Saturday, December 26, 2020

hollywood trompe l'oeil / catastrophic film tomfoolery

MOVIE CAMOUFLAGE DRIVES CAT CRAZY in Pittsburgh Post Gazette (Pittsburgh PA), February 24, 1944—

Camouflage experts of the cinema industry had an alley cat going crazy recently.

They had constructed a backing for a set being used in Paramount’s Ministry of Fear… The garden depicted a garden scene with a wall painted at one end.

Into the scene strayed one of the cats which has made Paramount its home. Frightened by the sudden booming voice of C[ecil] B. DeMille over a public address systems, the cat took off, intending to clear the wall in a mighty jump. Instead, he banged into the painted background above the wall. Unhurt, he scrambled to his feet, gave one belligerent “meow,” and took off in another direction.

Friday, December 25, 2020

the mouse-skeeters / a phenakistoscopic rodent race

Phenakistoscope motion picture toy (1833)

CAMOUFLAGE FOR MICE in Garnavillo Tribune (Garnavillo IA), November 21, 1929, p. 2—

Camouflage, which helped to win the World War, is being employed in Europe to catch mice. On the theory that rodents of today know their traps, inventors have produced, for use in office desks, a mouse catcher shaped like a harmless paper clip. Another, for general use, resembles an old tin can whose top closes suddenly. Still another resets iself automatically to catch mice all night and dump them into a vat of water.


How Form Functions

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Designer John Vassos / WWII Camouflage Consultant

John Vassos, c1932

Art Deco-era turnstyle, designed by John Vassos, c1932. We blogged about Greek-American designer John Vassos a few years go in reference to his service as a camouflage consultant during World War II.


CUBISM DOMINATES NEW PARIS SALON ARTISTS, in Bluefield Daily Telegraph (Bluefield WV), September 19, 1926, Section 2, Page 4—

Paris, Sept 18—Cubism completely dominates the new Paris Salon of decorative artists. The curve must only be used in case of grave necessity. Straight lines, angles and zigzags dominate tables, chairs, lighting, jewelry, clocks, and, above all, architecture. Even carpets and curtains have to fit octogonal rooms, and are cut up themselves into tee-squares and triangles.

Chairs look as though they were cut out of solid cubes of wood and then camouflaged with a medley of colors. Curtains are often painted by hand in vivid thunder and lightning effects. The edges are made of strips of different color, each of which is a littler shorter than the last, like the ABC of a diary. Clocks are made entirely of glass, but have square faces, and are supported by glass stands cut like a Chinese puzzle. Heading lamps are equally geometrical problems. Colors are almost as angular, consisting of vivid greens, purples, magnates, raw siennas, sometimes all mixed together. The new Decorative Salon is nothing if it is not revolutionary.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

in Oswego / a tonsorial camoufleur of the first water

USS Wilbert Edwards (1917) in camouflage
Oswego Independent (Oswego KS), November 21, 1919, p. 2—

The question of whether a barber is a camouflage artist or whether he makes you look just like you is, was the subject of an animated discussion in an Oswego tonsorial parlor one day this week. When you see him slick some other uncouth up until he looks like he had just jumped out of a band box, you are persuaded that he is a human camoufleur of the first water, and then when you look in the glass when he has dolled you up some, you are equally sure that he has only exposed to better scrutiny the fine points of facial appearance that you possess and instead of being camouflaged, you have only been unmasked.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above (US government, public domain) has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

1919 newsreel film on the design of ship camouflage

USS Sierra (1918)
Above US government photograph of the USS Sierra, 1918, port side, painted in dazzle camouflage plan Type N40 Design B. Digital coloring.


The following is a paragraph from a film industry magazine, published near the end of World War I. It describes a "newsreel" segment that was filmed at a ship camouflage studio. We suspect that this film featured William Andrew Mackay, who oversaw the camouflage of merchant ships, and was probably filmed in his studio in New York. This seems probable in part because of the mention of the use of ship models made of plaster. Mackay is known to have used plaster models, while the US Navy Camouflage Design Subsection (which Everett Warner oversaw) seems to have used wooden models. It is unlikely that the film survived.


[The first issue of New Screen Magazine, a non-print Hollywood periodical in the form of brief news stories on screen, includes] “How We Foiled the Huns” [which] gives an interesting illustration of how work was carried on at the Camouflage Department. It shows the making of plaster models of ships, the artists at work on these miniature pattern ships, and the inspection of the finished product through a periscope to test the quality of its deceptiveness. The exact theory on which the camouflaging of ships was carried out is fully explained.


Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above (US government, public domain) has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Friday, December 18, 2020

commuters now wear goggles to counter dazzle paint

Above US government photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged British tank steamer, the Cadillac (c1918). AI colorized black and white photograph.


RAZZLE DAZZLE THE LATEST CAMOUFLAGE in the Dayton Daily News (Dayton OH), February 24, 1918—

NEW YORK, Feb 23—Camouflage is all right on the high seas but its a nuisance in port.

So say skippers on the harbor ferries here.

A great liner with razzle, dazzle decorations almost cut a Lackawanna ferry in two when the steamship emerged from her self-established concealment the other day.

With the port full of pied pigment, commuters are wearing goggles to avoid paint shock. Whereas the early idea of camouflage was to make the ship blend into the sea and air, the latest wrinkle is to so dazzle enemy gunners that they are unable to properly adjust their range finders.

The steamer that almost sank the ferry boat was a work of art. Light blue covered her bow for 20 feet then appeared three green and white semi-circles while a great black band ran across the poop deck at the sheer strake to a point on the waterline abaft the foremast. It was thirty feet broad. This black streak sprang from an arrangement of black and white concentric circles.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

guyed, razooed and hifalutin / as full as a boiled owl

WWI "dazzle-painted" ship (unidentified)
Since posting our previous entry—on the use of the term razzle dazzle in reference to dazzle camouflage—we have found that inventor Thomas Edison made a motion picture of the amusement park ride we documented called "Razzle-Dazzle." It was filmed by cameraman A.C. Abadie at Wilmington Springs DE on June 30, 1903 (FLA3490), and is described as follows—

 The entire film was photographed from a position that permitted the camera to encompass a peculiar amusement concession named "Razzle Dazzle." It consists of a large circle suspended from cables, giving it the effect of a maypole. Children sit on it and the circle is revolved and undulated in the air.


