America's technological sailor: A retrospective on a century of "progress" in the United States Navy

Michael Scott Casey, Salve Regina University


This study examines the effects of naval technology on the individual American sailor of the U.S. Navy between 1812 and 1912. It is the thesis of this study that naval technology in the broadest concept radically changed the sailor's profession over that hundred years. While specialization was always integral to sail technology, steam power added a mechanical dimension to the sailor's life. At the same time, some of the traditional elements of the sailor's relationships with the warship and the ocean were lost. The result was a "new" American sailor whose career was shaped by technology. Through qualitative analysis, the study traces the causes of the concurrent "humanizing" and "dehumanizing" effects on the enlisted man caused by a naval transformation during this period of marked technological progress. A broad range of source material documents how technology changed the enlisted man. Naval technology took the multi-talented seaman of history and, over several decades, turned him into a mechanical specialist, a very small cog in a very large naval machine. The study also demonstrates, however, that technology also significantly improved the enlisted man's quality of life while it mechanized and, to an extent, depersonalized him. Technology gave the sailor education, advancement, and other personal advantages. It also eliminated controversial naval practices that diminished the self-worth of the common sailor. The study concludes that these formative effects were an almost unavoidable by-product of the indoctrination, training, and education that led the sailor to war-time victory at sea. The pervasive nature of technology in the sea-going environment set the Navy at the forefront of American national ambition, a role that continues to this day. Understanding this century-long evolution of the typical sailor should enable the Navy's commanders and political leaders to make humane as well as strategic decisions on the welfare and morale of the increasingly technological crews of the American Navy.

Subject Area

American history|American studies

Recommended Citation

Casey, Michael Scott, "America's technological sailor: A retrospective on a century of "progress" in the United States Navy" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations. AAI9834297.

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