Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

The custom whereby a state presented a silver service to the U.S. Navy battleship bearing its name is commemorated by a major exhibit, “The U.S.S. Pennsylvania and Her Silver,” which opened at the William Penn Memorial Museum in Harrisburg on September 26, 1981 and will remain in place through July 11, 1982 (see “Silver Service Set for William Penn Memorial Museum Exhibition,” Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1981).

Although a wooden ship of the line launched in 1837 was the first American naval vessel to be named Pennsyl­vania, it was her successor, an armored cruiser commis­sioned in 1905, that was the ship to which the silver was presented. A special commission, consisting of Gov. Samuel W. Pennypacker and the Commonwealth’s two United States senators, Matthew S. Quay and Boies Penrose, served at its own expense to order the sterling silver service for which the General Assembly had authorized the expen­diture of the princely sum, especially for the times, of $25,000. In competition with the designs submitted by such famous houses as Strawbridge and Clothier, the Inter­national Silver Company, Reed and Barton, and Bailey, Banks and Biddle, the contract was won by J. E. Caldwell and Company of Philadelphia.

After the contract was awarded, Governor Pennypacker personally advised the designer, Gilbert Crowell, in the ornamental details which were to be incorporated. No less than 162 pieces make up the full service, for which 12,000 ounces of silver were used. The set contrasts sharply with its counterparts on other American battleships (examples of which ate also displayed) both in the size and the elabo­rateness of decoration, making it one of the finest in the entire fleet.

Particularly striking is the massive centerpiece bearing ten lights and ornamented with engravings depicting famous episodes in the state’s history, ships, nautical designs and medallion portraits of prominent Pennsylvanians. Equally eye-catching is a huge punchbowl, featuring images of trees and animals native to the Commonwealth, and scenes of Pennsylvania’s major industries, as well as the dolphins, mermen and seahorses more usually associated with nauti­cal symbolism. An especially arresting piece is a large vase, described as a loving cup, whose base consists of a railway tunnel with a meticulously precise locomotive emerging at the front and an observation car disappearing into the rear. Every item of the set, for that matter, demonstrates the devoted attention given to each lavish detail.

The silver service of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania was not merely a symbol of state pride. It performed an important function as an appointment for the protocol of receptions and official social engagements that were features of show­-the-flag cruises through which the Navy supported the diplomatic programs of the nation in peacetime. No doubt the service was a valuable adjunct in this regard during the year the armored cruiser moved from port to port around the western Pacific (1906-1907), and again when, in 1910, she visited Chile and Peru.

After the armored cruiser was renamed the U.S.S. Pitts­burgh in 1912, the silver was transferred to the new U.S.S. Pennsylvania, a powerful superdreadnought commissioned in 1916. Through the years of peace following the 1918 Armistice, the silver service once more fulfilled its function. The outbreak of World War II in 1941, however, saw it moved to the safety of a storage vault ashore. As for the battleship herself, having survived with minor damage the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she went on to fight through the Central Pacific Theater, providing naval gunfire support to amphibious landings and being credited with participation in no less than eight major campaigns.

The silver service was never restored to the U.S.S. Pennsylvania‘s wardroom, however, because al the end of the war the battle-worn and in some ways obsolete ship was chosen to serve as one of the targets in the 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. After thorough evaluation of the effects of the bombing, the ship was towed out to sea and scuttled off Kwajalein.

Again, however, the silver set was to go to sea. As there was no longer a Pennsylvania on the Navy List, it was assigned, appropriately, to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Valley Forge until 1970, when that ship was decommissioned. The following year, at a request initiated by one of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania‘s World War II veterans, Mr. Henry J. Booske, of Lancaster, and endorsed by Rep. Edwin Eshelman and Gov. Raymond P. Shafer, the service was returned to the Commonwealth with custodial responsibility being assigned to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

While individual pieces of the set have been on exhibi­tion at the Governor’s Home, the present exhibit marks the first occasion since it was returned to Pennsylvania that the entire service has been displayed to the public. Enriching the exhibition are displays including uniforms, flags, ship models and photographs to portray the naval and social era in which the silver service was employed. An extensively illustrated exhibit catalogue, detailing the history of the silver and of the ships which have borne the name of the Commonwealth, has been prepared and is available from the William Penn Memorial Museum for $1.50, plus 6 percent Pennsylvania State Sales Tax. Museum hours for the winter [1982] season are Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., and Sundays, 12:00 to 4:30 P.M.

 

John B. B. Trussell, Jr. joined the staff of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as a historian in 1972 following his retirement from the U.S. Army after thirty years of active commissioned service. In addition to numer­ous other publications written for the Commission, he pre­pared the text for the catalogue to the silver exhibit.