From this and other turn-of-the-century sources, it is evident that the term razzle dazzle was commonly-used English slang far in advance of World War I, when dazzle schemes were first employed for ship camouflage. For example, the following is a lengthy article (sorry, but it does have its moments) titled RAZZLE-DAZZLE: A Reporters’ Still Hunt After the Mysterious Phrase; Popular Ideas As to Its Full Scope and Meaning; Shall the Phrase Enrich the Columns of the Unabridged? from The Evening World (New York), March 1, 1889, p. 1—

The razzle-dazzle.

You hear of it everywhere. 

It is indoors and out of doors.

It is a persistent mystery and follows us with a mysterious persistency.

Evening World reporters, fired by a zeal worthy of the cause, set out on its track, determined to chase it out of its word-shadow form and, if it has a common meaning and an inclination to stay in the language, to hunt it into its proper place in the vocabulary.

These were the questions with which the city philologists were confronted wherever they were met this morning—

What, in your best judgment, is the meaning of the phrase “Razzle-Dazzle”?

Do you favor its permanent incorporation into the United States language?

There seemed to be a preponderance of affirmative opinion in answer to the second question.

Here are some of the replies, showing great diversity as to the interpretation of this new-born phrase:

Major Grant—I really do not know. It is a weird combination. It razzle-dazzles me to give an interpretation.

Judge Martine—If a person does not know what he is about he is razzle-dazzled. Lawyers frequently razzle-dazzle witnesses.

County Clerk Reilly—As there is no razzle-dazzling done in this office we don’t recognize such a phrase here. However, it is an expressive combination. If a man gets so tangled up that he does not know what he is doing he is razzle-dazzled.

Alderman Divver—I suppose it’s when a man has been on a tear. I saw a picture in The World of a dilapidated chap being taken to the station house between two policemen. The tired-looking party had the razzle-dazzle. 

George Slosson, the wizard of the cue—If I could only get at Jake Schaefer in a match game of billiards I could give him the razzle-dazzle in the most approved fashion.

Broker Ed Murphy—Razzle-dazzle is a nineteenth-century slang expression that in the eighteenth used to mean full as a boiled owl. But the 400 don’t use it. They say “somewhat screwed,” which is English, you know.

Broker William F. Howe—When a fellow has got bottled lightning in his brain and can’t get it out I guess he is razzle-dazzled.

Alderman Barry—I see people are using the term instead of “boycott.” But I don’t think it means just that. 

Assistant District Attorney Lindsay—Razzle-dazzle means a good old-fashioned drunk.

Lawyer John Graham—I never heard the expression before, but suppose it means something like hocus pocus. I mean to look it up.

Clerk Sparks, of the Criminal Courts—I suppose when a man is on a lark he is razzle-dazzled.

Actor Murphy, who created the razzle-dazzle song—One night after the theatre, after I had sung my razzle-dazzle song, I imbibed a little too much razzle-dazzle juice, and went along Broadway singing the song. I was run in and fined $10. I was razzle-dazzled.

Lawyer Fred Swain—When a man is somewhat under the influence, he usually feels razzled. If he escapes being dazzled as well he is lucky.

Probate Clerk Tinney—It’s when forty men come in here and ask forty questions apiece when I am busy. Then I get razzle-dazzled, and refer them to the Surrogate, who razzle-dazzles them in turn in short order.

Administration Clerk O’Brien—When a man is made to believe something that is not so he is razzle-dazzled.

Assistant Administration Clerk Scannell—When a man gets doubled he is razzle-dazzled.

Counsellor Joe Steiner—When you are introduced to a man and he steals your watch he razzle-dazzles you. 

Deputy Coroner Conway—When I was a young man I knew what razzle-dazzle meant, but for the last few years I have been out of practice. Possibly, however, during convention time I might still experience the razzle-dazzles.

Clerk Edward Reynolds—When a man has been having too good a time he is often razzle-dazzled.

Secretary Burns, of the Park Department—I have often heard the term, but really am at a loss to give you a definition. When a person does not know what he is about, I presume it may be claimed he is razzle-dazzled.

C.H. Smith, of the Park Department—It is like a razoo. People get the razoo or razzle-dazzle when they have been having too good a time.

J.J. Odell, of the Park Department—I am a Quaker, and not a New Yorker; so of course I have never experienced a razzle-dazzle. You had better ask some of the natives.

Deputy Mortgage Clerk Loper—When a man is too full for utterance, he is razzle-dazzled. 

Delivery Clerk Pyne—Wine looked on when it is red is apt to produce the razzle-dazzles.

Grantee Clerk Lynch—When a man is drunk as a lord he has no regard for anything and will do all sorts of razzle-dazzle things.

Broker P.G Weaver—When one has been out all night, painting the town red, so to speak, he is apt to feel “rocky” when he gets home—in other words he is razzle-dazzled.

Broker S.O. Caldwell—The conditions of the stock market in Wall Street is a razzle-dazzle.

Broker Louis Marks—When a man gets mixed he may be said to be razzle-dazzled.

Broker Walter Smith—Ask [US President] Cleveland what a razzle-dazzle is. He knows. He got one last fall [in losing his bid for re-election].

J.D and Mr. D., Wall Street brokers, said to razzle-dazzle a person was to entangle him.

Mr. E., also a Wall Street man, who said he had lived at the Windsor Hotel ten years and wanted this fact duly chronicled, claimed that razzle-dazzle meant hifalutin.

Broker M. said it meant hither and thither.

Broker H. defined it as follows: “When a gentleman does not know whether he wants a pancake or a gin cocktail he is razzle-dazzled.”

Broker C. Spencer Boyd—Under the surroundings and impressions of a lurid evening, and when the luridness is continued till the sun rises, a man is likely to feel razzled. When he cools off after a good sleep he is more likely to feel dazzled to think what a fool he made of himself.

Broker Robert Van Hueson—What do you ask me for? The didoes cut out by Ed Murphy after 12 o’clock at night are razzle-dazzlers.

