That time the Navy needed binos so bad it asked for loaners

To say that the U.S. entered the Great War in 1917 unprepared was an understatement. With a standing Army that was smaller than almost any European combatant with the possible exception of Portugal (who could still field 8 deployable divisions in addition to colonial troops in Africa and the Far East), the U.S. Navy was by far more ready for war than Uncle’s lean green machine. Nonetheless, with the need to add hundreds of destroyers, subchasers and other escorts to protect vital sea lanes to get the boys “Over There,” the American maritime lift was going to be a big one.

With that in mind, the most vital tools used for surface navigation in the days before surface search radar were soon in short supply– good binoculars.

Lieutenant Frank E. Beatty, Jr. Caption: Standing aboard USS NEW YORK, performing submarine lookout. Photographed in the North Sea in 1918. NH 56125

To meet this pressing and urgent need, Asst. SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off the public appeal known as the “Eyes for the Navy” program run by the Naval Observatory.

Will you supply eyes for the Navy Poster; by Gordon Grant; 1917; Unframed Dimensions 29H x 20W 99-064-l

The concept was simple: Americans could loan Uncle the use of their privately held binoculars (Zeiss or Bausch & Lomb, preferred), spyglasses, etc. for the duration to help do their part for the push against the Kaiser.

In return, they would get a $1 rental fee, a certificate for their effort, and, if still available once the war ended, their often well-traveled glass back.

Letter for the return of Binoculars, WWI NHHC 2016.062

The letter reads:

Navy Department
U.S. Naval Observatory
Washington, D.C.

Subject: return of articles, in connection with the NAVY’S call for binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and other navigation instruments.

1. There is being returned to you by registered mail the article received from you in response to the NAVY’S call.

2. An engraved certificate evidencing the participation of this article in the war, is now being prepared and will be forwarded to you at a subsequent date.

3. It is hoped that any evidence of wear or damage will be compensated for by the fact that a great service has been performed and that historic interest has been added to the article returned.

Franklin D. Roosevelt,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

Pay order issued by the Treasurer of the United States to C.A. Bonnell, dated Oct. 19, 1918, for the amount of one dollar as part of the “Eyes for the Navy” program. NHHC 1966-332-A

“Eyes for the Navy”, WWI certificate issued to one Edward Mann, whose glasses “did their part.” NHHC 1991-125-B

The text of the certificate reads:

The United States of America
Department of the Navy

The thousands of binoculars, telescopes, spyglasses, and navigation instruments furnished the Navy by individuals in response to its appeal for “Eyes for the Navy” have been a vital contribution in the protection of our warships, transports and supply vessels against the submarine activities of the enemy during the Great War.

The Navy acknowledges with thanks and appreciation your cooperation and this certificate is issued to Edwin Mann in recognition of the sacrifice made for the safety of our ships and the assurance of final victory.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Assistant Secretary of the Navy

The program was apparently very successful, as this image, with some 20,000 devices donated, would lead one to presume.

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