A sprig of 3 gold oak leaves with 3 acorns is recognized today as the insignia of a U.S. Navy Supply Corps Officer. Since 1918, Pay Corps and then Supply Corps Officers beginning in 1919, have worn a stand-alone embroidered oak leaf insignia just above the top stripe on their service dress blue coat sleeves.
So the question arises, “When was the stand-alone embroidered oak leaf first worn on a Navy uniform?” Starting in 1866, just after the Civil War ended, Navy Paymasters, the predecessors to Supply Corps Officers, wore an embroidered sprig of 3 oak leaves and 2 acorns on the collars of their blue sack coats to distinguish themselves as Navy Paymasters. Civil War era Paymasters and the Pursers before them wore oak leaf shoulder straps and epaulettes, and an oak leaf device in the wreath of their caps since 1852, but never wore the oak leaf alone on their collars or sleeves. Navy line officers began wearing the five-pointed gold star on their sleeves in 1863. At first, there were no sleeve stripes on sack coats, so there was an oak leaf and a rank device on both sides of the collar. The oak leaf insignia came in gold or silver, with just 2 acorns. A third acorn was added in 1886.
From about 1877 to 1919, and an interim period up until 1921 for still serviceable uniforms, U.S. Navy Officers wore a high standing collar military tunic, single-breasted style blue service coat. A larger size silver oak leaf about 1 1/2 inches long was worn, along with a rank device on both sides of the collar, in addition to sleeve stripes. A large gold oak leaf was worn on each collar in 1917 by Pay Officers of the US Naval Reserve Force (USNRF). From 1918 to 1919, and sometimes until 1921, Paymasters would wear a superimposed embroidered gold oak leaf over a metal silver anchor on the collars of their tunic. Navy line officers wore a plain metal silver fouled anchor.
In summary, the Paymaster ancestors of today’s Supply Corps Officers began wearing a stand-alone embroidered sprig of oak leaves and acorns on their blue uniforms as a symbol of our staff corps in 1866. The Supply oak leaf is the oldest staff corps insignia in the Navy dating back to 1852. The stand-alone embroidered oak leaf uniform tradition that began over 150 years ago continues on today for the men and women afloat and ashore in the business and logistics profession who so expertly support our warfighters.
~Excerpted from article by CAPT Donald Hoffmann, SC, USN (Ret.), Member