Born on 27 October 1858 in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt spent his childhood in a winning struggle against asthma. He strengthened his body through sheer self will and taught himself to ride, box, and shoot. In 1880, he graduated from Harvard University and turned to the writing of history. Two years later, he published his Naval War of 1812 which is still regarded as a standard study of the subject.
Also in 1882, he ran as an independent Republican for the state legislature and was elected to represent New York's 21st district. Quickly winning renown as a champion of better government, Roosevelt became minority leader in 1883 and, the following year, headed the Assembly itself.
In 1889, he began six years on the Civil Service Commission in which he opposed corruption in the dispensing of public offices. In 1895, he became president of the New York City Police Board.
In 1897, President McKinley appointed Roosevelt Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He strengthened the Navy and enabled it to begin the war with Spain in a condition of preparedness.
Desiring to participate personally in the fray, Roosevelt resigned his post on 6 May 1898 and helped to organize the 1st Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. In Cuba, he became a hero when he led that regiment—popularly dubbed the "Rough Riders"—in the famous charge up San Juan Hill.
His heroics helped to catapult him into the governorship of New York late in 1898. Two years later, he received the Republican Vice Presidential nomination and was elected with McKinley in November.
On 14 September 1901, McKinley's assassination put Roosevelt in the White House as the 26th President of the United States. He asked Congress for little legislation but used executive power to the hilt to achieve reform.
Early in 1902, he used the long neglected Sherman Antitrust Act to break up the powerful railroad trust, the Northern Securities Company, and won popularity for his achievement as a "trust buster." During the coal strike later that year, by threatening to use troops to work the mines, he forced the miners and owners to accept arbitration which resolved the issue before the crisis became acute.
In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was reelected overwhelmingly. That popular mandate allowed him to push the reform legislation through Congress.
The Elkins law and the Hepburn Act prevented railroads from charging exorbitant rates and from giving large rebates to preferred customers. The Expedition Act established special three-judge courts to expedite the trial of antitrust suits.
The Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act protected consumers from the evil practices carried out by the food and meatpacking industries. Roosevelt also dusted off old laws which provided for the establishment of federal parks, national forests, and national preserves of coal, mineral, and petroleum-producing lands to save much of America's natural bounty for succeeding generations.
Roosevelt conducted a vigorous foreign policy. When the Colombian senate refused to ratify the Hay-Herran Treaty—which provided for American construction of and control over an isthmian canal across the Colombian province of Panama—Roosevelt countered by supporting Panamanian insurgents who staged a bloodless coup and immediately agreed to the treaty in their own right. After that, he personally superintended every step of canal construction.
His policy toward other Latin Amercian nations was directed toward protecting them from European intervention. The crowning feat to his diplomacy came in 1905, when Roosevelt played the major role in bringing about the negotiations in Portsmouth harbor which ended the Russo-Japanese War. This contribution to world peace won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
To Roosevelt the aggressive diplomat, a large and efficient navy constituted a primary tool for the conduct of foreign policy. Hence he launched a program to raise the United States Navy up to a high standard of efficiency and strength. He enlarged the fleet, modernized its ships, increased both its officer corps and enlisted complement, and improved efficiency through better training.
Roosevelt reorganized the Navy's operating forces along more rational lines. He called home its ships from stations scattered over the earth and then abolished the stations. He then divided the Navy into three fleets: the Atlantic Fleet (including all battleships), the Pacific Fleet, and the Asiatic Fleet. This change and the increase in personnel allowed the Navy to improve efficiency and to adopt a more realistic training program. The cruise of the Great White Fleet around the world between late 1907 and 1909 might be considered the triumph of his naval policies and the culmination of his efforts to wed military strength to diplomatic endeavor.
Late in February 1909, the battleships of the Atlantic Fleet returned to Hampton Roads and filed past their benefactor in a huge naval review. Early the following month, Theodore Roosevelt passed the reins of government to his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft, and left the country on a schedule of safaris, hunts, and tours. However, soon after his triumphal return to the United States in 1910, he became disillusioned by Taft's conservatism. In 1912, he tried to win the Republican presidential nomination. When Taft won the Grand Old Party's banner, Roosevelt led his followers out of the party and formed the Progressive Party. The Republican split gave victory to the Democrats, and Woodrow Wilson became president in March 1913.
Roosevelt returned to retirement and resumed writing and travelling. Although neutral at the outbreak of World War I, he quickly became pro-Allied. His outspoken criticism of Wilson's neutrality sought to arouse the country to what he saw as a struggle between benevolent democracy and rapacious, Pan-German imperialism. When the country did enter the war, Roosevelt applied to Wilson for a military command, but the latter ignored him. He hoped to run again for the presidency in 1920, but that last dream was denied him as well for he died peacefully in his sleep on 6 January 1919 at Sagamore Hill, his home at Oyster Bay, N.Y.
(ScStr: t. 1,955 (gross); 1. 287'0"; b. 40'0" (wl.); dr. 12'6" (mean); s. 20.8 k.)
The first Theodore Roosevelt (Id. No. 1478)—a steamer built in 1906 at Toledo, Ohio, by the Toledo Shipbuilding Co.—was acquired by the Navy from the Roosevelt Steamship Co. sometime in the spring of 1918 and fitted out as a troop transport during the summer and fall. Though some sources suggest that Theodore Roosevelt was never commissioned in the Navy, the fact that the 1919 Navy Directory lists Lt. Harry D. Irwin, USNRF, as "comdg U.S.S. Roosevelt" is a strong indication to the contrary. In any event, by 1 November 1918, she was assigned to duty as a cross-channel transport carrying troops back and forth between Great Britain and France. She continued that duty at least until 1 April 1919 and probably returned to the United States sometime in April or May. As of 1 June 1919, the transport was at New York awaiting disposition. On 1 July 1919, she was sold—the purchaser's name is unrecorded—and her name was struck from the Navy list.