George Wallace Melville, born in New York City 10 January 1841, attended the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute before enlisting in the Navy Engineer Corps as third assistant engineer 29 July 1861. He served with distinction in the Civil War and the years following. In 1873 he volunteered for duty as Chief Engineer of Tigress for her rescue in Baffin Bay of 19 survivors of the Polaris expedition to the Arctic.
Lieutenant Melville next volunteered to join the Jeannette expedition, departing San Francisco, Calif., 7 August 1879 to seek an ocean passage to the Atlantic by way of Siberia. Jeannette became icebound in September and, after 2 years of effort to save her, was crushed by floes in the Laptev Sea and sank 12 June 1881. Melville led the only boat party to reach safety in Lena Delta, Siberia. He then returned north to find the frozen bodies of Jeannette’s commanding officer, Lt. George W. Delong, and his party lost in July. Congress rewarded Melville for his gallantry and resourcefulness by advancing him 15 numbers on the promotion list and awarding him a medal.
Following his next assignment in 1884 as Chief Engineer of Thetis for the Greely Relief Expedition, President Grover Cleveland appointed Melville Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering 9 August 1887. During his administration of over 16 years, Melville superintended the design of 120 ships of the “New Navy” and introduced such widely acclaimed innovations, as the water tube boiler, vertical engines, and the repair ship.
Promoted to rear admiral 3 March 1899, he was appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy 6 December 1900. The author of many technical articles and one book, “In the Lena Delta,” Admiral Melville retired 10 January 1903 and died in Philadelphia, Pa., 17 March 1912.
(AGOR‑14: dp. 1,200; l. 209'; b. 40'; dr. 15'; s. 13.5 k.; cpl. 24 plus 15 scientists; a. none; cl. Robert D. Conrad)
The second Melville (AGOR‑14) was laid down 12 July 1967 by Defoe Shipbuilding Co., Bay City, Mich., launched 10 July 1968; sponsored by Mrs. Elford A. Cederberg; and is scheduled for completion in May 1969, when she will be placed in service with the Military Sea Transportation Service as USNS Melville (T‑AGOR‑14) and chartered to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography for operation.