Jan 17

Moser's Naval Photo Logs — 'Just the Thing'

Thursday, January 17, 2019 10:15 AM


Norbert George Moser was born in Pierceton, Indiana, to the immigrant German merchant Gabriel Moser and Illinois native Anna Miller on 18 September 1885. Shortly after completing high school in 1904, Norbert enlisted in the U.S. Navy and became an electrician’s mate, working with new wireless radio technologies. He served on board the USS Virginia (Battleship No. 13) stationed out of Hampton Roads in 1910, and when he married Julia Hall in 1914, Moser was stationed at the Chelsea (Massachusetts) Naval Hospital.

It appears that Moser had grander designs than working the wireless set. At the expiration of his enlistment, he was serving as a chief electrician and as the recruiting officer at the Topeka, Kansas, Navy recruiting office. A newspaper account of the time noted that he would “probably enter the photography business.” He and Julia left Topeka and moved to New York City and turned to commercial photography. Drawing on his Navy experience, he began copyrighting and publishing views of naval scenes such as those on board the USS Wyoming (Battleship No. 32), then-flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, and fanciful depictions of ships such as the USS Vermont (Battleship No. 20) in a storm.

Battleship Vermont in a storm, by N. Moser

Postcard view of the battleship Vermont in a storm, in a postcard by N. Moser. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

But world events soon intervened. On 2 April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany. With the Unite States’ entry into the Great War, Moser diverted from his photography plans, immediately reenlisted, served on board the USS New Jersey (Battleship No. 16) as a chief electrician, and was discharged at Yorktown, Virginia, on 15 October 1917. It appears the Navy may have thought he served his country better as a photographer, for around that time the Navy used at least one of his photographs in a recruiting poster.

Recruiting Poster: What the Navy is Doing: a New Submarine

A Moser photograph of USS O-3 (SS-64) under way on the surface, circa 1918. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

USS D-3 (Submarine #19) coming to the surface

USS D-3 (Submarine No. 19) coming to the surface, in a postcard by Moser, distributed by Enrique Mueller. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Moser, with other photographers, briefly partnered with the International Film Service (IFS) to publish scenes of the war as real picture post cards. IFS, an affiliate of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, is better known as an early animation studio that popularized cartoons such as Krazy Kat, but in an effort to stay afloat during World War I, the studio began publishing postcards of the war. A number of these photographic cards have made their way into the collection of the U.S. Naval Institute.

View of a sinking British transport ship with its stern in the air.

A British Transport Beached, a photo postcard by N. Moser, was distributed by the International Film Service. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Before IFS ceased operation in July 1918, Moser, now with an office in the New York World Building in Manhattan, began aggressively marketing photographs to sailors eager to show their families their experiences during the Great War. One May 1918 advertisement in Our Navy magazine noted, “[p]hotographic postcards of Rough Seas; target practice scenes; tactical evolutions at sea; . . . marine war scenes’ scenes aboard, from aloft, and interior views.” Other ads explicitly targeted sailors returning from the war, with lines such as “Your whole Naval career told by the camera.”

Overhead view of the decks of the armored cruiser USS North Carolina crowded with soliders.

The USS North Carolina (Armored Cruiser No. 12) carrying soldier of the American Expeditionary Force back from France, ca. 1918. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

In the years after the war, Moser operated a photo service in New York City, marketing panorama-sized photographs and “Photographic Postcard Views of the Navy—Historical—Spectacular—Picturesque—Comical” under the bylines of “Moser’s Naval Views” and later “Moser’s Foto Novelties,” which could be “Just the Thing” as “A Souvenir of Your Cruise,” with a semi-personalized “Naval Photo-log” featuring one’s ship on the cover.

Postcard showing a minesweeping paravane on the deck of a ship during World War I.

“Evolutions at sea,” an IFS postcard by Moser, shows a paravane, used to cut moored mine cables underwater. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

As one photographic historian noted, such novelties were popular with returning servicemen. “It made them proud that they could inform their families with pictures and, more importantly, to document their heroic participation in this war.”

N. Moser photographic advertisement from Our Navy Magazine, 1921.

Advertisement by N. Moser in the September 1921 Our Navy magazine. (Our Navy magazine)

After 1921, Moser’s trail becomes hazy. By 1940, he was divorced and living in Chicago as a commercial photographer. In his later years, he drifted west, spending time in Arizona and Port Hueneme, California. He died in Los Angeles in 1970.

Kite balloon launching from stern of the battleship Oklahoma

Kite balloon being launched from the deck of the USS Oklahoma (Battleship No. 37) in a photo-postcard by Moser. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive).

These photographs and many others can be found in the U.S. Naval Institute’s photo archive and in the collections of Naval History and Heritage Command.

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