Commissaries celebrate Navy's 243 years of service
FORT LEE, Va. – Oct. 13 is the 243rd anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Navy by the Continental Congress in 1775. Since that day, the Navy has grown from 12 ships to become the world’s pre-eminent naval force.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) salutes the Navy community on their anniversary, acknowledging a legacy of valor, sacrifice and distinguished service during conflicts from the American Revolution to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
Before the Navy established its own commissary operations, sailors aboard ship struggled with procuring decent food. In the days of sail, shipboard fare during long voyages was monotonous and nutritionally deficient, often becoming spoiled or infested with weevils or maggots. Sailors therefore eagerly anticipated visiting a port of call – either foreign or American – where they could obtain fresh, tasty, healthful foods.
When in port, even if the men didn’t leave their ships they could buy goods from civilian vendors who rowed, paddled or sailed out to visiting ships in small craft known collectively as “bumboats.” From those boats, these merchants conducted business with the sailors on deck. They sold all manner of local goods, from fish and lobsters to pineapples and coconuts. Although the vendors provided a valuable service, many charged exorbitant prices.
During the round-the-world voyage of the “Great White Fleet” from 1907 to 1909, the Navy realized that bumboats could not adequately serve the needs of larger ships that carried bigger crews. Even before the fleet’s return, Congress took steps to establish “ships’ stores” aboard every vessel to take the place of the overseas bumboats, and sales commissaries – called “ships’ stores ashore” – at ports in the United States. The stores ashore were similar to sales commissaries the Army had established in 1867.
The first Navy commissary opened in 1910, and commissaries have grown with the Navy for the last 108 years. At first, these stores operated more like warehouses, where clerks pulled items from the shelves for the customers.
Self-service began to gain popularity in the late 1920s and became widespread in the 1940s. Modernized commissaries comparable to civilian grocery stores, along with professionalized permanent store staffs, began to appear after the stores came under the authority of the Navy Ships’ Store Office in 1946, the Navy Retail System Office in 1969, and the Navy Resale and Services Support Office in 1979. NAVRESSO managed Navy commissaries until the creation of DeCA, which centralized all the services’ commissaries in 1991.
- DeCA provides the commissary benefit for all the armed forces, saving individual authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually when compared with civilian supermarkets.
Members of the Navy community, along with their peers in the other armed services, may shop at any of DeCA’s 237 commissaries at U.S. military installations around the world. There are 60 such stores at Navy bases, plus one at the Joint Reserve Base at Naval Air Station Fort Worth, Texas.
For photos related to this release, visit the Flickr page.
This news release was updated from an original article written by Dr. Peter Skirbunt, who retired as DeCA historian in September 2017.
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.