The U.S. Seabee Museum, with the help of the CEC/ Seabee Historical Foundation, has acquired a WWII reproduction of a Seabee Exhibit Truck which was used during the Seabee Nation-Wide Recruitment Campaign. An original 1942 exhibit diorama from the museum’s collection is displayed in the truck.
The recruiting campaign began in October 1942 and nation-wide tours launched in 1943 to spearhead the enlistment of 100,000 Seabees into the Naval Construction Battalion by the first of the year. The Seabee recruitment caravans, also known as a “recruiting stations on wheels,” consisted of an exhibit truck and a recruitment cruiser. The caravans was accompanied by four enlisted men and two commissioned CEC officers who provided full information about enlisting with the Seabees. Men from ages 17 to 50 with construction experience were needed immediately to build bases on distant battlefronts.
“…one of the most interesting [exhibits] to have ever been produced by the navy department…The purpose of the display is to stimulate interest in enlistments in the Seabees, the construction battalion of the navy.”
-The Times Leader, August 1943
The exhibit truck’s diorama, depicted through the medium of miniature wax figures*, shows a complete landing operation carried out by the Seabees on Island “X” in the South Pacific. The dioramas showed Seabees clearing away tropical trees, building barracks, landing supplies and performing multiple other duties required of them in establishing island bases.
Prior to the Recruitment Caravan’s visit to each city, arrangements were made in advance to distribute special posters, have newspaper articles written, and to have announcements made by local radio stations of its arrival. Further publicity was made through local labor organizations and social clubs.
Upon arrival to visiting cities, the caravan was escorted into the city by a police escort and station wagon, accompanied by fanfare, music, and crowds. The vehicles usually “docked” in front of the county courthouse or city hall. In the evening the caravan would “anchor” at a local park where concerts were held before the showing of the Seabee motion picture “Builders for Battle” and “Sports of Sailormen”. The entire community was invited to see the movies free of charge and inspect the exhibit.
The Seabee Museum’s Exhibit Truck is modeled after one of the original trucks that toured the Midwest during the summer of 1943. The recruitment caravan visited numerous cities in Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana during the two-month tour where an estimated 140,000 people viewed the exhibit diorama.
Before displaying one of the original dioramas in the newly procured exhibit truck, the Naval History & Heritage Center (NHHC) Conservation Branch performed conservation treatment on the diorama with the goal to stabilize it and improve its aesthetic integrity for its upcoming exhibition. The diorama was cleaned, distorted figures were stabilized, fallen or broken palm fronds were re-attached, and its background was fixed and painted.
Come visit the Seabee Exhibit Truck at the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum today and check out the newly conserved diorama.
*Miniature figures were made out of different materials including wax, putty, and paper mache
Meet the Curator: Robyn King is pursuing her master’s degree in Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management through Johns Hopkins University. She earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at state museums, historic sites, the National Park Service, and most recently the Navy. She is an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When she is not working, she is volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.