Artifact Spotlight: Rear Admiral William S. Sims Uniform Coat

---Amy King, Curatorial Volunteer

Captain W.S. Sims in special full dress uniform
On 16 February 1917 Rear Admiral William Sowden Sims became the fifteenth president of the Naval War College. Sims, a United States Naval Academy graduate (1880), attended the Naval War College's long course of 1911-1912.  Prior to his appointment as president, Sims served as an aide to President Theodore Roosevelt, Inspector of Naval Ordnance, and was a vocal advocate of improved naval gunnery.

Two months into his  presidency, Sims was sent to London to work with the British Royal Navy prior to the entry of the United States in World War I. He stayed in Europe after the United States declared war in April 1917. The college suspended operations for the duration of the war. Sims was subsequently promoted to admiral and appointed Commander in Chief, United Naval Forces, Europe.

Although it meant a reduction in rank, after the war Sims requested that he resume his responsibilities as President of the Naval War College.  Ordered to resume his previous position on 11 April 1919, Sims remained president until his retirement from the Navy on 14 October 1922. During his presidency, the college was reorganized into four major departments: command, strategy, tactics, and correspondence. Sims was also responsible for establishing civilian positions within the college staff that would facilitate more continuity in shaping courses at the college. A vocal critic of the Navy's conduct of the war, Sims also wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Victory at Sea.

The coat shown here is part of the special full dress uniform. This coat was worn by Sims during his presidency at the Naval War College. The special full dress uniform was worn by naval officers from 1802 until 1922, making it one of the longest worn garments in naval history. The coat, short in the front with longer tails in the back, has collar and cuff braiding of gold lace. Both the braiding and the two-star epaulets signify the rank as rear admiral.
Sims may have purchased the coat (made in London) and the epaulets (made in Paris), shortly after he arrived for special duty in England in 1917. Six months later, the Navy issued General Order 328 suspending the use of the special full dress uniform. On 13 October 1922, just one day prior to Admiral Sims’s retirement, the Navy discontinued the special full dress uniform. It was replaced by a new dress uniform which included a frock coat rather than the tail coat.

Artifacts on loan from the Naval Heritage and History Command

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum


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