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A Brief List of Old, Obscure and Obsolete U.S. Navy Jobs

U.S. Navy enlisted personnel—unlike those in the other services—wear their jobs on their sleeves. A Marine machine-gunner wears similar collar rank as the rest of his fire team; unless you ask him, or see his military occupation in his file, one could never know his job specifics just by looking at his uniform.

Not so in the Navy.

rating badge, worn by a newly minted Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class in 2006. Enlisted sailors are classified by their unique rates with their jobs worn on their sleeves. US Navy photo

A rating badge, worn by a newly minted Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class in 2006. Enlisted sailors are classified by their unique jobs unlike the rank structure in other U.S. military services. US Navy photo

The Navy’s complicated enlisted system is based on a sailor’s occupation, or rating. Those range from the enduring—quartermaster, yeoman, boatswain’s mate or hospital corpsman—to the more obscure—religious programs specialist, interior communications electrician or legalman.

Each job has its own unique title—such as Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Jones—and an insignia denoting the rating included on his or her uniform.

What makes the system so confusing is the constant creation of new jobs, the merging of jobs or eliminating them entirely as the service requires.

For example, in the last several years the Navy has created ratings for unmanned vehicle operators and cyber-warfare technicians while losing or merging jobs such as patternmaker and boiler technician.

The following is a collection of former Navy ratings (and one defunct officer rank) made mostly obsolete by advances in technology and occasionally by more modern stances on race, gender, and—at least in one case—child-labor norms.

Powder Monkey

Powder Monkey on board USS New Hampshire off Charleston, S.C., circa 1864.

Powder Monkey on board USS New Hampshire off Charleston, S.C., circa 1864.

The primary duty of a ship’s powder monkeys was to carry gunpowder from the storage magazine to the crews manning cannons. Regulations in the 19th century did not allow boys younger than 13 to join the Navy (though that was rarely enforced) and children as young as 6 were documented as having served as powder monkeys during the Civil War.

The name most likely comes from the boys’ ability to quickly scamper over and under obstacles on the cramped decks of a ship—like monkeys swinging through trees. They were usually given the rating of Boy, which actually referred to a sailor’s lack of experience at sea rather than his age (many newly recruited adults of slight stature also served as powder monkeys).

The Boy rate was disestablished in 1893 and the Navy became more strict about keeping underage sailors from joining crews. By World War I, shipboard elevators were commonly used to deliver shells to guns.

Chemical Warfareman

Chemical Warfareman in protective gear, 1942

Chemical Warfareman in protective gear, 1942

Chemical warfaremen were responsible for damage control in the event of a chemical, biological or radiological attack—not charging into battle with toxic chemicals.

They were trained to repair equipment, initiate decontamination procedures, and administer first aid to gas casualties. The first version of this rating was established in 1942 because of fears that the Japanese and Germans held large stockpiles of weaponized chemical agents. The rating was further refined after the war and existed until 1954, when the duties were consolidated and assigned to the rating of damage controlman.

Loblolly Boy

A loblolly making the rounds to feed the sick and wounded. From the Seaport Museum of Philadelphia

A loblolly making the rounds to feed the sick and wounded. From the Seaport Museum of Philadelphia

In the late 18th century, U.S. Navy ship crews usually included loblolly boys, young men who had the grim task of assisting surgeons by collecting amputated limbs, hauling the buckets of tar used to cauterize stumps, and spreading sand to absorb blood.

In a practice adopted from Britain’s Royal Navy, they were also responsible for feeding sick and wounded sailors a thick meat and vegetable porridge known as “loblolly,” which is how they earned their name. (Loblolly was also called by the utterly unappetizing name of “spoon meat.”) Loblolly boys remained until 1861, when the rating went through several name changes before evolving into hospital corpsman.

Schoolmaster

USS Hartford Schoolmaster James Connell at middle right with violin in 1877

USS Hartford Schoolmaster James Connell at middle right with violin in 1877

Sailors in the 1800s rarely had a formal education, so many ships carried a schoolmaster who was responsible for instructing the crew in reading, writing and arithmetic. The schoolmaster also taught navigation and the other advanced skills needed to make the men better sailors. A schoolmaster might even try to culturally enrich the crew by exposing it to music and art. However, many captains came to view schoolmasters as ineffective and a waste of ship resources. It was frequently reported that many schoolmasters were lazy and ubiquitously drunk. The Navy decided chaplains had the educational background needed to help enlighten a ship’s crew and the schoolmaster rate was eliminated in 1900.

