A Century of Service with the U.S. Navy Photo Archive
via the Naval History and Heritage Command's The Sextant web site
From Naval History and Heritage Command, Histories and Archives Division
January 2019 marked the 100-year anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Navy’s Photo Archive, currently held at the Naval History and Heritage Command at the Washington Navy Yard. The Navy’s collection of historical records predates the National Archives (established in 1934) and originally began in the Office of Naval Records and Library (NR&L). The first expansion of the activities of the Historical Section had been the establishment on Jan. 1, 1919 of a Pictorial Branch whose purpose was to collect and file under proper references photographs illustrating activities of U.S. and foreign navies. A follow-up in the form of an ALNAV 86 dated March 14, 1919 requested that copies of photographs and motion pictures of naval activities, ships, bases, personnel, and incidents taken during the war be forwarded to the Historical Section. Subsequently a letter over the signature of the Secretary of the Navy addressed to all Bureaus stated:
“A photographic Division of the Historical Section has been established, in which will be gathered and filed all the photographs of historic interest taken of Naval activities during the war. As the issuance of a Pictorial History of the War is contemplated, it is desirable for the Historical Section to have copies of all Navy photographs of interest; and it is requested that each Bureau furnish to the Historical Section, Room 1732, Navy Department, two copies of all such photographs it has, and that each contractor who was engaged in Navy work be requested to furnish such photographs.”
The Photo Archive, in its current state, is part of the Histories and Archives Division of the Naval History and Heritage Command. The Photo Archive’s collections are related to the U.S. Navy (or other navies when specifically associated with U.S. involvement or historical events) with specific emphasis on ships, aviation, places, wars/events, activities, and significant individuals associated with naval history. Photographs in the collection reflect both official and unofficial naval viewpoints and consist of mostly private donations by the general public. The general date range of the collection is from the mid-19th century to the 1990s, with particular focus on the World War II era. Our entire holdings consist of approximately one million photographs dating as early as pre Civil War. Formats include daguerreotype, ambrotype, carte de visite, cyanotype, glass plate negatives, prints, transparencies, slides, and negatives.
Given that the photographs donated to the Naval History and Heritage Command are generally personal photography, taken by the Sailors themselves, the collection offers a more personal viewpoint of life in the Navy. The images show the sometimes monotonous, day-to-day aspects of Sailors’ lives as well as the horrors of war and their aftermath. So, given we now have a century-old collection with almost 1 million pieces, we asked the three photo archivists, “what are your favorites??,” and received three very differnt answers!
Read the entire article on NHHC's The Sextant web site.
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