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 the new wireless radio technologies. He served in such varied assignments as the USS Virginia (Battleship No. 13) stationed out of Hampton Roads in 1910 and, when he married Julia Hall in 1914, he was serving in the same capacity at the Chelsea 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 removed to New York City, where they took an apartment in the landmark Grimm Building at 2641 Broadway and turned to commercial photography. Drawing on his Navy experience, he began copyrighting and publishing views of Naval scenes such as those aboard the USS Wyoming (Battleship No. 32), then-flagship of the Atlantic Fleet and fanciful depictions of ships like the 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 the German Empire. With the Unite States’ entry into the World War, Moser diverted from his photography plans and immediately re-enlisted for the war effort and spent six months aboard 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 felt 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

Showing a photograph of USS O-3 (SS-64) underway on the surface, circa 1918. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

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

USS D-3 (Submarine #19) coming to the surface, in a postcard by N. Moser, distributed by Enrique Mueller. (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Upon his return, Moser, with other photographers, partnered, briefly, with the International Film Service (IFS) to publish scenes of the World War as real picture post cards. IFS, an affiliate of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst, is better known as being an early animation studio which popularized cartoons like Krazy Kat, but in an effort to stay afloat during World War I, the studio began publishing real picture post cards of the war. A number of these photographic postcards 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, photo postcard by N. Moser, 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 towards sailors eager to show their families their experiences during the Great War. One May, 1918 advertisement in the 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 advertisements explicitly targeted sailors returning from the war with lines like “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’ — a paravane used to automatically cut moored mined cables underwater. Photo-postcard by Moser, distributed by the International Film Service (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

As one photographic historian noted, such such novelties were popular with returning “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, Illinois 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.