By 1895, the heavy elements of the U.S. Fleet
consisted of 15 steel cruisers, the heavy cruiser USS New
York, and three battleships. The first two battleships were
the USS Texas, commissioned on August 15, 1895, and
the USS Maine, commissioned on September 17, 1895.
Both were listed as second-class battleships. The third
ship, the USS Indiana (BB 1), was commissioned in
1895. It was our first first-class battleship.
In 1906, the United States began a large
battleship-building program. Five battleships were of the
same class as the USS New Mexico and USS Colorado;
however, they werent completed until after World War I.
Based on lessons learned from wartime experiences,
many improvements were incorporated into their design.
For example, battleships of the same class as the USS
Colorado were the first ones equipped with 16-inch guns.
As the 19th century drew to a close, the Wright
brothers were working on their flying craft. The Wright
brothersfirst flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, began
the vision of the future. Most people thought of flying as a
stunt or a sport, while others talked about crossing the
ocean by airplane. One European wrote in part,
flights over the ocean will be made
possible by a new type of ship
[its] deck will
be clear of all obstacles, flat and wide as
[it will] have the aspect of a landing
its speed shall equal that of a
housing of planes will be arranged
below deck and planes will have folding
and to one side there will be the service
Others saw the potential of aircraft serving as an
extension of the might and range of a naval force at sea.
They were convinced that airplanes wouldnt be used
just for circus sideshows and crop-dusting. They
believed aircraft would transport troops across oceans
and be equipped to strike offensively.
The Navy was again looking upward. As the Assistant
Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt recommended
that the Secretary of the Navy appoint two officers
scientific attainments and practical ability
Professor Samuel P. Langleys flying machine and report
on its potential for military use.
One such man was Navy Captain Washington Irving
Chambers, the U.S. Navys first officer in charge of
aviation. Captain Chambers initial involvement was to
answer letters from air-minded citizens and observe and
report on aviation developments of particular concern to
the Navy. What started as a collateral duty soon was a
full-time job, and Chambers became a strong supporter
of those who wanted to see the sea service add an air arm.
In April 1911, the Office of Aviation in Washington,
D.C., consisted of only Captain Chambers. In May, he
wrote requisitions for two machines made of wood,
canvas, bamboo, rubber, and metaltwo airplanes, the
A-1 and the A-2. Earlier in the year, a civilian, Eugene
Ely, had successfully taken off from and later landed a
biplane on a platform rigged aboard USS Pennsylvania
(ACR 4), demonstrating the practical use of naval
Shortly thereafter, the Navy accepted delivery of its
first airplane, the A-1. The A-1 was first flown by
Lieutenant T. G. Ellyson, the Navys first aviator. The
A-1 was followed by the A-2; naval aviation had gotten
off the ground.
By October 1911, the Navy was ready to try
durability flights. Lieutenants Ellyson and J. H. Towers
attempted a flight from Annapolis to Fort Monroe,
Virginia. After flying 112 miles in 122 minutes, the pair
was forced down somewhat short of their goal by
mechanical problems. Although a failure in part, the
flight paved the way for successful durability tests in the
Based on tremendous headway made in a few short
years, in 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
the science of aerial navigation has
reached that point where aircraft must form a large part
of our naval force for offensive and defensive
operations. It had become evident that the airplane was
no longer merely a plaything of the rich or eccentricit
had become a vital part of our nations weaponry.
OTHER DEVELOPMENTS FROM 1900
Meanwhile, the Navy was switching from coal to
oil as fuel for its ships. USS Nevada (BB 36) was the
first of the battleships to use oil. The day of the coal
passer was on the way out.