Early US Navy Enlisted Rating Badges, 1885-1894

Development of US Navy Enlisted Rates and Rating Badges, 1885-1894


1886

Before 1885, the US Navy's senior enlisted men had an assortment of rates with differing pay and satus, grouped together under the title "petty officer." US Navy Regulation Circular 41 of January 8, 18851 set up three classes of petty officer, and classified the various enlisted ratings in relation to each other and to enlisted marines.

USN Circular 441, 1885
US Navy Regulation Circular 41 of 1885.

In the Uniform Regulations of 1886,2 a new system of insignia was introduced for the new ratings. The eagle that had been used in rating badges since the 1830s was retained, but was combined with chevrons to indicate grade and a mark to indicate specialty. The chevrons were inspired by those of the US Army and Marine Corps. First class petty officers wore three chevrons with a lozenge above, like a first sergeant, second class petty officers three chevrons like a sergeant, and third class petty officers two, like a corporal. There was no one-chevron rank in the marines at that time. One petty officer, master-at-arms, wore an arch of three stripes above the chevrons. This was comparable to the insignia of a marine sergeant major, to which master-at-arms had been classified as equivalent. The rating badges were redesigned in 1894, but an eagle, specialty mark and chevrons still make up the navy's rating insignia today.

It appears that the new rating badges with chevrons were intended to be comparable in size to the previous eagle and anchor petty officer badge, which was roughly three inches high. The dimensions of the 1886-pattern chevrons were not mentioned in the regulations except for the specialty mark, which was to fit in a one-inch diameter circle. The chevrons of period examples usually measure between 2¼ and 2½ inches wide.

It will be noted that the different classes of petty officer were more like the pay grades of today, and each rate had a unique title. Although seaman branch first class petty officers had the word "chief" in their titles, as did the chief musician (second class grade), these were not chief petty officers in the present day sense.

1886 uniform illustration 1886 uniform illustration
Illustrations from the 1886 uniform regulations of a first class petty officer (master-at-arms, left) and a second class boatswain's mate (right). Author's collection.

First class petty officers wore double-breasted blue or white coats and visored caps, while lower rates wore standard seaman's jumpers and hats. A single rating badge was worn according to assignment: Sailors assigned to a vessel's port watch wore their badge on the left, and starboard watch on the right. The chevrons were red on all clothing, with white eagle and specialty marks on blue and vice versa. The red chevrons were made of a single piece of cloth and each chevron outlined by black stitching; the chevrons were also padded to stand out slightly. Gold chevrons were authorized for petty officers with three consecutive Good Conduct Medals. Although the regulations don't specify, it is likely that the gold stripes were worn only on the blue coat or jumper, rather than the frequently laundered whites. There are also examples of rating badges on blue cloth with the eagle and specialty mark embroidered in silver, though this was not authorized in the regulations. Petty officers who had qualified as seaman gunners wore a flaming shell mark superimposed on the chevrons.

1886 rating badge 1886 rating badge 1886 rating badge
Red chevrons with white eagle and specialty mark: Worn on blue clothing. Red chevrons with blue eagle and specialty mark: Worn on white clothing. Seaman gunner's mark shown on chevrons. Gold chevrons: Worn by holders of three consecutive Good Conduct Medals.

Seaman Branch Artificer Branch Special Branch
First Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Chief
Boatswain's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Gunner's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Quartermaster
rating badge
Machinist
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
rating badge
Equipment Yeoman,
Engineer's Yeoman,
Paymaster's Yeoman
rating badge
Apothecary
rating badge
Ship's Writer
rating badge
Schoolmaster
rating badge
Bandmaster
Second Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Boatswain's Mate,
Coxswain to a
Commander-in-Chief
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
rating badge
Quartermaster
rating badge
Boilermaker,
Water Tender
rating badge
Armorer
rating badge
Carpenter's
Mate
rating badge
Blacksmith
rating badge
Sailmaker's Mate
rating badge
Ship's Corporal
rating badge
Ship's Cook
rating badge
Chief Musician
Third Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Captain of the Forecastle,
Captains of the Tops,
Captain of the Afterguard,
Coxswain
rating badge
Quarter-gunner
rating badge
Oiler
rating badge
Printer
rating badge
Painter
rating badge
Captain of the Hold


