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Lend Us Your Eyes

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We thank Kristi Finefield and the staff of the Library’s Picture This blog for allowing us to repost this article. To support teaching and learning with these and other maps, check out the Library’s Primary Source Analysis Tool and Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Photographs and Prints.

“Will you supply eyes for the Navy?” The arresting image of a blindfolded officer at sea, lost and confused, paired with that question, make this an effective poster – the image caught my attention and made me look and read further.

Will you supply eyes for the Navy? Navy ships need binoculars and spy-glasses. Poster by Gordon Grant, 1917.

This World War I poster is calling for help from the general population in the United States, asking for a loan (though no promises of a return) of binoculars and spyglasses to be used by the U.S. Navy in the war effort. I was curious about the program and searched further in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for either more posters or photos related to it and was not disappointed!

These photos from the Harris & Ewing Collection appear to show the results of this call for help as well as the general effort to collect binoculars for use by the Navy. In this first photo, the orderly rows of identical sets of binoculars and the crisscrossed stacks of spyglasses suggest they could be from a manufacturer, but the basket of assorted devices could be donations from the public.

NAVY DEPARTMENT, U.S. BINOCULARS. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1918.

In this photo, a Navy sailor is inspecting a pair of tagged binoculars with a variety of styles surrounding him, and it appears quite a stack of wrapped packages are behind him. Are these the donated or loaned binoculars and spyglasses?

NAVY DEPARTMENT, U.S. BINOCULARS. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1918.

This last photo leaves little doubt! What a scene, from the piles of paper-wrapped parcels, to the debris of unwrapping on the floor, to the unopened mailbags in the immediate foreground. Clearly, the call was heard and regular citizens sent in what they had for the military’s use. The gentlemen in the photo are in the throes of unpacking and inspecting an impressive array of items.

NAVY DEPARTMENT, U.S. BINOCULARS. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1918.

Making connections between collections to answer a question or paint a fuller picture is always satisfying. In this case, I was also able to connect two wars through posters. The need for binoculars recurred during World War II and the call went out again, as seen in several posters in our Work Projects Administration (WPA) Collection, such as the one below:

Your binoculars could prevent this Loan your 6 x 30 or 7 x 50 Zeiss or Bausch and Lomb binoculars to your navy : Pack carefully and send to Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C. Poster, between 1941 and 1943.

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