Broker John Helyer—When a man gets off his base he is razzled and dazzled, too.

Broker Wood Gibson—When a man can’t tell the difference between a billiard ball and a [high]ball taken over the bar he is decidely razzle-dazzled.

Up to this point there had been the voice of one person to adopt the phrase into the language. Webster’s great work was declared to be seriously abridged while lacking this expressive form.

Billy Edwards, ex-champion lightweight pugilists—If I plank a man between the eyes or on the jaw I rather think he would be razzle-dazzled for a time, or if a man drinks too much of the sparkling water he is very liable to become slightly under the influence of the razzle-dazzle.

W.E. Harding, of the Police Gazette—We gave the detectives in Toronto the grand razzle-dazzle when we made the match for Jake Kilrain to fight John L. Sullivan right under their noses.

Arthur T. Lumley of the Illustrated News—I’d just like to razzle-dazzle John L. Sullivan for writing such an infernally long letter this week. Here are four columns which have got to be chopped down to less than two.

Frank Stevenson, the sporting man at 157 Bleeker Street—Do I know what razzle-dazzle means? Well, now, if I don't you can have my hat.

Billy Ottman, of the St. James Hotel—It’s to be skinned. I can’t think of anymore expressive explanation.

Clerk Simpson, of the St. James—Were you ever guyed? Well, then, you have been razzle-dazzled.

W.H. Robertson, of 296 Broadway—If you should go to a ball and have your overcoat and hat stolen and your pockets picked, I should say you have been razzle-dazzled in great shape.

“Yes,” chimed in L. Lavein, the well-known athelete, “and how about the umbrella? You are beaten out of anything nowadays, and you have to console yourself by the charming thought that you are razzle-dazzled.”

Harry Chapman, the veteran theatrical manager, who is on the other side of sixty—I first heard “razzle-dazzle” about thirty years ago as a gag by Billy O’Neill, an Irish comedian, who was then performing at the old Bowery Theatre. It was used in a farce where O’Neill played the lover and fooled “the ould man,” whom he said he had “razzle-dazzled.” If my memory serves me rightly, I also heard Tom Riggs, another Irish comedian, use the same term. It wouldn’t do to incorporate it in the language. Like every other slang word, it will die out in a little while.

Mike Kelly, the $10,000 prize beauty and pet of the baseball community—I first heard “razzle-dazzle” from George Floyd, Nat Goodwin’s manager, in Boston, last August or September. The song was originated in California by a social club, who gave it to Charlie Hoyt. Noah Webster’s spirit would rebel if we should put it in his dictionary.

Miss Ella Rodriguez, soprano singer on the vaudeville stage—I heard it as a gag before the song appeared, but never used it myself. I know the song well and have often sung it. I don’t think it sounds good enough for the dictionary.

Will Collins, comedian—I never heard it used on the stage in traveling companies I have appeared with, and it was not until the song came out that the word became commonly used. Being slang, we should not incorporate in our dictionaries.

Gus Heckler, presiding genius at the Bohemia—I first discovered it at the last election, when I ran for Alderman in the Eleventh Assembly District and got gloriously defeated. Lexicographers will scarely adopt the term.

Eugene Wellington, business manager of “The Dark Side of a Great City”—I first heard it seven or eight years ago in the Buckingham, at Louisville, where J.J. Quinlan, of the “Horseshow Four,” used it as a gag. I also heard him use it in this city. It will hardly do for Webster’s dictionary.

Harry Cottrell, comedian and singer—Jim Quinlan, of the “Horseshoe Four,” used “razzle-dazzle” in a variety performance in this city several years ago, giving it as a gag. There are good enough English words without giving the dictionary the “razzle-dazzle.”

Monday, December 14, 2020

seasickness / a merry-go-round with the jim-jams

American ship camoufleurs, c1918 (AI colorized)
Camouflage was originally a French slang term and did not migrate into English until 1915, as a result of the establishment of the first section de camouflage in military history. To large extent, that seems the case. 

But the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) points out that as early as 1885, in a French to English translation of Fortuné Du Boisgobey’s Old Age of Lecoq (in his Sensational Novels), the following line appears: “He was also master of the art of camoufflage or disguise, his face being without age and readily changed to any style of physiognomy.” Note two f’s in camoufflage. Aha!

No less puzzling is the origin of razzle-dazzle, which today is used willy-nilly as a more engaging name for disruptively-patterned World War I camouflage. We know that the term dazzle was adopted by the British Admiralty in 1917, when they approved a proposal by the artist Norman Wilkinson. But the word was dazzle, not razzle-dazzle. Yet, these days, the latter is almost inevitably used. There are books, films, and exhibitions about ship camouflage that are (for marketing purposes) called “razzle dazzle” (even, regrettably, some of my own).

It turns out that razzle-dazzle was in common use as English slang far in advance of WWI, and that, initially, it had nothing to do with ship camouflage. In general it referred to confusion and bewilderment (as from drunkenness or deceit). Here is how it was used by Juvenal, the author of An Englishman in New York (London: Stephen Swift, 1917, p. 7), “…if the man in the moon were to take it into his head to visit mother earth in search of what Americans used to call ‘razzle-dazzle,’ he would turn his airplane towards the lights of Broadway sometime after midnight.

Razzle-Dazzle at Coney Island

As early as 1890, it was the name for a popular ride at amusement parks. In the following news article, which describes it in some detail, it is said to be equivalent to a “merry-go-round with the jim-jams,” one consequence of which may be seasickness on dry land.

UP, DOWN AND ALL AROUND, Have You Tried the Merry-Go-Round with the Jim-Jams? in The Scranton Republican (Scranton PA), December 18, 1890, p. 7—



“Let me off!”


That's the way it goes every time, and the men at the ropes keep on jerking them and pulling away with unabated energy as it swings around and bobs up and down and makes eccentric circles.

What does?

Why, the “razzle dazzle," to be sure.

Don’t know what a razzle dazzle is, eh?

A razzle-dazzle is a—well, one man describes it as a merry-go-round with the jim-jams. That’s it, precisely, but as perhaps every one does not know how a merry-go-round acts when it has an an attack of mania-a-potu, here is a description of the razzle dazzle.

