It must be true, I saw it on the Internet
The great thing about living in the age we do is the incredible access to resources on the internet. I have a number of historical reference sites that I use to build my stories and enjoy finding nuggets form time to time. I take it as a matter of pride to never accept anything I see on the internet without first understanding the source and cross checking with a number of sources for the more controversial stuff. In the past week, one of the subjects that has generated a lot of conversation has been the origins of and meaning of the Submarine Dolphins worn by American Submariners.
For a qualified submariner, they are the most significant and cherished emblem of all.
There are so few that have earned them when you look at the history of American submarining so the ownership is very personal and special. to gain them, you are subjected to many hours, days, weeks and months of some of the hardest lessons you will ever learn. It is a unique combination of physical and mental testing. But once attained, they become a part of who you are. Years after you leave the Navy, they still remain a single standing qualifier that many hold on to with passion.
I am no different, I suppose. Achieving the rank of Chief Petty Officer and later Chief Warrant Officer were very proud moments. But those five boats that I can claim as “my boats” stand apart. Each was different. Each had a unique challenge. All combine to make a very memorable chapter of my life.
In 1974, I earned my Dolphins on board my first boat, the USS George Washington. I was happy at the time since it meant the end of a very trying period. But I do not think a twenty year old boy from McKeesport Pennsylvania really understood the significance. That would come later as I learned that it was my turn to help others earn theirs. I truly never thought about the Dolphins as anything other than a unique brand that I shared with many others. Not until my retired years.
So Part three of this saga spends a little time on the Chapter about where the pins came from.
While I have still not determined the name of the artist who won the final design, I now know what company they worked for. First, a reminder of how they came to be:
Evening star. [volume], September 28, 1924, Page 11, Image 57
Army and Navy News by M. H. McIntyre
Announcement was made this week by the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, prescribing the qualifications for officers and enlisted men for wearing the submarine insignia, which was approved by the Secretary of the Navy last March.”(a) Officers qualified for submarine command in accordance with chapter 3. Paragraphs 203-209, Submarine Instructions, November. 1919,”are authorized to wear this insignia. The insignia will be worn at all times by the commissioned personnel as specified in (a) while they are attached to submarine units or organizations ashore or afloat, but it may not be worn at any time by officers when not attached to submarine organizations.
The following enlisted men are authorized to wear this insignia: (a) Men found qualified for submarine duty in accordance with chapter 3. Paragraphs 214-215. Submarine Instructions, November, 1919, whose certification of qualification appears on their service records.
(h) Men who prior to the issue of Submarine Instructions, November 1919 were found qualified for submarine duty and whose certification of qualification appears on their service records.
As specified in (a) and (b) the insignia will be worn at all times by enlisted men while attached to submarine units or organizations, ashore or afloat. Enlisted men will not be authorized to wear this insignia if they are not attached to submarine units. A change in the Uniform Regulations covering the details of the insignia and the manner of wearing it is in course of preparation and will be issued to the service shortly.
These qualifications will be incorporated in the Bureau of Navigation Manual when reprinted.
So who actually designed the final set of Dolphins?
The answer is Baily Banks and Biddle of Philadelphia.
By the late nineteenth century, BB&B had a successful insignia department which designed and manufactured medals, ribbons and honor awards for the U.S. government and military and naval academies. For nearly a century, BB&B produced the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first 40,000 Purple Hearts awarded, and class rings for West Point and Annapolis. Among the medals designed or produced by the firm’s corps of artists, die cutters, engravers and illuminators were the Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross. Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Richard E. Byrd received the first two Distinguished Flying Crosses in 1927. The current version of the Great Seal of the United States was designed by a BB&B artist in 1904. The Stationery Department, according to company legend, produced the invitations for the presidential inauguration of James Buchanan in 1857. President Abraham Lincoln was familiar with the company’s work after receiving a silver cup and plate personally crafted for him as a Christmas gift.
1917 – America’s need for new military insignia and medals continues. It is this year that Bailey Banks & Biddle is contracted to produce the first Pilot Wings. These Wings are for Naval Aviators, America’s first military pilots.
“Submarine dolphins have represented submariner identity for so long, it might be surprising to learn the Submarine Force lacked any warfare insignia for the first 24 years it existed. The idea to create one arose in the summer of 1923, when future fleet admiral and Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King (then a captain) suggested developing a symbol to identify qualified submariners. At the Bureau of Navigation’s solicitation, possible designs were proposed by several sources, including one from King himself. Concepts featured elements such as dolphins, submarines depicted from different angles, shields, and sharks.
One of the earliest versions of the submarine warfare insignia, circa the 1920s.
The Bureau hired a firm named Bailey, Banks, and Biddle, out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to create a final design out of the submissions. The firm narrowed the ideas to two designs which were integrated to produce the final emblem: a surfaced O-class submarine flanked by two dolphins resting their heads on the sub’s bow planes. (Dolphins were deemed a fitting symbol twice over: as the supposed patron of Sailors, and because they dive and surface similarly to submarines.) The design became official in March 1924 when it was approved by Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt Jr. It has undergone only minor changes since its introduction 93 years ago.”
There is a very good chance that not a single one of the artists or craftsmen employed by Bailey, Banks and Biddle had ever actually stepped foot on a submarine and certainly had no first hand knowledge of dolphins, porpoises, dolphin-fish or any other sea creature. The jewelers of that generation would be classically trained and as evidenced by their other period pieces familiar with heraldry. That would explain why something that should not have scales or an odd configuration of fins would end up having them.
But one thing I have learned is that will be those who shout from the roof tops that the Dolphin portrayed is something else altogether.
I still remain open to seeing actual evidence in the form of artists notes or drawings. I am currently searching the archives of the patent office to see if there is a more complete description.
So far, none has surfaced (see what I did there?)
Previous related posts: