Apprentice boys were introduced during
the period 1875-1880 and lasted only a short time until 1904.
For a number of years, however, the apprentice system formed
a major part of the Navy's training program for enlisted men.
Its purpose was to attract high caliber youngsters into the
Navy and give them instructions in seamanship, gunnery and the
rudiments of a general education.
Apprentices entered the Navy between
the ages of 14 and 18 and served until their 21st birthday.
Unlike other applicants of that time they could not be enlisted
at recruiting stations. Instead, they reported to one of the
Navy's receiving ships at Boston, New York, Philadelphia or
Mare Island. After 1883 they could also enlist at the training
station at Newport. It was preferred that their parents or guardian
accompany them when they applied.
Apprentices were examined by a board
consisting of the commanding officer, one other line officer
and a medical officer. By regulations of the time, the board
could qualify some very small lads at the age of 14 years. However,
for the 14 year olds, 4 foot nine and 70 pounds were the minimum
height and weight, while for the 16 year olds the figures were
5 foot one and 90 pounds. Applicants had to be able to read
and write, or in special cases where the boy showed general
intelligence and was otherwise qualified he could be enlisted
notwithstanding that his reading and writing were imperfect.
Their character had to be well above average and upon being
accepted they became Apprentice Third Class. Pay was $9.00 per
month. Within one month after enlisting, the apprentice was
transferred to the naval station at Newport. There he received
instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and the basic subjects
of the seaman's profession. This period of shoreside training
lasted six months. Next came a period aboard a cruiser training
ship. Cruiser training ships formed a Regular squadron. In 1897,
for example, the apprentice training squadron was formed on
Essex, Adams and Alliance. Bark-rigged and wooden hulled, they
were 185 feet long and displaced 1,375 tons. The permanent ship's
company of these vessels were mature Navymen especially adapted
for that particular service, as regards to character, intelligence
and professional qualifications.
Apprentices were stationed in one
part of the ship for three months, as royal yardmen at the maintop,
for example. Only in case of necessity were they detailed for
duty as messmen. Cruiser training ships made a summer cruise
and a winter cruise. After making both cruises the apprentices
were transferred to a cruising ship of war. At this time they
were advanced to Apprentice Second Class. Pay was then $10.00
per month. Aboard the cruising ship their duties continued to
include considerable training. After one year's service, they
were advanced to Apprentice First Class, monthly pay of $11.00.
Apprentices First Class had a grade
equal to that of Seaman Second Class, or Ordinary Seaman; and
an Apprentice Third Class was equal to that of Seaman Third
Class, or Landsman. As a group these were the "Apprentice Boys" (there was also a rating of Boy in the Navy in 1797).
In view of the difficult entrance
requirements, the low pay, and the varied duty they were subjected
to, the question often was asked why would a youngster want
to become an apprentice. One of the reasons was that they received
a good education for the time, and at the same time received
systematic instruction in seamanship.
The apprentice training system in
the Navy ended in December 1904 when it became merged with the
landsman training system of that time. The main emphasis shifted
to basic training ashore, with a three months' course of instruction
at one of the Navy's three training stations. These were Newport,
Norfolk, and San Francisco. The last Apprentice Boy payed off
was Harry Morris, TMC who served from 1903 to 1958. Chief Morris,
like the other ex-apprentices, wore a figure eight knot insignia
on his uniform.