Henry Reuterdahl (August 12, 1871 – December 21, 1925) was a Swedish-American artist, author, and lecturer highly acclaimed for his nautical artwork. Reuterdahl had a long relationship with the United States Navy. After being sent to illustrate the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, he decided to remain in the United States where he began work as an illustrator for Chicago Graphic. Reuterdahl became well known for his maritime art after he did a series of vivid illustrations of navy warships for Harper’s and wrote about naval topics during the Spanish-American War.In addition to publishing nautical illustrations for numerous magazines, Reuterdahl displayed his own artwork at the Armory Exhibition in 1913 and worked as the American editor of the warship-enthusiast publication Jane’s Fighting Ships.
In 1907, Reuterdahl was selected by President Theodore Roosevelt to accompany the Great White Fleet voyage to document the journey. Just as the fleet was set to depart and parade America’s new naval power before the world, Reuterdahl published an article “The Needs of Our Navy,” in McClure’s Magazine. The article catalogued poor design features of the new battleships that severely limited the “navy’s ships and fighting ability.” Besides criticizing these engineering defects, Reuterdahl went on to blame the navy’s bureau system whose lack of direct contact with the sea “compels it to perpetuate mistakes." The article had a major impact, causing much consternation among not only the military, but in a large number of newspapers across the country as well. Reuterdahl left the Great White Fleet after it passed through the Strait of Magellan, some sources explaining the departure as a result of a family illness and others that he had been expelled from the journey by Theodore Roosevelt. Retuerdahl’s article eventually led to a reorganization of the Department of the Navy five years later.
In 1917, he was appointed a Lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve Force and the next year promoted to Lieutenant Commander and eventually honorably discharged in 1922. During World War I, Mr. Reuterdahl contributed with his brush huge naval paintings for the campaign to float Liberty Bonds and Navy recruitment, including many recruiting posters and a billboard in Times Square in New York City, and a large Liberty Bond sign painted with N.C. Wyeth. His art is represented at the Naval Academy by ten naval paintings presented to the Navy by the late George von L. Meyer, former Secretary.
The name Reuterdahl was like a household word in the American Navy because of the artist’s numerous contributions to its pictorial history and the many friendships had had formed with officers while aboard ship making marine pictures or painting mural decorations on the bulkheads of the officers’ mess rooms. He had decorated the ward rooms of many of the ward rooms of American battleships and destroyers, and for the Delaware, since scrapped, had painted a scene picturing that battleship with her guns in action. It was one of the most notable of his wardroom decorations.
Additionally, Reuterdahl painted marine murals for Vincent Astor’s yacht Noma, Harold S. Vanderbilt’s schooner yacht Vagrant, and the yacht Viking, owned by George D. Baker, Jr. For the Missouri State Capitol, he painted the naval mural “We Are Ready Now.”