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U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1886-1916

This list includes ships commissioned in the U.S. Navy between 1886-1916, the initial year being the date when the first two ships of the steel navy went into commission.  In regards to annual totals, since many ships went in and out of commission during this period (it was often the practice in the 19th-century to decommission ships when they returned to port), only the final decommissioning date is used to determine when a ship is no longer in service.  Yard craft, tugs, station and receiving ships, and ships transferred to State naval militia service are not included.

A note on cruisers.  In the late 19th-century, the term cruiser was applied to both the few remaining wooden ships and the newer steel unarmored, partly-armored, and armored warships.  The first steel cruisers were called "protected cruisers" in order to distinguish them from the older wooded or iron-clad cruisers.  Armored cruisers, distinguished by increased armor protection, were another category.  For this table, all the steel cruisers are included in one row, while the unarmored converted auxiliary cruisers are included in the screw-steamer category.

Tables:

1886-1891 | 1892-1897 | 1898-1903 | 1904-1909 | 1910-1916


U.S. Navy Ship Force Levels, 1886-1891 

Date 12/86 12/87 12/88 12/89 12/90 12/91
Battleship            
Cruiser* 1 2 2 4 7 8
Monitor           1
Torpedo Boats         1 1
Steel Gunboats** 1 1 1 4 5 7
Auxiliaries           1
Screw Steamer*** 13 13 13 13 11 10
Screw Sloops^ 14 14 14 14 10 10
Gunboats~ 5 5 5 5 5 5
Sailing vessels@ 4 4 4 3 3 3
Steel Navy 2 3 3 8 13 18
Old Navy$ 36 36 36 35 29 28
Total Active 38 39 39 43 42 46
Events  U.S. authorized first vessels of the "steel navy" in 1883 and 1885.  First battleship (pre-dreadnought) authorized in 1886.  Publication of Alfred Thayer Mahan's widely read but often misunderstood The Influence of Sea Power Upon History in 1890.

* mostly protected cruisers plus two armored cruisers and three unprotected cruisers.

** although not a gunboat, the steel-hulled despatch boat Dolphin was part of the "New Navy."  The great increase in numbers after 1897 includes new building, conversions, and war prizes.

*** all wooden or iron ships until 1898 when the wartime expansion included eleven merchant ships temporarily converted to auxiliary cruisers.

^ includes one steam sloop and one steam sloop-of-war.

~ includes wooden, composite, and iron gunboats.

@ includes one sloop-of-war and three training ships.

$ The distinction between "Old" Navy and "Steel" Navy is somewhat artificial, the former being the old iron-hulled vessels with early steam engines, while the latter term covers (with a few exceptions) the new steel-hulled triple-expansion steam engine warships that become the standard ships of 20th-century navies.

 


U.S. Navy Ship Force Levels, 1892-1897 

Date 12/92 12/93 12/94 12/95 12/96 12/97
Battleship       3 5 6
Cruiser 8 9 16 17 16 16
Monitor 1 2 2 3 6 6
Torpedo Boats 1 1 1 1 1 6
Steel Gunboats 7 9 10 10 11 14
Auxiliaries# 1 1 1 1 1 1
Screw Steamer 9 7 7 7 7 7
Screw Sloops 8 7 6 6 6 5
Gunboats 5 5 5 5 5 10
Sailing vessels 3 2 2 2 1 1
Steel Navy 18 22 30 35 40 49
Old Navy 25 21 20 20 19 23
Total Active 43 43 50 55 59 72
Events   First three battleships commissioned in 1895.

 


 U.S. Navy Ship Force Levels, 1898-1903 

Date 12/98 12/99 12/00 12/01 12/02 12/03
Battleship 6 5 8 9 10 11
Cruiser 18 15 13 9 16 19
Monitor 14 6 5 6 6 6
Destroyers         8 16
Torpedo Boats 12 15 18 24 27 27
Submarines     1* 1 1 8
Steel Gunboats 34** 28 30 29 29 29
Auxiliaries# 30 26 25 25 26 26
Screw Steamer 16 13 11 10 9 9
Screw Sloops 4 4 3 3 3 2
Sailing Ships 1 1***        
Gunboats~ 25 20 26 25 25 22
Steel Navy 114 95 100 103 123 142
Old Navy 46 38 40 38 37 33
Total Active 160 133 140 141 160 175
Events    Spanish-American War, April-August 1898.

First submarine enters service in 1900.  First torpedo boat destroyers enter service in 1902.

 

* Holland, although technically a submersible torpedo boat, was the first of some 500 or so diesel-electric boats commonly referred to as "submarines."

*** About 20 steel ships, converted to gunboats, were bought by the Navy in 1898 because of the war with Spain.

# before the Spanish-American War, this category included the small freight carrier Fern.  For the wartime period and after, it covers colliers, supply ships, water supply ships, a transport, a hospital ship, and a refrigerator ship.

*** By the turn of the century, the only active sailing ship left in the Navy (the rest had become stationary receiving or training ships or had been transferred to State Militias or Marine Schools) was the bark Severn, used to train midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis.  The category is therefore closed.

~Twenty-three converted yachts, fourteen revenue cutters transferred from the Treasury Department, war prizes, and conversions of private craft temporarily increased the number of non-steel "gunboats" in the Navy during and after 1898.

 


U.S. Navy Ship Force Levels, 1904-1909

Date 12/04 12/05 12/06 12/07 12/08 12/09
Battleship 12 12 18 22 25 25
Cruiser 23 24 27 25 27 27
Monitor 5 4 4 4 2 2
Destroyers 16 16 16 16 16 20
Torpedo Boats* 29 32 32 32 33 33
Submarines 8 8 8 11 12 16
Steel Gunboats 29 28 25 22 20 19
Auxiliaries 28 27 29 30 30 29
Screw Steamer 4 4 2**      
Screw Sloops 2***          
Gunboats 21 19 19 18 16 16
Total Active 177 174 180 180 181 187
Events    

 

* A number of torpedo boats went in and out of commission during this time period, often seeing service with reserve units or State Militias.  Most, however, came back into the Navy in 1917 and therefore remain on the list.

** By 1906, all the screw steamers had either decommissioned or had become station ships, tenders, trainers, or auxiliaries, thus this category is closed down.

*** After 1904, the remaining two sloops, Hartford and Mohican, only served as training or station ships, thus closing down this category.

**** By 1906, the distinction between old and steel navy is no longer useful. 


U.S. Navy Ship Force Levels, 1910-1916 

Date 12/10 12/11 12/12 12/13 12/14 12/15 12/16
Battleship 29 30 32 32 34 32 36
Cruiser 27 25 24 27 28 30 30
Monitor 2 3 3 3 3 3 3
Destroyers 27 36 42 46 50 57 61
Torpedo Boats* 31 30 30 25 19 18 18
Submarines 17 17 23 26 36 37 44
Steel Gunboats 18 18 17 17 17 17 17**
Auxiliaries 29 28 28 27 26 26 25
Gunboats 16 15 12 11 11 11 11**
Total Active 196 202 211 214 224 231 245
Events    

 

* A number of torpedo boats went in and out of commission during this time period, often seeing service with reserve units or State Militias.  Most, however, came back into the Navy in 1917 and therefore remain on the list.

** These two categories are merged together with the great wartime expansion of gunboat numbers in 1917.


23 January 2002