Postmaster General Flag

This month’s artifact is a government official’s distinguishing auto flag designed for the office of the Postmaster General. As head of the US Post Office Department (now known as the US Postal Service), the Postmaster General was actually a cabinet level position from 1829 all the way until 1971. The Quartermaster Corps produced flags for a variety of both military and civilian government agencies as part of its heraldry duties.

The example here is made of wool bunting and measures 15 ½” by 30 ½”. Centered on the flag’s blue background is the seal of the Post Office Department, which depicts a postal employee on horseback, evoking the image of the “pony express” days of mail delivery. A white star adorns each of the flag’s four corners in reference to the Postmaster General as head of the Department. This particular flag, which was produced at the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot in 1939, would have been flown on an official vehicle in which the Postmaster General travelled.

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British Emergency Ration Tin

This artifact is a British emergency ration manufactured for that army’s use in the Boer War. The tin container is a five and a half inch long cylinder with a two inch diameter, and features a pull ring that allows the user to access the contents without the need for a separate can opener. When opened, the tin separates into two cans, one containing four ounces of concentrated beef paste “dinner” (also known as Bovril paste because of the Bovril Company of London that produced it), and the other filled with five ounces of cocoa paste. While this particular example is dated December of 1899, as evidenced by the 12 99 stamped on the opening ring, the British Army began developing rations of its kind in the 1880s for use in its frequent colonial campaigns. This example was carried by a British soldier during the Boer War, which lasted from 1899 to 1902. Emergency rations such as this were supposed to be used only when Soldiers were unable to obtain standard rations. Remaining stocks of these rations originally produced during this period were still used by the British Army as late as World War I.

Although this is a British item, it played an important role in American military history. This style of ration served as an example for study as the American army was developing its own emergency rations of the early 20th Century—such as the “iron” ration used in World War I.

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Vietnam Experimental Combat Boot

During the Vietnam War, the guerrilla forces of the Viet-Cong were significantly outmatched by the conventional military capabilities of the American forces they faced in combat. In an effort to offset this disadvantage, they made use of many surprise tactics that included a variety of “booby traps,” such as mines and other explosives that could be hidden in the jungle floor and set off by a tripwire. One such device that proved effective against the US Army was known as the “punji stick.” The punji stick was typically a one to two foot stick of hardened bamboo that had been carved into a sharp, barbed point. These sticks were often smeared with poison or animal waste to increase the likelihood of infection in any resulting wound. They might be placed in large numbers in the jungle undergrowth or inside a camouflaged pit into which a Soldier might fall. These measures were not necessarily intended to kill, but often used to slow down approaching troops, or to necessitate the evacuation of the wounded by helicopter. The use of these weapons was actually outlawed by the Geneva Convention of 1980.

The artifact here is an experimental combat boot from the Vietnam era designed to protect against punji sticks and other forms of booby traps. The insole is lined with a steel plate to guard the wearer’s foot from any punji sticks onto which he might step. This plate could also provide limited defense against small explosions emanating from booby traps. This boot also incorporates a blast protection wedge under the arch and heel areas of the foot. This wedge, which is filled with an aluminum honeycomb, is intended to deflect outward the blast of mines and booby traps. The boot features a black leather upper with a partial covering of green suede, and a composite sole and heel of rubber. This is one example of many types of footwear the Army experimented with in order to combat the challenging dangers and environmental conditions Soldiers would encounter in Vietnam.

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Rampart Gun

A rampart gun (also known as a wall gun or amusette) is an especially large musket or rifle used primarily as a defense weapon against advancing enemy troops. Variations of these weapons have been around since as far back as the middle ages, and were used in the armies of most European nations by the 18th Century. Their large size somewhat bridged the gap between a firearm and artillery, but they could still be loaded, rammed, and fired like a traditional musket.

However, with the large size (up to fifty pounds) making it impractical for a single soldier to hold, these weapons were usually mounted on a structure such as a wall or rampart to steady them and support their weight, often making use of a swivel that could be attached to the underside of the gun. Rampart guns generally used much larger ammunition than a typical musket, firing balls up to 1.2 inches in diameter instead of the typical .69 to .75 caliber muskets from the same period. They were actually more accurate than their musket cousins as well, reportedly being able to hit a small target at 500 yards.

This particular rampart gun is a British model that dates to circa 1850. Manufactured by Wilkinson & Son, it features a one-inch bore with a two groove rifling style known as the “Brunswick Pattern.” It is 71 inches long with a 52 inch barrel, and weighs about 36 pounds. Although not corroborated, it is believed that this gun was used by the British in China during the Boxer Rebellion. It was then captured and used by the Chinese, only to have the US Army eventually take possession of it.

