Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov,
MOINES) – A 40-piece silver service presented by Iowa to the U.S. Navy in 1896 for the then newly-commissioned USS Iowa battleship has a new, permanent display space at the State Historical Museum.
The gleaming, heavily ornamented silver service is now on display in a third-floor exhibit, “A Service to Silver: Tribute to the USS Iowa,” where it will enjoy greater visibility and accessibility to the public. The State Historical Museum is at 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 515-281-5111 or visit www.iowahistory.org for more information.
“The United States Navy entrusted this silver service to our care in 1992,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. “We have given it extensive conservation treatment over the past few years and have prepared it for a new display space that is more commensurate to its historical significance to Iowa. I encourage Iowans and others to take time to see these incredibly beautiful artifacts.”
In the late 1800s, the commissioning of a naval ship called for the presentation of a silver service to be used aboard ship on special occasions, and it was customary for states to provide a silver service to ships named after them.
When the United States named its first seagoing battleship the “USS Iowa” in 1896, Iowa’s 26th General Assembly contracted J. E. Caldwell and Co. in Philadelphia to provide a 40-piece silver service with Iowa as its inspiration.
The massive collection, presented to the Navy Department and USS Iowa officers, is fashioned from 2,100 ounces of sterling silver. It includes common nautical and national symbols of dolphins, the Navy Department seal, sea shells and eagles with outstretched wings.
To make the service truly representative of Iowa, the Great Seal of the State of Iowa, corn and the wild rose were added as sculptured elements. Some pieces appear to have engraved images of the state capitol, Ft. Madison, the battleship Iowa, a pioneer wagon and the “Pioneer” statue from the capitol’s west steps.
The platters also contain the sayings: “Iowa, her affections like the rivers of her borders, flow to an inseparable union” and “In all that’s good, Iowa affords the best.”
The custom of presenting silver to ships and officers stretches back to the American Revolutionary War, when the city of Boston gave a tea service to the builder of the USS Boston and USS Constitution.
By 1896, the Navy had commissioned several battleships – the USS Texas, Maine, Indiana, Massachusetts and Oregon.
Although those floating fortresses protected U.S. shores, the USS Iowa became the nation’s first seagoing battleship because it carried an additional forward deck that provided more coal storage, which meant the ship could travel farther out to sea without refueling. The forward deck also raised a set of twelve-inch guns above storm waves and provided additional space for crew quarters.
The silver has served on the USS Iowa BB4 (1897-1923), the USS Iowa BB61 (1947-1949; 1953-1958; and 1984-1990), the cruiser USS Des Moines CA 134 (1948-1953).
From 1990-1992, the silver service was placed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.
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