Admiral of the Navy

Admiral of the Navy George Dewey in 1899.

Admiral of the Navy George Dewey in 1899.

The only exception to enlisted rates in the list is the defunct supreme officer rank of admiral of the Navy. Only one person has been promoted to the six-star equivalent rank: Adm. George Dewey. Dewey returned from his 1898 victory at the Battle of Manila Bay to a hero’s welcome and was so popular that products ranging from dishware to clocks bearing his image could be found in homes throughout the country. In addition to being promoted to the unprecedented rank of Admiral of the Navy, he was also encouraged to make a run for the White House (but lost support when he began to warn that the United States would one day be at war with Germany). When the five-star rank of fleet admiral was established in 1944, it was determined that Dewey’s rank of admiral of the Navy was equivalent to six stars.

Incidentally, two men have been made general of the armies—General John “Black Jack” Pershing (following WWI) and General George Washington (though he had been dead for 177 years when he received the promotion).

Pigeon Trainer

Carrier pigeon trainer WAVES Specialist 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon, Naval Air Station, Santa Ana, California, United States, June 1945. National Archives Photo

Carrier pigeon trainer WAVES Specialist 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon, Naval Air Station, Santa Ana, California, United States, June 1945. National Archives Photo

The Navy began to use “pigeoneers” at the dawn of the 20th century, tasking them with the feeding and caring of the flocks of birds used to deliver messages. In addition to their natural homing abilities, pigeons were valued because they could quickly carry messages over long distances at high altitude. The development of radio soon brought more efficient forms of communication, but the Navy continued to include pigeon trainers in the ranks until 1961 to ensure there was an emergency line of communication in periods of radio silence or in the event of some type of technical failure.

Airship Rigger

Airship riggers aboard USS Macon in 1933.

Airship riggers aboard USS Macon in 1933.

In the 1920s the Navy began to view airships as platforms that could be used for long-range reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare. Initial enthusiasm was so high that some analysts believed that airships were the true future of the Navy and that the aircraft carriers being concurrently developed were nothing but an expensive fad.

The airship crews included riggers who were responsible for maintaining the infrastructure of the dirigible and repaired any tears in the gas cells or skin. Used to escort convoys in the Atlantic during World War II, the airships proved to be an effective deterrent to submarine attacks but were superseded by advances in heavier-than-air planes as well as radar and sonar.

The airship rigger rating was disestablished in 1948 and the entire airship program was abandoned in 1961. However, airships were resurrected in 2011 when the Navy again began to experiment with them as surveillance platforms.

International Business Machine (IBM) Operator

CALCULATING MACHINEWith a need to better calculate gun trajectories, ensure accurate accounting, and handle mass logistics, the Navy turned to IBM tabulating equipment during WWII. The move gave birth to the rating of International Business Machine operator. The rating only existed for about a year before it was it changed to the generic but even more unwieldy name of punched-card accounting machine operator, but IBM continued to develop new products for the Navy. In 1944, IBM introduced the nation’s first large-scale electromechanical calculator (the automated sequence controlled calculator or the “Harvard Mark I”) that was used by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships. The operator rating went through several transformations until becoming the current information systems technician.

Jack of the Dust

The “Jack-o’-the Dust” of USS Scranton in 1919

The “Jack-o’-the Dust” of USS Scranton in 1919

In another holdover from the Royal Navy, the sailor who assisted the cook by breaking out provisions was known as Dusty, or Jack of the Dust, because he was often covered in flour from working in a bread room. The rating was established in the U.S. Navy in 1876 and referred to the storeroom keeper. Jack of the dust ceased being an official rating in 1893, but the name lives on in the modern Navy as an informal title given to the culinary specialist in charge of canned goods or the sailors assigned to food-service duty.

