TEACHING BRITANNIA HER JOB
THE British Admiralty have chosen
for concealing their warships
colors exactly opposite to their
purpose. These navy men have under
taken a job absolutely in the paintvr's
field?to-day, when everything else is in
the hands of snocialists.
At the beginning of the war Profes
Bor J. Graham Kerr. of the t'niversity
of Glasgow, proposed to the government
to give tip his profossornhip and under
take the eondue. of the bureau for the
applieation ot my diseoverios to war
need.. Professor Poulton, of Oxford,
wrote to General Ian Hamilton urging
that the government take counsel of me.
and Prof..s.sor Herdman, of the Liver?
pool University, proposed that the Kng
lish naturalists sign a paper to this
effect, saving to mo "Your book has con
.ineodusall." But neither the Navy nor
tbi War Department eould be made to
understand that successfully to color
ships or men years of special study of
tho science involved in concealing colora
D are nccessary.
Here is a porfoctly absurd (however
disaitTOUS) Ca-ise. In British waters nine
r.or.ths in the year they have twenty
doudy hours to one sunny hour (the
, ? ate I got from OM officer; fifty to
one as I got from another), and not
mueh bettCT the Ittt of thc time
"lilthy nine months in tho year and
dirty the rest"
Obv_oua_y, then, the British navy
a color that conceala their ships
ckady -weather. There isons
color, and only one that even tenda lo
concord a ship ta such weather, and that
- they orotd with a superstitious
awe, and chooM among thc rest, where
ODS of them, or any combination of
. ia aa bad as another, achieving at
some difficulty in idtotijicatton,
making their ahips, though always
rankly isible, look perhaps like some
group of scows.
All this will be plain to our thousands
of seaside visitors this very summer
after they have read this article and
Btndied an hour or two the shipping out
on the rim of thc ocean on a cloudy day.
Here is a means to turn these thou
j_;i, .,1. , aal force to aid the Allies
by helping break down this fatal error.
On a doudy day place a stick hori
zontally upon two supporta in a situa?
tion where it will be seen againft the low
horizon sky. (Figure 1.) Upon this
stick fix firmly Hat carda of any color
you plrase, not. omitting pure white
carda, and also carda of the gray, and
gray-paH.rrnl-with-blaek, that the
navy oae. So affix them that their sur
ficei COf-a. all in one vertieal plane, and
which ot Ihe carda come nearrst to
matehing the sky. Vou will find that on
cloudy days the white onea will come far
the neare.-t to doing so and that all the
othen will altoaya look mueh too dark
against it. AN??. while the slightest
sditieation of theae carda' verticality,
_) alightest revolving ol the atick (or
Jfr slight ahifting of Ihe atmospheric
^lumination), may complete the effaco
ment of the white card at a hundred
yards or less, no such change of angle
that leaves any of the other cards any
where near vertieal or any change in
the iilumination. will in the Kast degree
diminish the rank conspieuousness of
all tho other.. On the other hand, the
white eanls ean become h<?th whiter
than the sky on your facing them more
and more upward and dark brown on
facing them more and more downward.
Ninety-nine hundredths of all ol' a
Bhip that you see at a distance is essen
tial'y vertieal. and at the fighting dis
tance ol stven or more miles ships teen
even irom eaeh other's lookout, 150 feet
above the sea, have the sky for a back?
ground even down the main part of their
Cut out of the blank margin of this
newspaper the form of a cruiser. and
pin it flat over A. (Figure 2.) Look at
it in a diminiahing light; you will find
that this white ship will fade from your
sight, while the gray and blaek ones iv
Thia illustration shows you what you
'You Will Find That on Cloudy Days the White Cards Will Come Nearest to
Matching the Sky."
The British Navy's Mistake in Attempting to Color Ships Without the Aid of a
Specialist. Did Germany Avoid This Error? How People Now at
the Seashore May Help the Allies by Their Testimony
can also see when you watch, on a
cloudy day, any white vessel. or the
white superstructure of any dark steam?
ers, ofl on the sea line; namely, that
white, instead of having the supposed
mysterious luminosity, is simply a
(pulverized) mirror of the whole sky
that lights it, and fades or waxes with
the inerease or decrease of daylight. In
cloudy weather (which secures uniform
illumination) vertical pure white so
counterfeits the sky against which you
see it that only in the brightest mo
ments is there any hope of your dis
tinguishing it from the sky. All the
rest of the time, as this watching the
ships toward nightfall, or in thickening
weather, or watching this illustration in
a darkening room, proves all vertical
white is utterly indistinguishable, while
all darker i'orms stand out starkly
vif*iblo. Yet every navy man would
have to confess to-day that he would ex?
pect a white ship, or the white super
structure of a dark one, to show more
as t he day darkened.
For Kngland to see these facts would
treble her power before the end of a
week; that is all the time it would take
to paint every vertical inch of the whole
navy, spars, cables and all, pure white.