To begin with there is a heavy upright center pole about 25 feet high, set firmly in the ground and strongly braced. At the top of this pole is a spindle, and attached to the spindle are a number of wire ropes. The lower ends of these are fastened to a strong circular seat, which is suspended about five feet from the ground.

To better understand the arrangement, take a pencil and stand it upright on a table. Lay a bracelet or a napkin ring on the table so that it will encircle the pencil. Now, imagine a number of threads attached to the top of the pencil and tied to the napkin ring so that the ring is suspended from them. See?

That would be a miniature razzle-dazzle, except that instead of a napkin ring the circle should be made of thick boards so as to make a comfortable seat. Now are you beginning to catch the idea? If that is so, perhaps you would like to know how it works.

In the first place you pay five cents to the man who runs the thing. That is absolutely necessary. Then you walk up a stepladder and sit down on the razzle-dazzle circular seat. If there is no one else on it, your weight will bring it down close to the ground on your side, while the opposite side will naturally be high in the air.

The man who assisted you to your seat now turns the circle around and another victim gets on. In this way, if business is good, perhaps thirty or forty persons will be seated. When all are seated the stepladder is taken away out of danger.

Thus far you have only seen the razzle. Now comes the dazzle.

Two or three men grab hold of stout ropes which hang from the circular seat. They begin to walk around in a circle, like the ringmaster at the circus, and they pull the ropes with them. This sets the passengers swinging around and around.

After sufficient momentum has been attained a new motion is introduced. One side of the circular seat is yanked down to the round and the other side flies up in the air. This is continued until the delightful sensations of the whirlgig and the flying trapeze are experienced.

A trip on the cowcatcher of a locomotive in convulsions wouldn’t be a marker to the razzle-dazzle in full swing.

A combination of the motion of a ship in a cyclone and a wounded whale in a whirlpool comes a little nearer to it.

This keeps up for five minutes. At the end of that time you have had enough for your money. Maybe you’ve had more than enough. You either get off or fall off.

Then you go off to one side and experience what may be termed a paradoxical disease. You suffer from mal de mer [sea-sickness] on dry land. Try it.

Razzle-Dazzle at Steeplechase, Coney Island

Thirty-five years later, “razzle-dazzle” was apparently still a popular ride at amusement parks, as reported in an article titled RAZZLE-DAZZLE: Collapses at Glebe: Twelve People Injured in the Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney AU), February 28, 1925—

Twelve persons were injured when a razzle-dazzle collapsed in Derby Place, Glebe, shortly after 10 o’clock last night.

All those injured, with some others, were riding on the razzle-dazzle, when the part on which they were seated suddenly broke away from its pole. Many were thrown heavily to the ground, and some received severe injuries…

The police were informed that whilst the razzle-dazzle was in motion a number of youths, who were riding on it, jumped off. This affected the balance of the razzle-dazzle, which tilted, and, the cup on which it swung, becoming dislodged from its pivot, crashed with its passengers heavily to the earth.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Robert G. Skerrett on WWI ship camouflage at its best

Robert G. Skerrett, HIDING SHIPS WITH PAINT: How protective coloring causes Fritz [the German Navy] much waste of torpedoes. It is camouflage at its best in Popular Science Monthly (1918) Vol 92, pp. 514-516—

The first illustration [in the panel above] shows how closely related the problems of a submarine commander are to those of a duck hunter. He must estimate the speed and course of his target and shoot enough ahead to allow for them. The center picture shows the appearance of a ship at 2,000 yards, seen through the periscope of a submarine under ideal conditions. The range is determined by the height of the smokestacks above the waterline. The two side illustrations are examples of the way the camoufleur changes the light and shade on the hulls, funnels, etc., of vessels, thereby confusing an observer both as to the length of the ship and the angle of her approach or departure. The ordinarily high lights are toned down. and the naturally dull portions  are thrown up by painting them in bright colors. At the bottom is seen a complete camouflaged boat, and one that was painted by a master-hand. The whole idea is to give the impression of a sinking ship, and to merge the ship proper into the background. It will be noticed that the dark shaded patches on the hull would convey, at a distance, the impression of a funnel and waterlogged hull, while the sham “sea” merges into the real sea and makes it appear that the alleged steamer is in a sinking condition. A more common one is to paint the hull of a smaller vessel of radically different dimensions on the hull of the boat, or to “paint off” the stern and raise up the apparent waterline.

USS Huntington in harbor 1918 (AI digital coloring)


Saturday, December 12, 2020

mechanic and dairyman listed as camouflage artist

RECRUIT OF DRAFT AGE HAS EIGHTY SIX YEARS EXPERIENCE: Personnel Section of Mustering Office Finds a Man Who’s Done Many Things: Dairyman Finally Listed as Camouflage Artist, in Washington Standard (Olympia WA), August 2, 1918, p. 5—

Embedded Cow
Men in the personnel section of the mustering office have rare opportunities for the study of human nature. They interview all styles and conditions of men in filling out the personnel question cards. Many of the replies to their questions are numerous, while the stories that some of the new recruits tell them would find a place among the best of Ananias’ tales.

When the card of one dairyman was filled out it was found that although he was 28 years of age, he had already had 86 years of experience in various lines of work. Besides being a mechanical engineer, he had been a mechanic in several lines, was a poet and artist. The interviewer listed him as a camouflage artist.…


Embedded Figures 

Hypothetical Camouflage

Thursday, December 10, 2020

William Andrew Mackay / Fighting U-Boats with Paint

One of the most clearly written and best illustrated articles on World War I Allied ship camouflage was authored by Waldemar Kaempffert, editor of Popular Science Monthly. Titled "Fighting the U-Boat with Paint," it was published in the April 1919 issue (Vol 94 No 4) of the same magazine.

It is now in public domain and can be accessed online. It consists of a three-page article, screen grabs of which are published above and below in this post.

Among its interesting illustrations is (on the title page) a photograph of American muralist and camoufleur William Andrew Mackay studying a dazzle-painted ship model through a makeshift periscope-like devise. 