Aviation Carpenter’s Mate

USS Langley launching a mostly wooden DT-2 in San Diego, Calif., circa 1925

USS Langley launching a mostly wooden DT-2 in San Diego, Calif., circa 1925

Early U.S. Navy planes were fairly delicate machines built of wood and canvas. With shipboard aviation operations still in their infancy, the planes were often placed in less than optimum flying and storage conditionsl, which resulted in damage to the wooden frames, struts and props. Recognizing that they needed sailors skilled with a lathe to repair the damaged planes, the Navy established the aviation carpenter’s mate rating in 1921. Advances in aviation and the development of all-metal planes in the mid-1930s began to diminish the call for aviation carpenters. The rating was disestablished in 1941 and the duties were absorbed by the aviation metalsmith—the forerunner of the current aviation structural mechanic.

Coal Heaver

Sailors on board USS Isla de Luzon shovel coal in the early 1900s. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

Sailors on board USS Isla de Luzon shovel coal in the early 1900s. Naval History and Heritage Command Photo

As the age of sail gave way to the age of steam, ships began to require coal.

Tons upon tons of coal.

Coal heavers came into service in 1842 and hauled coal from a ship’s bunker to the boiler furnaces. A coal heaver could make up to 50 trips a day with a full bucket weighing about 140 pounds. Since it was hot, dirty and dangerous work, the members of the “black gang” received substantially higher pay than other sailors. In 1893, the rating was changed to the less strenuous sounding (but probably equally backbreaking and dirty) coal passer. The duties were incorporated into the rating of fire 3c in 1917.

Steward (Filipino)

Filipino Stewards and their mascot on USS Seattle during WWII. Dogs were popular mascots in all the U.S. sea services.

Filipino Stewards and their mascot on USS Seattle during WWII. Dogs were popular mascots in all the U.S. sea services.

With the defeat of Spanish forces 1898, the U.S. took possession of the Philippines and soon began to recruit Filipinos to serve in the Navy. For the next 70 years, Filipinos were permitted to join the Navy without U.S. citizenship but were largely restricted to the steward rating and assigned to work in galleys and wardrooms.

At the peak of the program, there were more Philippine nationals in the U.S. Navy than the Philippine navy. It was not until 1971 that the policy was changed to allow Filipinos to enlist in the Navy and enter any rating for which they were considered qualified through education or experience. When the U.S.-Philippine Military Bases Agreement expired in 1992, the program allowing Philippine nationals to serve in the U.S. Navy was also terminated.

Ship Cooper

A sailor displays the old “Grog Tub” on USS Constitution in the 1930s

A sailor displays the old “Grog Tub” on USS Constitution in the 1930s

The ship cooper made and repaired barrels, casks, and buckets, which were essential at sea. Well-constructed wooden containers were used not only to transport and protect food, water, and gunpowder, they held the crew’s morale-boosting rum rations (at least until the Navy banned alcohol on ships). Coopers remained until 1884 when more durable material such as steel began to replace wood, but their legacy survives in the term “scuttlebutt.” Coopers would take a wooden butt (a type of cask) and scuttle it by punching a hole to provide the crew with drinking water. The crew would swap gossip while gathered at the cask on breaks (just like modern water-cooler conversations)—which is why many old salts still refer to news and rumors as “scuttlebutt.”

  • Robert Owen

    You can add my old rating of DS (Data Systems Technician) to that.

    • Otter

      Mine as well CT(T). Thank you for your service Robert.

      • Notta Domer

        RM teletype repairman

      • usnedub

        CTTs still exist. I was one (got out a few months ago). The role of the rating may have changed but the term remains.

    • ARTHUR H. NICANDER

      You can add Radioman (RM) my rating extinct 1999…..

    • Patrick J Walsh

      I kept using the “G” in FTG after big navy dropped it. And often enough the WEPS (with a smile on his face) would toss some paper work back telling me to sign it properly – without the “G”. formerly, FTG1/SS (now retired)

    • Gray Stoke

      What came first, DS or DP?

    • YoungHope

      My rate (PC) is a thing of the past as well…..

  • Karl

    The author is confusing “rate” with “rating” throughout the article which is a little annoying, but it’s an interesting history nonetheless.

    • Karl, you’re totally right. It was my mistake and not the author’s. We’ve corrected.

  • Robert859

    I was a Lithographer in the navy. That rating is among those that no longer exist. I think that it was merged with Journalist and something else.

    • Old Draftsman

      Draftsman was one of them Robert and I was one.

    • Realist

      LI, DM, JO and PH were merged into the MC rating (like the one in the first picture above). Mass Communication Specialists.