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Woodrow Wilson's Presidential Flag

Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order adopting an official presidential flag. Work on the design began after Wilson watched a parade by the Grand Army of the Republic on Sept. 29, 1915, during which both a presidential flag and the U.S. Army’s presidential colors were displayed on the reviewing stand. Franklin D. Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy, worked on the revised design.

Wilson’s eagle was nearly entirely white with black stitching, except for the beak, legs and feet, which were yellow. The arrows were also white while the olive branch featured green leaves and light green olives. There were 13 white cloud puffs spread in an arc with rays in gold. There were also four large stars, one in each corner.

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WWI Service Coat w/MP Brassard and QM Depot Badge

This artifact is an olive drab World War I enlisted service coat. It is a four patch pocket, five button style with a two inch high stand up collar. On the right sleeve is a three chevron sergeant’s rank insignia. The left shoulder bears a patch with three blue points and a white triangle in the middle representing the III Corp. The III Corps operated stateside in the area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Lower down the left sleeve, the coat features a blue MP (military police) brassard. Although this indicates the Soldier worked in a military police capacity, he still would have been a member of the Quartermaster Corps, as represented by the Quartermaster symbol between the letters “MP” as well as in pin form on the collar. A Quartermaster Depot badge in the form of a six-pointed silver star (with the number 58) reveals that the wearer worked as a security guard at a QM supply depot. While it is not known at which depot the uniform’s owner was employed, it would have been at one located within the III Corps’ operating area, such as the Philadelphia or Richmond depot. One more detail is the single chevron on the lower left sleeve, which represents six months of overseas service, meaning at some point the Soldier spent some time abroad.

Taken as a whole, this month’s artifact tells the story of an enlisted World War I Soldier who was a member of the Quartermaster Corps, and was employed as an MP to guard one of the supply depots within the III Corps’ operating area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, but also spent six months in overseas service.

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WWI Emergency Ration

This month’s artifact is a World War I-Era emergency ration. Along with reserve and trench rations, the emergency ration is one of three types of special purpose rations made for general use during World War I. The Army began experimenting with an emergency ration similar to this as early as the 1890s. It features a meat and bread portion that was modeled upon a portable Native American food known as pemmican, which consisted of pulverized meat and corn. Chocolate was added as both a quick burst of sugar-driven energy, and as a morale booster—filling a role once served by alcohol in Army rations.

This World War I version of the emergency ration consists of three 3-ounce cakes of powdered meat and cooked wheat, and three one-ounce chocolate bars. The meat and bread cakes can be eaten dry if necessary, or can be made into a porridge or soup by boiling it in one to three pints of water. The chocolate can also be eaten dry, or melted in hot water and then boiled to make a drink. This was commonly known as the “iron” or “Armour” ration (one of the companies contracted to produce these was Armour and Company—the other being the American Compressed Food Company that manufactured this example), and was packaged in a small oval can that could fit in a Soldier’s pocket. The can is labeled with instructions for serving, and states that it should “not be opened except by order of an officer or in extremity.” Each ration is intended to supply a Soldier with enough food energy for a day.

The main purpose of the emergency ration was to make sure a Soldier had food available when regular supplies could not be accessed. However, emergency rations were sometimes used simply to supplement other rations in a Soldier’s diet. Production of these rations was halted after the war, and they were officially removed from the list of Army rations in 1922.

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WWI Vickers Pack Saddle

This month’s artifact is a World War I-era pack saddle designed to carry a Vickers machine gun. Although the Vickers machine gun was a British made weapon, it was also used by American (and French) forces during the First World War. Weighing about forty pounds, it required a team of as many as six soldiers to operate, handling such functions as firing, feeding ammunition, and operating the water cooling system. The gun was of limited mobility during battle, and it needed to be mounted on a tripod for use. However, with its firing rate of up to 450 rounds per minute, it was a formidable defensive weapon against approaching forces.

The saddle bears the maker’s mark of “Vickers Sons/London/Maxim Ltd” showing that it was produced by the British gun manufacturer. Another mark on the straps stamped “Rock Island Arsenal 1907” attests that this particular saddle was indeed used by American forces. This pack saddle was designed to carry guns, such as the Vickers, of up to 75mm in caliber. The main body of the saddle consists of two padded leather pieces which are held five inches apart by a steel arch at each end. The steel arches have grooves to which the gun components can be tied. Various other leather straps and steel hooks are present and are used for attaching equipment and securing the saddle to a horse.

