Why the Navy wanted to borrow binoculars for WWI & WWII

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Why the Navy wanted binoculars for WWI & WWII

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

“Binoculars are a necessity on the fighting ships of our Navy,” noted one small-town mayor in Moberly, Missouri in July, 1942. “Lookouts use them to keep a constant vigil for enemy ships, planes and submarines. The lives of our sailors, marines and transports of soldiers depend on them.”

See the poster advertisements below, and find out more about the military’s plea for optics — during both World Wars I & II.

Visibility zero unless you lend your binoculars to the Navy

A miliary poster asking citizens to lend their binoculars to the Navy, showing a ship hit by a torpedo.

Visibility zero unless you lend your binoculars to the Navy

Navy appeals for binoculars (1942)

Following the precedent of the first World War, the Navy again is calling upon patriotic citizens who possess binoculars meeting service requirements to allow the Navy to use them in the war effort. Already many offers have been received.

Because the Navy is not authorized to accept gifts or free loans the binoculars furnished by the public and accepted by the Navy will be purchased for $1. If they are still in use at the end of hostilities, the Navy will return the instruments to the former owners, and the $1 purchase fees will constitute the rental and depreciation charges.


Two main sizes of binoculars, 6×30 and 7×50, meet Navy requirements and only these instruments will be accepted.

Six power binoculars are used for sighting ships and large objects at intermediate or long distances and for sighting close-by smaller objects. These binoculars are used for most navigational purposes, for sighting small objects such as aircraft at intermediate to great distances, for distinguishing ships at extreme distances, and for night use when extra light-gathering qualities of large objective lenses are necessary, 7×50 binoculars have been found most suitable.

Bullseye for binoculars loan ww2

Toys, lorgnettes, mother-of-pearl opera glasses and other articles of tins nature are useless for naval purposes. A binocular of less than six power is of small value.

Binoculars meeting Navy requirements should be carefully packed and shipped to the Naval Observatory, Washington, D. C An identification tag, bearing the name and address of the sender, should be securely fastened to each instrument.

During the first World war, in response to a direct appeal for private owners to furnish “Eyes for the Navy,” 51.217 instruments were received and 31,000 were accepted for naval use. Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D Roosevelt signed the letters of acknowledgement and thanks.

Permanent records followed the glasses when they were sent afloat, with rigid instructions as to care of the glasses. Upon the signing of the armistice, orders were issued for the return of the “eyes” to the Naval Observatory. They were returned to their original owners, together with an engraved “Eyes of the Navy” certificate expressing the appreciation of the Navy.

Of the 51,217 glasses received. only one pair was reported lost by the owner.

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No enemy sub will dare lift its eye

… if you lend your Zeiss or Bausch & Lomb binoculars to the Navy

Pack carefully, include your name and address: send to Naval Observatory, Washington DC.

Submarine’s periscope emerging from the sea, a ship sinking in flames in the distance. (Federal Art Project/WPA, between 1941 and 1943)

ww2-binoculars-No enemy sub will dare lift its eye

War declared: American newspaper headlines from the very start of WWI in 1914

Your binoculars could prevent this

Loan your 6 x 30 or 7 x 50 Zeiss or Bausch and Lomb binoculars to your navy. Pack carefully and send to Naval Observatory, Washington, DC.


Japan declares war by bombing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the US joins WWII (1941)

Image: For WWI from 1917 — Will you supply eyes for the Navy? Navy ships need binoculars and spy-glasses. “Glasses will be returned at termination of war, if possible. One dollar will be paid for each one accepted. Tag each article with your name and address and express or mail to Hon. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ass’t. Sec’y. of Navy c/o Naval Observatory, Washington, D.C. Will you help us ‘stand watch’ on a destroyer?” (Poster art by Gordon Grant; Sackett & Wilhelms Corporation, New York)


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