  • imdan

    Add Radioman

  • CSKAP

    TD, DT just two more recent ones.

    • Jim Quinn

      I havn’t heard TD in a long time

  • michael1757

    The world couldn’t go on without MM’s.

    • AZsnipe

      Here here. It seems that MMs are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Soon it will only be the A-gangers and the Nukes, if not already (we still have a couple of steamers afloat, don’t we?)

      • TwinTurboTurtle

        True, the BT rating was merged into the MM rating. But I don’t think the MM rating will disappear, yet.

  • Joseph A. Clark

    it’s based on rating, not rate. Rate is the paygrade at which you’re serving…..rating is the specialty……

    • Bert Roseberry

      I always heard while underway, “Choose your rate, choose your fate”

    • Sorry to correct you, but, rate is a specialty and “rank” is your pay grade. Thanks for your service. Carry on & fair winds and following seas.

      • Floridastorm

        Jeff………….Rank denotes an officer grade. Rate denotes an enlisted grade.

  • i was an AC3. Air Control Tower Operator. That rate is still going strong.

    • Ted Sutton

      I was a CYN3 (Communication Yeoman) in the late ’60s. Rating stopped at 3rd class…then you had to choose Yeoman or Radioman if you advanced in rate. Is it gone too?

    • NofDen

      Too bad the Lone Ranger isn’t. Although the fifties TV guy with that great Tonto is still on and great.

  • Bill Laux

    Let me add coxswain, or cox’n, who was really a BM3. I don’t know when the rate was dropped; early 1950’s, I think.

  • WEPNY

    You can imagine my surprise during the blood drawing phase of my annual medical exam at the Naval Hospital in Newport, RI, twenty years ago to see that the “corpsman” was wearing a Boiler Tech rating badge. Of course, he was a Reservist whose “day job” was a phlebotomist.

  • Jack Lawrence

    I do believe one Hiram Ulysses Grant was appointed by Lincoln, and confirmed by Congress, as commander of the U.S. Army(s). Also, significant portions of the U.S. Navy were at his disposal, due to the nature of the war and Grant’s personal relationships with Naval officers.

  • TransformerSWO

    Admiral of the Navy isn’t the only officer rank we no longer have – there’s also the rank of Commodore, replaced with rear admiral (lower half).

    • Watash

      Commodore was war time only rate.

      • TransformerSWO

        Not really, it was the one-star rank when I first came in,in the early 80s.

        • watashmaru

          “In 1982, the rank of commodore was finally and officially reintroduced in the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard as the O-7 rank.”

          After my time, got out in ’77.

  • Secundius

    Isn’t it better not to “stand out like a sour thumb” in this case, it makes you less of a target.

  • Stephen D. Regan, Ph.D.

    I had two college degrees when I served as a CT(I). I am not sure I could do much in today’s modern and highly technological Navy; but I would have made a decent coal heaver or water tender.

    • Feed Pumps

      Have you really thought it out?? lol being an engineer on a ship is very extreme compared to CT… HOT!!, LOUD!!, and dangerous on so many levels… Boilers and bilges, miles steam pipes, screaming turbines, and no AC; just huge fans blows in fresh air, keeps it a nice 110F, give or take 20 degrees….. Spent years down in the pit on an old aircraft carrier as an MM. We absorbed the Boiler Tech (BT) rating… Now there are few ships left with the old conventional fuel burning boilers.

      • Robert Piazza

        Today, the engine rooms are still hot, smell of diesel or JP, but the snipes stand their watches in a air conditioned room watching digital and analog instruments.
        Different world that the days of steam!

  • Joe

    You can also add SK to the list as well………

  • bee bop

    What does it matter. Interchangeability reduces confusion for the enlisted since there is no daily test as to right or wrong in deck level conversations. I have rarely used “rating” throughout my 24 years of USN service. I think the use of the “Right Arm Rate” rating system should be reinstated for clarity of “who’s in charge” under conditions of extreme duress, i.e., battle conditions with casualties.

    • watashmaru

      The Right Arm rates were the original ratings, Bos’nmate, Gunner’s Mate,
      Quartermaster, and Signalman.

      • [email protected]

        QM3 here

        • watash

          SM2 here, 71-77

  • Don

    Omar Bradley was also a General of the Army.

    • NofDen

      Not a six star though, Omar worked for Eisenhower a five start,interesting.

