisted sailors stand crowded around on deck, with one even standing on the shoulders of another, hanging on to a pole.

Life at sea was constructed around a series of complex hierarchies. The integration of a crew on board ship went only so far as duty required. Military hierarchy created a huge gulf between officers and enlisted men, establishing two distinct worlds on board a ship. Officers and enlisted sailors worked together closely, but they ate and slept separately, avoided fraternization, and even had different levels of hygiene available to them. Even within these two worlds, further divisions occurred. Chief Petty Officers — the senior enlisted men, a rating established in 1893 — were generally afforded separate living and eating spaces, and distinctly different uniforms. And while all officers enjoyed better living conditions than enlisted sailors, senior officers enjoyed a superior level of comfort and privacy to junior officers.

This section of the site will explore the differences between the two worlds of men on board Navy warships. Photographs are presented as visual evidence of the differences in the lives of officers and enlisted sailors. Clicking on photographs will open a high resolution version of the image. Clicking on captions below the photograph will open up an informational page with key facts about the image.

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