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Tell Me About It: Protective Gear or Telecommunication?

Tell Me About It is an occasional blog on photographs that have piqued my curiosity for some reason. I am seeking information from you, our readers, in hopes of learning more about these subjects.

Man Wearing a Voice Pipe, ca.1915. The Mariners’ Museum, #P0001.004-PC189.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that this contraption is a Speaking Tube–I had cataloged it as a gas mask. The photograph is World War I vintage (that’s my excuse!).

An early form of communication, a speaking tube pre-dates universal use of the telephone.

For maritime use, call it a Voice Pipe

Voice Tube in office building. Hull Div. Navy Yard. Philadelphia. Showing receiving and transmitting terminal, not in use. July 30, 1917. The Mariners’ Museum, #P0001.004-01-PC197.

Voice pipes “served to transmit reports from lookout positions aloft to the deck and from the bridge to the steering position and engine room.” [Wikipedia academic]

This photograph shows a speaking tube inside the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1917. As you see, it consists of a long length of pipe, nearly always metal, that stretches from one location to another in a place where quick communication is desired.

Demonstrating use of a voice tube. July 30, 1917. The Mariners’ Museum, #P0001.004-01-PC196.

A horn or funnel-shaped attachment is mounted at either end, giving rise to the saying still used today, “Get on the horn.”

Returning to the first photograph, the mask and hat are still a mystery to me. Can you shed light on this?

= = = Sources

Wikipedia Academic. Accessed January 21, 2022,

Christian Petersen.

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