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The history of the Navy Exchange System.

The modern Navy Exchange and ship's store of today are vastly different from the ones that originated more than 200 years ago.

Navy Exchanges have come a long way since the days when bumboats sold their wares to Sailors aboard Naval vessels in the 1800's. Bank then, Sailors had to depend on these unreliable boats to get their personal items while aboard ship.

The bumboats, small vessels that pulled alongside U.S. Navy ships, exchanged merchandise for money by pails lowered over the side by the crew of the Navy ship. goods sold by the bumboats were normally inferior and sold at very high prices.

As an alternate to bumboats, many Navy ships operated canteens or "slop chests," so that the money spent by the crewmembers stayed on the boat and helped improve the quality of the food served by the general mess. The canteens were often financed by the crew with an agreement with the ship's captain and managed by the ship's paymaster, the forerunner of today's Supply officer. bought the merchandise on a consignment basis, but because of the movement of the ship, payment for the merchandise was often difficult. Because of this problem, many people in the Navy thought canteens reflected poorly on the integrity of the service.


The first canteen opened aboard USS Indiana in 1896, and only sold beer. Soon canteens started carrying tobacco and other items for the ship's crew to purchase. The increased profits from these sales went to support welfare and recreation purposes aboard each ship.

By 1909, the Naval Appropriations Act established the first official resale activity, the Ships Stores and Commissary Stores. The actallowed the Navy to procure and sell merchandise to Navy and Marine Corps officer and enlisted men, and to civilian employees at naval stations outside the continental United States and in Alaska. The ships stores were now authorized to make a profit, as long as it did not exceed 15 percent. Unfortunately, ships stores did not produce sufficient revenue for financing the welfare funds, so in 1925 the Ships Service was created to provide Navy crewmembers nearly any legal article of merchandise without the profit restrictions placed on the Ships Store. However, these Ships Services had no foundation in law.


It became clear by 1942 that there was no need or space for two ships service type stores recommendation was made to the Chief of Naval Operations by the Supply Officer, U.S. Atlantic Fleet to merge the two stores into one official ships store operation.

The recommendation was accepted and by 1944, the Secretary of the Navy made the establishment of the merged stores mandatory on all ships that had a supply officer and permissive on all Naval activities.

Ships Service Stores ashore also began steps towards centralization in 1945 when a committee was formed to study resale activities. The recommendation of the committee, headed by Capt. Wheelock Bingham, SC, USNR, was that all resale activities be operated like a large chain of retail stores, and that a central office be established to oversee the operation of the Navy Resale System.


The Secretary of the Navy gave his approval of the Bingham Plan, which stated, in part, that the Ships Service Stores Ashore be operated with non-appropriated funds and that civilians should fill positions at the operating level. Navy Supply Corps Officers, however, would fill top management positions. Naval personnel were also to operate the Ships Stores Afloat and the Ships Service Stores, which would be merged into one program and renamed the Ships Stores Afloat Program.

The new central office for the Navy Ships Store Office was established in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Apr. 1, 1946. This office was later renamed the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) and relocated to Virginia Beach, Va., in 1993.

NEXCOM is headquarters for the worldwide Navy Exchange System. Its mission is to provide authorized customers quality goods and services at a savings, and support quality of life programs for active duty military, retirees, reservists and their families.

NEXCOM is parent command is the Naval Supply Systems Command. NEXCOM provides oversight for 103 Navy Exchange complexes with nearly 300 stores, as well as 41 Navy Lodges, ship's stores and the Uniform Program Management Office.
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Title Annotation:Cover story
Publication:Navy Supply Corps Newsletter
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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