75mm Artillery Shell

This 75 mm artillery shell was part of a lamp stand made in 1919 as a memorial to a disaster at the T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant in Morgan, New Jersey.

On October 4, 1918, a building at the shell loading plant exploded causing the evacuation of South Amboy. To this day the cause remains unclear. Initial reports blamed the explosion on an accidental spark, company negligence and German sabotage. Sixty-four residents and employees died from the explosion but more than 300 died from an outbreak of Spanish influenza that came in the weeks after the blast.

South Amboy at the time was home to seven wartime munitions plants that employed the local residents. This particular plant was one of the largest facilities of its kind. At one time it provided 10% of the shells used at the front. These shells were stacked on open railroad cars and under floorboards at the facility. The 7:36 P.M. initial blast was followed by three days of subsequent blasts. The area has long been littered with unspent shells. Over 5,000 shell parts were recovered by the end of 1997 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The essence of these lamps, known as the Victory Lamp, and their main component, was a 75mm artillery shell recovered from the remains of the explosions.

This unique and original lamp was composed of the following components:    
•            Open top lamp shade patterned with specially designed art work.
•            The 75mm artillery shell.
•            Hardware to accommodate the light source option chosen: electric, oil or gas.
•            Statuary finished spun brass base.

•            Label on the bottom of the brass base.

There were two types of lamp shades offered. The first lamp shade type featured a metal doughboy helmet. The second one had an open top and was composed of Strathmore Vellum Parchment. The art work on the open top lamp shade was designed by Franklin Booth, a noted period artist best known for his stylized ink line drawings. It was open on the top to allow for the venting of the burned oil or burned gas.

Franklin designed the lamp shade to have a different mood depending on whether the lamp was lit or unlit. Without light, the shade portrayed a war scene. With light, the lamp transformed to a scene of peace. This was done by having artwork both on the outside of the lamp shade as well as the inside.

Records show that a Victory Lamp could be purchased for $18.40 in 1919 ($3 down payment, $3 a month for four months with a $3.40 final payment).

The French 75mm field gun was a quick-firing field artillery piece adopted in March 1898 after 5 years of research and secret trials. It saw widespread service in World War I including in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). It introduced, for the first time in the history of field artillery, a hydro-pneumatic long recoil mechanism which kept the gun's trail and wheels perfectly still during the firing sequence. Since it did not need to be re-aimed after each shot, the French 75 could deliver fifteen rounds per minute on its target up to about 5 miles (8,500 meters) away.

 

So why is a WWI artillery shell part of an air museum display? Good question! Recently while clearing out an old storage area a large, heavy object rolled out – an artillery shell! After quickly checking that it was inert, the shell was taken to the Museum and cleaned up. A close inspection revealed that it had an inscription on the casing. This was noted as ‘Victory Nov. 11, 1918 75M/M Shell.’ At this point interest was aroused in its story. As well, there was another inscription around a brass band lower on the shell. This was a Bible quote, ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’
Through the wonders of Internet research the story of this shell came to light. How did it come to the Museum? Well that is another story that has yet to be told…