1893-1894

In March 1893, the navy's enlisted structure underwent a major revision with the creation of the new senior grade of chief petty officer.3 The 1885 ratings were adjusted to fill the top grades, and petty officers with "class" as part of their titles were introduced. The order that outlined the new rating structure also specified the uniform and insignia for the new chief petty officers: They would wear the jackets and caps formerly used by first class petty officers, and rating badges with three arcs on top, the same as masters-at-arms had used since 1886. First class petty officers kept their former rating badges but would now wear seamen's jumper uniforms.

Seaman Branch Artificer Branch Special Branch
Chief
Petty Officers
rating badge
Chief
Master-at-Arms
rating badge
Chief
Boatswain's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Gunner's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Quartermaster
rating badge
Machinist
rating badge
Chief
Carpenter's Mate
rating badge
Yeoman
rating badge
Apothecary
rating badge
Bandmaster
First Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
1st Class
rating badge
Boatswain's Mate
1st Class
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
1st Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
1st Class
rating badge
Schoolmaster
rating badge
Boilermaker,
Water Tender,
Coppersmith
rating badge
Blacksmith
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
1st Class,
Plumber and Fitter
rating badge
Sailmaker's Mate
rating badge
Writer
1st Class
rating badge
First Musician
Second Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
2nd Class
rating badge
Boatswain's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
2nd Class
rating badge
Oiler
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Printer
rating badge
Writer
2nd Class
Third Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
3rd Class
rating badge
Coxswain
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
3rd Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
3rd Class
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
3rd Class,
Painter
rating badge
Writer
3rd Class


1894

The rating badges of 1893 were short-lived. In September 1894 a new order introduced a new style of insignia which established the basic pattern that is still used today.4 The lowest grade of petty officer, third class, would wear a single chevron, with additional chevrons for second and first class, and a single arc on top for chiefs. The design of the specialty marks were maintained, as were the color schemes, but overall the rating badge was approximately half-again wider than the previous design. As before, port watch wore the badge on the left and vice-versa for starboard watch. In 1897, the rating badges were illustrated in the new edition of uniform regulations. 5

rating badge sizes
Dimensions of rating badge as specified in General Order 431, 1894 (click for larger image).

rating badge sizes
Size comparison, 1894 and 1886 rating badges (click for larger image).

 

1894 rating badge 1894 rating badge 1894 rating badge 1894 rating badge
Red chevrons with white eagle and specialty mark: Worn on blue clothing. Red chevrons with blue eagle and specialty mark: Worn on white clothing. Gold chevrons: Worn by holders of three consecutive Good Conduct Medals. Gold chevrons with silver eagle and specialty mark: Officially unauthorized version for holders of three consecutive Good Conduct Medals.

Seaman Branch Artificer Branch Special Branch
Chief
Petty Officers
rating badge
Chief
Master-at-Arms
rating badge
Chief
Boatswain's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Gunner's Mate
rating badge
Chief
Quartermaster
rating badge
Machinist
rating badge
Chief
Carpenter's Mate
rating badge
Yeoman
rating badge
Apothecary
rating badge
Bandmaster
First Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
1st Class
rating badge
Boatswain's Mate
1st Class
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
1st Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
1st Class
rating badge
Boilermaker,
Water Tender,
Coppersmith
rating badge
Blacksmith
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
1st Class,
Plumber and Fitter
rating badge
Sailmaker's Mate
rating badge
Writer
1st Class
rating badge
First Musician
Second Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
2nd Class
rating badge
Boatswain's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
2nd Class
rating badge
Oiler
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
2nd Class
rating badge
Printer
rating badge
Writer
2nd Class
Third Class
Petty Officers
rating badge
Master-at-Arms
3rd Class
rating badge
Coxswain
rating badge
Gunner's Mate
3rd Class
rating badge
Quartermaster
3rd Class
rating badge
Carpenter's Mate
3rd Class,
Painter
rating badge
Writer
3rd Class


Notes:


Page last modified July 12, 2013

All text and images © Justin T. Broderick, 2013 unless otherwise indicated.