With a view to the aviators, ships'
horizontal surfaces must wear the gray
of gulls' backs. Plainly a snow-white
sidrd pearl-backcd tern has the eostume
that has concealed billions of his ances
tors in the greatest number of moments
and situations. Yet even in a cloudy
day, out of the hundred that at any mo?
ment match their background and es
Written and Illustrated by ABBOTT THAYER
Abbott Thayer. the author oi this remarkable artiele, which shows how
warships may be protected against the attacks ol the enemy by the appll
cat Ion ol a simple coat ot paint, is one ol the toremost ot American artists,
a member ol that famous group which includes Salnt-Gaudens, Whlstler,
Winslow Homer, George Inness and John Sargent. His paintlngs, usually
of winged female figures, like the celebrated "Caritas," are among the
most treasured canvases In the private and public collections ol the United
States. Some years ago Mr. Thayer's studies of natural lite, begun at
Monadnock, N. //., where he has his home and studlo, brought him to the
dlscovery ot an extraordinary prlnclple, which he demonstrated to the
sclentltic world in a volume elahorately Illustrated by his son and himself,
"Conceallng Coloratlon in the Animal Kingdom." In this book he showed
how the coats ot birds and heasts were so devlsed by nat ure as in many
cases to aid the wearers in their detencc against their enemles in field and
iorest. Mr. Thayer's ideas have excited warm discussion and some oppo?
sition?Colonel Roosevelt being among his critics?hut they have also won
cordial approval. Lxtendlng the scope of his researches, he has given
particular attention to the question oi supplying ships wlth a protective
resource, and in the accompanylng artiele he discusses It wlth relation to
one of the leading subjects ot the hour?the hearing oi sea power upon the
Great War. The reader is especially commended to that portion ot the
artiele which explalns how the man on his vacation at the seashore may
find entertainment in proving the argument tor himself.
The seashore observer will also dis
cover that in sunny weather, too, white,
in a hundred situations, is bcautifully
Now, to cure white's one defect as a
ship concealer (its occasional blazing
brightness on its sunny side) it is only
necessary for ships to have dark gray
awnings ready to draw over the sunlit
Must we actually abandon a matter
that involves the very existence of
know that their mathematics, gunnery,
navigation, etc, have put them beyond
the competition of outsiders in thrir
fUtd can't take in that the like is also
true of the speeialists in all adjaeetlt
The moment I got ready to show all
this about the powers of white to Pro
fessor Grey (professor of physics at
Glasgow University) he said: "You
don't need to show it; I know just what
I shall see." And he proved to do so,
for any white pasteboard box that you
set anywhere out under a cloudy sky.
When you, and all the world except
painters and phyxicists studying visu
ality, look at such cases as these cubes
you show no signs whatsoever of realiz
ing that only their tops are white tn this
position, and that each other plane has
some other different and darker color,
born of its momentary situation. This
failure to understand visibility makes
you utterly helpless, and?must I say?
?makes your cocksureness a dreadful
obstacle to your country's safety at this
I tried for several years, both in Eu?
rope and here. to reveal to naturalists
the law of counter-shading, which I dis
covered about 1892, twenty-four years
ago. Ultimately, piqued by lack of re
ceptivity and even contempt, I alighted
on the thought of the application of my
law to artificial models. These I showed
at South Kensington Museum, Oxford
and Cambridge universities, at Bergen
and Florence, and personally set up in
each of these places (and in Japan and
elsewhere by directing other men who
wrote for instructions) permanent ap
paratus demonstrating the invisibility
of a counter-shaded object. The thing
became famous at once and went all
over the world, and has ever since been
called "Thayer's law."
(loaded in the same way again, I have
devised these ship models to show the
very same great fact in another appli?
cation, and they will similarly go round
The previously overlooked fact, which
?Cut Out of the Blank Margin of This Page the Form of a Cruiser and Pin It Flat Over A. Look at It in a Diminishing Light; You Will Find That This White LMup
Will Fade from Your Sight, While the Gray and Black Ones Remain Visible."
cape your eye, the gyrations of many
others keep scores of them in sight, by
making them relieve, for the moment,
either a little too light or too dark. It
follows that the average man goes on
accumulating an imaga of these ies
birds COnspkuOUSly light or dark as the
caae may be (in general only an artist
notiees which way an object relieves)
because the hordes of concealed ones
Imild in his brain no image at all.
scores of warships and thousands of
lives to the bungling of men who share
this inconceivable, though universal,
lack of sight-sense, and who are as
ignorant of these principles as fifty
years ago were medical men about
malaria or tubercle?
The accompanying extract from a
letter that went to a British naval ex
pert is appended for the additional ex
planations it contains:
It would be amusing, were it not now,
for the above reasons, an agony, to
hear your navytalk of havingthe "best
winds on this /o.)"and of having ttttitui
colors "on the spot."
What you have all done is just this:
Being all in the (inexplicable) trammels
of a notion that white is intrinsically
the one conspicuous color, you pass tl by
as out of the question, and call it testing
colors to go out to sea and compare vari
ous combinations of the other colors, all
practically always equally and ludi
crously conapicuous OUt on the sea, for
reasons unknown to you of the navy, but
as plain as A B C to the physioist and
How does it happen that men who
and we had a laugh at the marine and
lighthouse administration. "Why," said
Grey,"do they paint lighthouses white?
