August is Snipe Month

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If you are a Navy snipe, then August is your month.

That’s because on Aug. 31, 1842, the first enlisted engineering ratings — fireman and coal heaver — were created.

Steam technology was in its early days at sea when the Navy built it’s second steam ship, the Fulton II, in 1837. And sailors would be needed to operate and maintain the boilers.

With the commissioning of the second Fulton, steam had entered the fleet to stay -- note the paddle-wheel -- a design that would dominate early sea going steam ships.

With the commissioning of the second Fulton, steam had entered the fleet to stay -- note the paddle-wheel -- a design that would dominate early sea going steam ships.

To man these new ships, Congress passed a law on on Aug. 31, 1842, establishing the two ratings. Those already skilled in steam and machinery skills would be enlisted as firemen. Those with no skills could join as a coal heaver.

Navy regulations dated Aug. 1, 1847, stated that no one would be enlisted as a fireman or coal heaver until he has passed a medical exam that attests to his “health and vigor” for the job.

Prospective firemen would also have to pass a practical exam given by “one or more engineer officers of the Navy upon their ability to manage fires properly with different kinds of fuel, and to use skillfully smiths tools in the repair and preservation of steam machinery and boilers.”

This establishment marked the beginning of enlisted engineering careers as sailors could enlist with no experience as coal heaver and progress to become firemen and eventually qualify as a third assistant engineer — the equivalent of a warrant officer position today.

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