 On page 2, Mackay is shown painting a camouflage scheme onto a ship model, while at the top of the page are the first three drawings a series of simulated periscope views that purport to show the stages of applying a dazzle camouflage scheme

 On the third page, two final views from that series are shown, and, below that, an unidentified camoufleur is surveying Mackay's collection of camouflage-painted models.

Over the year, we've learned quite a lot about Mackay, and we've recently published a booklet (available online as a pdf) about his approach to ship camouflage, titled Optical Science Meets Visual Art.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

using a periscope to view camouflage-painted models

The US Secretary of the Navy during World War I was Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), a prominent North Carolina newspaper editor. He was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson, while Franklin D. Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

There are various photographs of Daniels in connection with his wartime duties, both army and navy. In the government photo above, for example, he is shown while on a visit to the US Navy’s Camouflage Section in Washington DC. He is peering through a submarine periscope (positioned upsidedown) to view dazzle-painted wooden ship models (like those on shelves behind him) that had been set up for testing in an adjoining room. 

In a second (poor quality) news photograph (above), he is in the same facility, probably on the same day, where (according to the caption) he is examining the model for the USS George Washington (as published in UNCLE SAM HAS CAMOUFLAGE FOR SHIPS IN PEACE in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (New York), on April 27, 1919, p. 9). According to Everett Warner (who oversaw the artists who designed ship camouflage) this was one of the largest ship models, measuring twenty-two and a half inches in length.

There is a surviving photograph of the camouflaged model for the same ship (below), but it shows only the opposite side (the port side), while the starboard side is visible in the photograph of Secretary Daniels.

It is of additional interest to note that this camouflage scheme was apparently never applied to the USS George Washington. According to an article by Robert Skerret (1919), at the close of the war, when that same vessel was selected to transport President Wilson to Europe, the ship and its fleet of escorts were not dazzle-painted, but instead were covered in “Omega Gray,” a monotone developed not by US Navy camoufleurs but by the Submarine Defense Association

[OOPS I seem to have made a mistake. I forgot that in an earlier post, I published photographs of the USS George Washington painted in this same dazzle camouflage scheme, and quoted from texts that described it. It appears to have been repainted at a later date in monotone gray.]

In a third photograph (below), Daniels is shown out of doors, presumably in an army training field, talking to an infantryman who is camouflaged to blend in with the surrounding foliage.

Daniels is commonly credited with being a supporter of women’s suffrage. And, while serving as Secretary of the Navy, it was he who first enabled women to be employed by and serve in the US Navy.

There is more information about his support of women's service in a news article in the Poughkeepsie Eagle News (LIFE HAD ITS PROBLEMS FOR SAILOR GIRLS OF 1917), on September 29, 1942—

"Is there any law that says a yeoman must be a man?" Secretary Daniels asked his legal advisors. The answer was no but only men had been enlisted up to then. The law did not say "male."

"Then enroll women in the Naval Reserve as Yeomen," Secretary Daniels said, "and we will have the best clerical assistance the country can provide."

The Navy got a total of 11,000 yeomen (F) by calling women to the Naval Reserve, mostly to take care of clerical work at the Navy Department in Washington. Some Yeomen (F) were translators, some were draughtsmen, fingerprinters, camouflage designers [assigned to the Camouflage Section], recruiting agents, or workers in the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery or in Naval Intelligence."

According to Aryeh Wetherhorn in The Easter Egg Fleet (2020), among the American women who held camouflage-related positions in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) were Sara Elizabeth Carles [sister of artist Arthur Beecher Carles, who also worked as a ship camoufleur], Ruth Prentice Thompson, Lilian A. Jones, Jean Knox, Sara Scott, and Florence Dorothea Fischer.


That given, there are deeply troubling aspects of Daniels’ actions and beliefs. He has been described as a “vehement white supremicist and segregationist,” and a supporter of the Ku Klux Klan. It is especially disturbing to read about his connection with the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, in Wilmington NC.

a ruler proves / are you bow-legged or knock-kneed?

Anon, DO YOU BELIEVE ALL YOU SEE? Source unknown—

Which one of these figures has bowlegs and which knock-knees? Easy to see that the knees of the one on the right incline toward each other, while the other gentleman carries his legs on a gentle outward curve?

Easy, is it?

Well, it so happens that neither of them is knock-kneed or bow-legged. In fact the legs of both of them are perfectly straight. Take a ruler and prove it. It's just simply a case of the eyes being deceived. An optical illusion and a very common one.

There are a lot of things like that. No two persons see the same thing alike and when a thing is made with intent to deceive, as this was, it would take an expert to discover the deception.

Actors take advantage of this fact in their make-up on the stage, and dressmakers are known to use it. For instance, a short, stout woman wearing a dress with horizontal stripes will look still shorter and fatter with horizontal stripes will look still shorter and fatter and a tall, thin woman wearing a dress with perpendicular stripes will look taller and thinner.

irrefutable confirmation that the artist can be practical

Lieutenant Warner at his residence

Washington Evening Star
(Washington DC), March 17, 1918, p. 28—

Everett L. Warner of this city and New York has lately received a commission as a first lieutenant, senior grade, in the Navy, on account and for the continuation of his work in what is known as “marine camouflage.”

The particular branch of work that Lieutenant Warner has been conducting is, in point of fact, not camouflage along the lines understood by this term at present, but is, rather, what is known under the general name of “dazzle system.” Upon careful observation it has been found that there is no such thing as camouflage for ships, there being no single color which will make them invisible under all circumstances. The “dazzle system,” which distorts a boat’s shape and prevents accurate marksmanship on the part of the enemy, has, however, proved not only helpful, but a real protection. And it is this that is being followed out scientifically under the charge of Lieutenant Warner and other artists with the co-operation and approval of the United States Shipping Board and the Navy Department.

The theory was developed primarily and largely in England, and three-fourths of the mail streamers between the United States and England now make use of it.

This is an interesting use to make of art and one which has proved its value. It goes to show, moreover, that the artist can be practical as well as artistic and has his place in warfare as well as in days of peace.