It was by its chancing to show dark
against light of sunset that I detected
the Scilly Light the other day."
You are all in a frightful hole, that
cost the world the Titanic (because her
officers supposed, like all the world, that
a white berg shows, and especially at
night); and the same ig*norance cost,
formerly, the Arizona; and it now offers
to cost Kngland half her navy, if Ger?
many letuns from our book, or other
in'.sv, witat that little white boat that
Mr. Bayard left you can force upon you,
if you test it as I provide.
It must be spotlessly "fhite; and this
fact alone entirely proves my case; be?
cause, at the very moment when you
learn that all other colors show too
dark against the sky, at all hours, you
will find that it is purest white that
alone can stand the verticality and still
match tiu >?/./. An object of any other,
even only slightly darker. color is a
hopelessly dark figure out on the open
sea practically all the time.
These cubes (Figure 3) may stand
both apparatus demonstrate, is that the
particular color you paint on any sur?
face is only one factor in its appearancc,
and actually a minor factor, the far
greater one being the momentary posi?
tion of this painted surface.
Naturalists, hunters, war departments
and most other people displa/ absolute
unconsciousness of the existence of this
great fact, and the navy's painting their
ships gray. or, still worse, gray made a
still darker ensemble (against the lighf
of the sky) by patches of black, is a dis
mai token of thia blindnes... Through
this fatuous blindness the Titanic
struck the berg, and your ship? go about
making the best thing they ean out of
the use of pattern (loarnH fron our
book, but here most erraueoualy ap.
plied) through avoiding the .,,,/., COlu
cealing color, white. The case is perfeet?
ly comic. On land many different com?
binations of iandscape colors, if >,n\y jn
contrasted patches, would serve to con
ceal, but out on the open sea there u
just one color, and you f*-__r t? trf ft;
The whole scene is itooyt. in cloudy
weather, just one series of whites in
their normal Iight-and-shado relations,
and a vertieal white plane out ther.
shares and imitates all the li>ht-and.
shade changes of the clouds. You make
a well-wisher weep. Half of the ships
that have been torpedoed would still be
afloat had the naval experts perceive,
that there is a science. of apprarances,
and that science does not form a part of
a naval expert's training. One would
think that some naval expert eould be
found with genius enough to perceive
this, and get for his country the help of
a scientific man whose specialty is con?
It is aa comical as if peopie couldn't
count or calculate. Even after seeinj*
their white ship invisible (most ef the
time) through the thirty to one cloudy
hours round Britain, the moment they
see the sun make one side of her too
bright for one hour they go bark atonce
to the gray that keeps the ship a black,
conspicuous figure practically all the
time in all weathera.
This moment of sun seems to pytt.
rout the naval powers of thought! Let
us accept this one hour of bright ariine
on one side, and let any one tafl why not
to pay this price for having tne ship
practically inviaibU (most of *JL*_ time)
through all the cloudy weathe? round
The only question which is here with*
in the field of naval experts is whether
they prefer mere disguise. of a ship to
having her inrisible nine hours out of
twelve in cloudy weather. (Cloudy
weather being, at least, as any one will
admit, vastly prcdominant through the
greater part of the year around (Jna*
Britain.) The question of what color
can vanish and what one can't bo.oT.g_
to that science of appearances which i*
the painter's specialty.
Your gray-and-black patterned rraft
(except in the rare moments of being
seen by a spectator at the preciae angk,
during sunshine, where thtshine
sun OU her paint strikes his eye) il al?
ways a dark figure against the back?
ground. The only advantage you gi I by
this patterning is to make the v.<sel
the navy prefer this ambignity to nin.'
hours a day of invisibilitv, with a rrtfll
better and very simple device for arr.i .
guity (which I coulddeocribetoyou) the
other three hours, ia their aiTair, but
there is only one color that wh
up vertieal is light enough not t<> be a
dark figure against the sky Bwyoaus,sad
that color it ichite. Here I am the au?
thority, but if you study those models.
set up absolutely with vertieal rvedia"
planes, in CLOUDY WEATHER, OB
some unshadowed house-top hiph
enough among its neighbors to escap*'
neighboring shadows, and to enable you
to see them against the bottom of tki
distant sk:i itself, and not against some
terrestrial object, you cannot fail to dis
cover the principle in queation,
greatly does itdarken avi color to I
up edgewise il speak, of course, of out
of-doors) that white itself, so placed.
becomes the very gray you are trying
to get, and all other colors thus set up
become hopelessly too dark.
Proud of their navies, people fre
quently point to some inky dark i
er, gray-painted, with her lateat fash
ioned black disguisc-patterns, and
"That's for invisibilitv, you know."' Thi*
has happened to me many tim.
and the vessel was always. as jfOU ??*?
see must alirays be thc ___**, a ehir-v
silhouette whose black forms menly **?
Continued on Page Eight.
"These Cubes May Stand for Any White Pasteboard Box That Vou Set Out l nder?
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