Saturday, March 7, 2009

In quest of rank...also know as what the heck was I thinking!

As some of you might be wondering, what is this "rank" that the Sentinel is wearing? Well, I'm about to tell you a rather challenging and frustrating story, which, believe it or not, has a happy ending. Late in 2005, with the centennial anniversary of the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906 fast approaching, I began looking around for appropriate persona to play for the expected festivities. I thought it was important that I be there, I am a 5th generation San Franciscan. My family survived the catastrophe and helped in the rebuilding of the city.

I had stumbled across a picture a few years earlier of a group of soldiers in the Persidio of San Francisco from c. 1904. These "Electrical sergeants" were some of the first technical specialist in the U.S. Army. They were electricians in civilian life who were encouraged to join the Army with high pay and rank. Because, you see the Army needed their "special skills". The late 19th century found the Army in a processes of modernization, particularly in the area of coastal defenses. With the advent of bigger, more powerful guns, came the need for electric hoists to lift the increasingly heavier shells. Electric lights for the powder and shell rooms, searchlights to illuminate targets at night, etc.
As I am an electrician, I figured taking on the persona of one of these, "Electric Sentinels" would be easy. I can "Walk the walk and talk the talk." The uniform itself was easy, readily available tailor made uniforms can be had. The insignia, now that was an equine of a completely different hue...

The Readers Digest version of this story is much easier to follow and not mind numbingly long. So, to hit the important points. There were no originals available for reference or to wear. In the later case they would be to fragile as well as cost prohibiting to go this route. So, all there was to do was make them myself. Hah! How naive I was. The adventure began with the collection of any reference I could find. Including the original Quartermaster description of the insignia. With my fathers help we began essentially as the first designers did. By throwing the arcs required for the stripes. This created a full sized image to make a positive from. The five lightening bolts however were alittle more difficult. I used an original german silver"overlay", originally used to denote specialist rank on the 1885 dress helmets. This was a inch and an eighth representation of forked lightening. Applied to graph paper and simple scanned into the computer were it was blow up to what looked like right size. This image was then printed and cut out, with some minor adjusting of the size, it was used to create a positive in "ruby lith" (clear asitate film with a semi-transparent red overlay) Both images were scanned into a computer and digitized. This information was used as the pattern to run a computer driven embroidery machine. taking roughly 10,000 individual stitches to complete one insignia. From start to finish it took 6 months of leg work and research to complete this project.


  1. You know the original was probably hand drawn and hand sewn by a little old lady in a few days. Never the less it is a work of art.
    You do stuff I really like.

  2. Yep! Your right, the only photo i have of Electricalsergeants is of 6 of them together in a picture c.1904. The stripes were, as far as the representation of forked lighting was concerned, were embrodered by hand. And this shows in the picture. No two examples are EXACTLY alike. Time was my greatest factor. I didn't have either the time or the paceints to learn to do it by hand, and of course make it look like something! lol. And EVERYTIME i wear the uniform I get complements and interest in the Who's and the What's. Which is what's most important. Telling their story. So, thank you for your kind words.