Postscript A day or two after we posted this, we happened to run across an online newspaper article about Everett Warner and camouflage, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 25, 2019. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

camouflage and the ames demonstrations in vision

Above Photograph of the author and a colleague in an Ames Distorted Room, a demonstration in perceptual psychology in which people seem to shrink and grow. It was first constructed in the 1930s by American artist, psychologist and optical physiologist Adelbert Ames Jr, at Dartmouth College. It has been replicated innumerable times, for a variety of purposes. This particular model was built in 1975, as one component in a participatory children's exhibit, co-designed by Roy R. Behrens (wearing dark jacket in photos above) and John Volker (not shown), and installed at the Waterloo Center for the Arts in Waterloo IA.


To Make a Room Look Larger, in Ladies’ Mirror. Vol 5 No 4, October 1, 1926—

It is something of an art into which camouflage may be said to enter, that of creating the sense of space in a small room. 


Ames, Heider and the Chair Demonstration

Wikipedia biography / Adelbert Ames Jr

Eyed Awry: The Ingenuity of Del Ames

The Artistic and Scientific Collaboration of  Blanche Ames Ames and Adelbert Ames II

concealed as snow, as a tree stump or a bale of hay

WWI US soldier positioned on tree stump (c1918)

Oliver Herford, quoted by Constance Murray Greene in HUSH, BLUSH AND PLUSH IN NEW BOOKS OF POEMS, The New York Sun, 19 January 1919, p. 11—

If you can stand upon one spot
And look like something you are not
And wouldn’t if you could be—say
A bean bag or a bale of hay—
You’ll find it quite a useful stunt
To practice on the Western Front:
This picture shows how Private Dunne,
Disguised as snow, deceived the Hun.
Who could not possibly see through
The camouflage; no more can you!”

Oliver Herford, An Alphabet of Celebrities


Monday, November 23, 2020

Paris is dazzle-mad, seemingly part of a futurist dream

USS Aniwa (c1918), Type 9 Design D

Other People’s Troubles: A Paris Letter in The Sketch (London), October 13, 1920, p. 412—

Paris is dazzle-mad. I think every woman who has the courage to wear these dazzle furs that I see deserves the Legion of Honor. They are striped with great slashing streaks of white on black. Hats are dazzle hats. Dresses are dazzle dresses. Pajamas are dazzle pajamas. Everywhere are to be seen these angular lightning effects. The decorations most in favor in the very private and particular room are dazzle decorations. I seem to be existing in a weird Futurist dream.

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The original of the black and white image above (US government, public domain) has been digitally “colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.


it's not to fool the naked eye but the periscope instead

Above US merchant ship, the USS Boxley (c1918), showing its World War I dazzle camouflage scheme (Type 10 Design I), which consisted of four colors: Black, gray-white, blue, and blue-gray.


Helen Johnson Keyes, OUR MIGHTY SENTINEL CITY: She Stands with Naked Sword and Bayonet to Defend You and Me, in Farmer’s Wife, 1 July 1918, p. 31—

—what a strange object is that, over there! It is painted with curving, wavelike stripes of yellow, pink, lavender, blue, broken up by sudden splotches of other colors. 

It is a camouflaged vessel—a vessel to which has been applied what we call in the case of animals, “protective coloring.” It has been painted so as to blend with the sea and sky when seen at a distance through the eye of a submarine periscope. The camouflage does not conceal the boat from the naked eye which views it almost from its own level but to the periscope seeking it…the vivid, curveting stripes are thereby confusing…

Note There are no full-color photographs of WWI ship camouflage. The above image, from a black and white US government photograph in public domain, has been "digitally colorized” using AI software. While its light / dark values are accurate, the choice and location of colors, even when plausible, may not be literally correct.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

chalk lines used to mark out ship camouflage designs

USS Falmouth (camouflage unfinished)
Within earlier blog posts, including some in recent days, we’ve talked about the process by which World War I ships were “marked out’ with boundary lines to indicate color changes (using white or yellow chalk on a long stick, or, if within reach, a paint brush). The areas to be colored were then labeled with various letters to designate the paint colors to be applied.

We know this in part because a few of the people who painted camouflage on ships published accounts of the methods they used. There are also wartime photographs of ships, in the process of being painted, in which the linear boundary markings are clearly visible. There were times when ships departed from the docks while only partly painted.

USS Falmouth (detail)


Shown here, for example, are WWI government photographs of the USS Falmouth, showing the vessel's port side (two views with a close-up detail), with clear evidence of its markings and the unfinished painted design (Type 10 Design H).

USS Falmouth (alternate view)


Related Links
The Ubiquity of Camouflage in Human Experience
Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage
Other online sources

Marking out and painting ship

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

fad, fancy or illusion—camouflage is without limitations

Port side of USS Milton (1919)

Since yesterday, when we blogged about the camouflage of the USS Milton and reproduced a photograph of the dazzle pattern on its starboard side, I have received more information about the same ship. Aryeh Wetherhorn, an American Navy veteran, who is now based in Israel, has provided a photograph of the port side of the Milton (as shown above, although of course I could not resist tampering with it, in hope of revealing more detail), as well as photographs of the original camouflage plans. Reproduced below is a close-up detail of one side of that ship’s camouflage scheme.

When the initial plan was issued during World War I, it was designated by US Navy camoufleurs as Type 10 Design L. According to Wetherhorn, not only was this scheme applied to the USS Milton, but to three other ships as well: USS Alpaco, USS Baxley, and USS Botsford. The colors employed in its paint scheme were black, gray-white, and two variants of blue (distinctly different from the AI colorized version above). 

Colored renderings of this plan (as well as scores of others), prepared by Talya Shachar-Albocher, have been reproduced in a new book that Wetherhorn published earlier this month. Titled The Easter Egg Fleet, it is available through Amazon.


Mrs. J.D. Love, EL PASO WOMAN’S FORUM, in El Paso Times (El Paso TX), March 3, 1919—

Camouflaging in time of peace, as well as in war, appears to be without limitations. We hear it on every side; we see it where we look. Is it a fad, a fancy or an illusion, an imported fashion, a licensed privilege or a contagious disease?