  • James Bowen

    Interesting.

  • Olrik

    Soon there will be no need for any of this or people at all, as everything will be done by AI systems, drones and robots that will use a 01010111110000 rating system…

  • Paul Larkin

    all marines are O300s , and it was always the navys turn in the barrel

    • Retiree

      All Marines’ primary MOS is 0311 (combat rifleman). All other MOSs held are secondary MOSs.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Dad was a pharmacist mate in WW-II, now known as a hospital corpsman.

  • Old SM2

    Signalman rating went away back in the late 1990s. It was actually folded back into the QM rating to which came from in WWII. I had a lot of fun as a skivvy waver.

    • Another old SM2

      When they got rid of skivvy waver they got rid of the best enlisted job in the Navy. I don’t see how a QM would have the time to practice to develop the skills we did.

      • watashmaru

        The Navy had done away with the SM rating after Korea
        and found that there’s really no such thing as a “part time” signalman.
        They brought it back so they could operate under electronic silence.
        Another Old SM2 II

  • Geraldo Soto

    My rate was eliminated along with the tenders, Molder (ML)

  • Rick

    I knew a Medical Corps LCDR when I was on active duty; the guy was a mustang. In a prior life, he was a Boiler Tech before he got out and went to college, then medical school.

    All I can say about him was he had the highest infection rate of all the surgeons at my Naval Hospital. Everybody who worked with him figured he just couldn’t get the grease and dirt out of his hands even after all those years….

  • Shaka_X

    As an EW it stings to be included with the old, obscure, and obsolete. But I guess that beats being numbered among the sick, lame, and lazy.

  • formwiz

    The Army had the same system for its chevrons (horseshoe for blacksmith, saddler’s knife for saddler, etc.) until Elihu Root reorganized it

  • JohnnyLa – BM2

    Long live the Boatswains Mate…….Backbone of the Navy

  • REserve

    It was not until 1971 that the policy was changed to allow Filipinos to enlist in the Navy and enter any rating for which they were considered qualified through education or experience.

    Interesting, since one of my best freinds while stationed at Moffett Field was a Philipino named Flores who was serving as a radioman in VP 48. This would have been in 1969. He certainly wasn’t serving as a steward!

    • Floridastorm

      I believe that Filipinos were allowed to enlist in the Navy as Stewards only because they were not American citizens. After that policy was done away with I think the Filipinos had to then be American citizens to enlist. Just like an other citizen they were able to pick their field.

      • adler56

        I retired in 1975 and a number of Filipinos were working as Disbursing Clerks or personnelmen- obviously citizens.

  • disqus_89uuCprLIv

    Add PT (photo Interpreter) combined with 2505 yeoman into IS Intelligence Specialist.

    PT rate and 2505 subspecialties then terminated. PTs couldn’t type and YNs couldn’t interpret photos but the marriage was made in heaven(Bupers.)

    Could also put in Naval Intelligence Officer (1630) now an Information Dominance Officer since the Navy doesn’t need Intelligence or intelligence to conduct its missions now that it can get all the Information it wants.

  • “Doc”

    I wished they could had the rating badges for those old obsolete jobs, it would have nice just to see what they look like. Navy Corpsman/Greenside

  • Doc RIO

    I was one of these: Loblolly boys remained until 1861, when the rating went through several name changes before evolving into hospital corpsman.
    Only for 22.2 yrs, I love my monthly retirement check. I am only 83 yrs. old.

  • Jim

    I was a CTR during Vietnam. Do they even use that anymore?

  • TME Bill

    I was a TME (electric torpedoman) during WW2. Speaking of which, there aren’t any more TMs (torpedomen).

  • Dave L

    Even though ratings have changed a lot since I retired 20 years ago, I enjoy with pride the ability to greet sailors in uniform with respect for their professions. It’s an excellent tradition, rating badges. May the badges never go away, regardless of how else the Navy enlisted uniform evolves.

  • bigchief

    AK is gone into history, maybe the rating is no longer needed.

  • Jim Quinn

    They also have no more DT, merged with HM I believe.

  • Semilogical

    I was an EW from my first day in the Navy to the last, 28 1/2 years in all. Now the job has been merged into the CTT’s. Sad day for all Real EW’s!

  • Ron Compton

    Photographer’s Mate is also gone.