Thursday, March 15, 2012

USS Minnesota Letterhead and the Navy's First Media Specialist

In our collection is official letterhead from the steam frigate USS Minnesota. This letterhead was produced by one of the first printing presses ever placed onboard a U.S. Naval warship. When Minnesota arrived at the seat of war in Hampton Roads in late 1861, the U.S. Navy designated her to be the flagship of the local blockading squadron. Flag officer Silas Stringham correctly assumed that as flagship, Minnesota would be flooded with correspondence from other ships in the blockading squadron, civilian ships' masters, politicians, and official mail from the Navy Department. To help produce the mail and reproduce general orders to the squadron, Stringham purchased the printing press and placed it onboard the frigate in his work area.
Minnesota's printer, Charles L. Newhall
Stringham then recruited veteran sailor Charles L. Newhall to manage the newly established printing office of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.

Newhall later wrote that he had all of three weeks' training as a printer in the 1840s, and found the work so dull that he left the job to sign on as a landsman aboard a New Bedford whaling ship. After ten years of travelling the world (read more about his many journeys here), he volunteered to serve on Minnesota right after the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861. Not only did he produce the letterhead shown above, but it is also believed that he designed the image used on the letterhead (and the eagle shown below).

Newhall commented that anytime a VIP came on board Minnesota, including President Abraham Lincoln, members of Lincoln's Cabinet, Congressmen, and U.S. Senators, Stringham and later Flag Officer Goldsborough would introduce Newhall and his printing press to them. Newhall served on the ship during the Battle of Hampton Roads and stay on until 1864. He then served on USS San Jacinto and Kearsarge until he left the Navy in 1868.

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