Whatever it is, it has gripped the merchant, the lawyer, the doctor, the tailor, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. The artists have gone mad and now that the musicians are under its spell—I dare not predict its fate.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

bewildering the camera's eye with dazzle camouflage

USS Milton (1919)

Photographic view of the dazzle camouflage scheme for the USS Milton, c1919, during World War I. As a closer look reveals, the ship had departed the harbor before its camouflage pattern had been completely applied. In the detail view below, one can see the unpainted regions, each of which has been marked with a letter to indicate the color that has yet to be applied. 

An AI colorization process has been used to add the color to this vintage black and white government photograph. While the effect is plausible, it is not literally correct.


ARTIST VS PHOTOGRAPHER in The Princeton Union (Princeton MN), March 25, 1920—

Early in the submarine campaign, one of our boats was given a coat of camouflage, and when the vessel sailed from its pier in the North River, New York, the owners sent a photographer two or three piers down the river to photograph the ship as she went by. He [the photographer] took the picture…but when the negative was developed, much to his astonishment, he found that the boat was not all on the plate. In the finder of his camera, he had mistaken a heavy band of black paint for the stern of the ship, quite overlooking the real stern, which was painted a grayish white. The artist had fooled the photographer and at a distance of not more than 200 or 300 yards. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020

immense saw teeth and cubistic stripes that were not

Louis Biedermann (1918)
Above I was so pleased to find this. It is a very rare full size two-page illustration spread having to do with World War I ship camouflage. Drawn by a phenomenal (if largely unknown) illustrator named Louis Biedermann (1874-1957), it was published as a center spread in the Los Angeles Evening Express, on Sunday, August 18, 1918, perhaps in an entertainment section. This is not its original color (I've colorized it), since presumably it was printed by a four-color halftone process (more or less equivalent to CMYK). Of the very few copies that may still exist, the colors have most likely faded by now, and the newsprint on which it was printed has degraded.

In an online posting by Geographicus, an antique maps dealer in New York, the Illinois Daily Free Express (no date) is quoted as having said—

[Louis] Biedermann is panoramic. He is panoramic in his thinking. His mental as well as his optical perspective presents a complete and extended view of all directions. The breadth of his understanding is more panoramic, perhaps, than his art.

Too bad this illustration cannot be seen more clearly here. It is fantastic and highly detailed, so does not do well at a very small size. See magnified detail below.

In the bottom left corner of the illustration is an explanatory box that reads—

CAMOUFLAGED! How the Erstwhile Merchant Fleet Looks in Its War Paint.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When we practice to deceive

—especially when the web is woven of shuttling ships, and the destined victim of the deception is some U-boat skipper squinting through a hastily protruded periscope and vainly trying to get the range of a moving target from which most of the horizontal and vertical bearing points have been eliminated, while whorls, saw-teeth and triangles of black, white, gray, blue, green and pink blend dizzily into the shifting wave outlines of the seascape. We are well past the practice stage, though, and there are days when the results of ship camouflage turn New York Harbor, for instance, into a floating nightmare. For the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of other readers who never see the waterfront, Mr. Biedermann has indicated here the general effect of the “motley rout,” though purposely avoiding any approach to a portrait of any actual ship.


HOW NEW YORK HARBOR IS PROTECTED FROM U-BOATS: Every Agency of Naval War Seen: Painted Ships and Weird Effects on Every Hand, but the Business of Getting Men and Supplies “Over There” Goes on as Though There Were No New Menace at Hand, in St Louis Post Dispatch (St Louis MO), January 23, 1918 [from an article published earlier in the Springfield Republican (Springfield MA), no date]—

It was in the lower harbor, below the Liberty Statue, that New York began to show as a port on a war basis. Here were the camouflaged ships at anchor. There were hundreds of them, steamers, schooners, tankers, all ages, shape and sizes. Blue, black and white, all shades of gray, occasionally green, the stripes ran up and down their sides. There were wildly zig-zagging stripes, stripes that spread outward and upward from the center of the ship’s side like a fan, stripes that curved upward, terminating in a superstructure of the bridge in lines like those of the bow; horizontal stripes jagged on their upper edge with immense saw teeth; cubistic stripes that were not, strictly speaking, stripes at all, but like the patterns of a crazy quilt.

But camouflage does not show to best advantage on gray mornings. It does not dazzle at near view, and at the first sight of the ships, coming among them suddenly from around the end of Governor’s Island, the definiteness of outline was a mild shock to preconceived notions. Nevertheless, the purring of the airplane motor overhead was not plainly audible. To the right of the course, off Staten Island, lay a group of old warships at anchor, but with steam up, lookouts posted and guns trained. Far down the harbor, between the anchored shipping and the Narrows, a squadron of patrol boats, lean of bow, square of stern and built for speed, passed leisurely back and forth across the water, one of them dragging with it a captive balloon of the sausage type which perked along with peculiar and rather ridiculous motions, as though resenting each tug of the rope. On nearer view the lookouts on these smaller craft were also seen to be posted, and at their neat little three-inch stern guns, a group of husky sailors invariably “stood by.” Whatever camouflage might be worth at that short range, it was plain that other precautions were all being taken.

A Hole in the Ship
By the time these details of the protecting fleet were visible, the virtue of the camouflage was apparent also. First a ship with a broad blue-gray band zig-zagging up its center through the smokestack seemed suddenly, at a range of perhaps half a mile, to have developed a hole in its middle. One seemed to be looking through it at sky, and, to ocular appearances, except under the closest scrutiny, it ceased to be a ship at all, but some naval monstrosity split in two. At about the same distance another ship which lay with its bow pointed toward us, suddenly appeared to have turned about and to confront us with its stern. So marked was the illusion in this case that no among of scrutiny could separate the real from the illusion. This was the case, too, of another ship whose stern suddenly began to appear as a broadside.

The ship with the bow curve painted on the superstructure demonstrated a unique merit. Instead of one big ship. it gave the illusion of being two smaller ones, the bow of the first—the real one—seeming to be crossing the bow of the second—a fake one—at a narrow angle. Across even this slightly choppy water the saw-tooth design seemed to sink the ship in the wave motion until only the masts and the superstructure had anything like definite form. Only the fan-shaped camouflage and the distinctly cubist patterns retained at a mile, still a very fair torpedo range—anything like their actual outline, and it was easy to believe that with the fan it would be different when the spray was flying, that the crazy-quilt pattern would puzzle the eye of the keenest observer when the sea was a dazzle of bright sunlight and wave shadows. On the whole, right in the harbor, lying at anchor, these ships would form no perfect target at anything like a sportsman’s range.