The piece illustrates the transitional nature of World War I combat technology by juxtaposing the ancient and soon to be of limited use horse and saddle combination with the relatively new technology of the machine gun.

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World War I Puttees (Standard Sample)

This month’s artifact is a pair of World War I-era spiral puttees. A puttee is essentially a long strip of cloth, made out of olive drab wool in this case, with a piece of cotton tie attached to one end. The puttee is worn wrapped around the soldier’s lower leg, starting at the upper end of the boot up to just below the knee, and then tied in place using the attached cotton string. This piece of equipment serves to protect the uniform from mud and dirt, and to keep such elements out of the Soldier’s footwear. In the winter they also provided extra warmth. Leggings of some type have been issued to American Soldiers as far back as the Revolutionary War. During World War I, the Army saw the change in popularity from the more traditional type of legging, which at the time consisted of a piece of canvas that laced up around the leg and had a strap that went under the arch of the foot, to the simplified form of the puttee. Puttees and other leggings were particularly important in the European battles of World War I, as many Soldiers spent so much time mired in trench warfare, during which keeping ones feet dry was critical. Even after being issued puttees, many Soldiers held onto their leggings as another source of protection.

This particular pair is a standard sample, meaning it was made as an example upon which all puttees produced of this model should be based. It is dated 27 September, 1918 conforming to specifications dated 18 June 1918.

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M-1944 Barber Kit

This artifact is an M-1944 style barber kit containing various hair cutting and shaving tools. The case itself is olive drab with a handle, two spring clips and a hasp for securing it closed. Inside it contains three manual clippers, shears, shaving cream, brushes, combs, a basin, and a cloth. Inside the lid, a list of all the included tools as well as instructions for use are printed. A kit such as this could be used in the field as the clippers do not require electricity.

It has long been required for US Soldiers to maintain a particular appearance with regard to head and facial hair, although the details of the look have varied depending on the historical era. By the 20th Century, military styles began to favor short, clean cut heads and little or no facial hair. In the European Theater during the early years of World War II, barber equipment was difficult to come by, as no allowances had been made for it in the basic supply system. To address demands, the Quartermasters had to buy equipment from the British. This led the Chief Quartermaster to develop a barber kit, and by January of 1943, the Army announced that it would be issued to all units. A more complete kit went into production by late 1944 (resembling the one here), but supplies still were unable to meet the needs of Soldiers. By the War’s end, the Office of the Quartermaster General had determined that the rate of issue for these kits should increase from 1 for every 150 Soldiers, to 1 for every 100, and that the replacement rate for this equipment should increase as well. This M-1944 kit would still be in use by the time of the Vietnam War, which is the time in which this particular example was in service.

Currently, the Army does not train Soldiers as barbers, but instead employs civilians taught to give military-approved cuts. However, Soldiers, especially in theaters of war, have often taken on the job of barber for their units. These Soldiers could sometimes earn extra money by providing these services.

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WWI Bicycle Repair Tool Chest

Various nations’ militaries began finding uses for bicycles in the late 1800s. The US Army first experimented with bicycles in the 1890s by outfitting Black regiments (including the well-known 10th Cavalry or “Buffalo Soldiers”) operating in the American west. By the time of World War I, all the combative powers were using them for a variety of services, including scouting, troop transport, and communications. Demand for bicycles during the war was so great that most of those produced by the Army’s favored manufacturers were acquired by the Government. Westfield Manufacturing Co. (also known as Columbia), Davis Sewing Machine Co., and Great Western Manufacturing Co. all produced bicycles for the Army, until late in the war when the Columbia Military Model was selected as the standard. Combined these companies had built over 26,000 bicycles for the Army by the War’s end. By World War II, motor vehicles had largely reduced the need for military bicycles, but limited use did continue.

The artifact here is a bicycle repair tool chest produced by the S.W. Company and made to be attached to an Army bicycle. Bicycles provided some of the benefits of horses such as increased mobility and the ability to transport larger amounts of equipment by a single soldier, without the need for food that the animals required. However, the bicycles were still subject to maintenance needs, and these chests provided a means to conveniently carry along the tools necessary for many repairs. The chest is made of dark brown leather and features a flip open top that can be fastened closed using two leather straps with metal buckles. The chest can be attached to a bicycle by way of two more vertical straps with buckles as well as a strap and buckle that loop around horizontally.

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