Monday, October 26, 2020

a sea-serpent with red and yellow camouflage stripes

SEEING SEA-SERPENTS in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Oahu, Hawaii) June 29, 1928—

Not one hawk-eyed person has seen a sea-serpent off the shore of any Hawaiian island for so long that we've forgotten just when the last time was whereas they're seeing them daily up and down the Atlantic coast.

Such a situation has no reason for being. As one of the most important pleasure resorts on earth, and growing more so, we can't afford to neglect the thrill of real old-fashioned sea-serpents.

In Florida, for instance, there are many persons who can see ocean monsters practically at will, and recently passengers on the liner Laconia, docking at Boston, declared they had glimpsed one with green eyes and a coarse, flowing mane.
To be sure, there was a fellow at Waikiki the other day who reported seeing a giraffe marked with red and yellow zig-zag camouflage stripes against a base color of bright green, wearing a little gold bell tied with a pink ribbon about its neck, but there were reasons in this case for doubting the substance of the vision, while reporters describing the spectacle of the Laconia passengers averred earnestly that all of them were apparently sober.

We can't afford to have the ancient custom of seeing sea-serpents done away with here, especially if visitors to Atlantic resorts persist in keeping it up.

Our sea-serpents are every bit as good as those on the east coast, if we will only buckle down to the job of seeing them.

Bud Fisher, Mutt and Jeff (October 14, 1953)


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Pennsylvania: garages go ga-ga in camouflage here

Nearly ten years ago, in a blog post titled Who Invented Dazzle Camouflage?, we noted a few of the people who, during and after World War I, claimed to have been the first to propose disruptive or “high difference” camouflage, commonly referred to now as dazzle painting.

Ten years later, we continue to find competing claims. Quoted below, for example, is an excerpt from a 1939 article in a Lancaster PA newspaper, which reported that WWI disruptive camouflage was inspired by an interview (which we have yet to find) in 1916 with Howard Thurston, a famous American magician.

CAMOUFLAGE, ‘SHIP SAVER’ TESTED HERE: Garages Went Ga-Ga in Zebra Stripes Here Long Before the Dazzle Department Started Using Same Technique on Ships in Lancaster Sunday News (Lancaster PA), October 15, 1939, p. 13—

…Lancaster remembers the [First] World War years when local inventors were tinkering with odd gadgets and everybody with an old paint brush was experimenting with the technique of camouflage.

Corn cribs and outhouses and garages for miles around were streaked and blobbed with swearing color while warring nations were still pooh-poohing “dazzle-paint,” and just learning the rudiments of camouflage in brown-painted and branch-decked gun emplacements.

Lancaster had used up gallons of vari-colored paint before a single warship was docked for a camouflage job.

It all started in 1916 when Howard Thurston, the great magician, gave an interview while in Lancaster saying he thought the “illusion” of the magician could well be used in protecting ships at sea from submarines.

Lancaster liked the idea so much that every amateur magician with a couple of cans of paint and a little imagination immediately went to work hiding his tool shed from the neighbors with outlandish stripes.

Curiously enough, the idea wasn’t put to use until submarine warfare hit its peak in the middle of 1917. The seemingly meaningless experiments in Lancaster were suddenly formulated into real scentific formulas which successsfully deceived U-boat commanders about the size and course and speed of ships.

It didn’t seem reasonable that bright stripes would be less conspicuous than an even dull gray. In fact, they aren’t. But they do distort the appearance of a vessel so that its ordinary outlines are as completely hidden as a length of spaghetti in a can of fish worms.

When it finally did get going, however, England and then the United States set up “Dazzle Departments,” and by the end of the war some 4,000 merchant vessels and 400 warships were sporting stripes.

But futuristic barn-door art wasn’t the only contribution Lancaster made in the direction of life-saving in wartime.…

Many wartime ideas that actually worked out—camouflage, for one colorful example—looked at first like the sketches on the wall of the booby hatch. But history agrees that there’s never been an invention that’s crazier than war itself.


GOOD CAMOUFLAGE in the St Louis Dispatch, March 8, 1944—

Lancaster PA—A resident reported her automobile stolen from in front of her home. Police found it where she had parked it, but buried under a snow drift after a heavy snow.


Camouflage application process

Disruptive camouflage patterns

Further information

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dazzle camouflage | plan and photographs compared

In an earlier post, we talked about the ship camouflage diagrams of Washington DC designer Steve Morris. He continues to produce striking, exact interpretations of World War I “dazzle” ship camouflage plans. They are irresistable to the eye, as witnessed by those that are posted online. Easily, one of my favorites is the Type 2 Lake Class Design, the two sides of which (port and starboard) are shown below.

A few days ago, while nosing on the internet, I ran across two WWI-era photographs of a particular American ship to which this pattern was applied. Shown below are two different views of the port side of the ship, the USS Lake Harney (c1918). I have yet to find photographs of the starboard side.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

as conspicuous as a barber pole, and equally illusive

B.B. Henderson, US Ambulance Service, in DODGING THE KAISERS’ U-BOATS: How a Honolulan Going to France Crossed the Atlantic—Convoy Fleet Changed Positions—Something About Camouflage—The Real Thing, in Honolulu Star Bulletin (Hawaii), February 16, 1918—

…[The armed escort of our ship convoy] is a cruiser, converted from a passenger boat, big, speedy, heavily armed and camouflaged [not shown here]. (That word is too new to know what part of speech it really is, so on board it is a matter of personal preference.) The color and form of the paintings on the side of that boat would make any “cubist” artist green with envy. 

USS West Galeta (c1918), digital coloration









It is the last word in camouflage and marvelously effective. It’s as conspicuous as a barber pole but at a very short distance its outline disappears and it is impossible to get a line on what direction she is traveling.

Norman Wilkinson, dazzle-painted ship ventilators