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Sail to Steam Propulsion

The Great White Fleet

The Great White Fleet painting by John Charles Roach, depicting U.S. Atlantic Fleet battleships steaming at sea during their 1907–1909 world cruise (95513-KN).

n 1814 and 1815, inventor Robert Fulton built the first war steamer, known both as Fulton and Demologos. The catamaran steam frigate was completed after Fulton’s death and delivered to the Navy in June 1816. Over the next few years, experimentation on steam propulsion was ongoing, however, steam-powered ships were required to still have sails. The Navy officially transitioned from sails to steam in the late 1800s. After the destruction of battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba, battleship Texas proved its might during the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish-American War

On 16 December 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet—16-battleships of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet—on a 14-month voyage around the world to display American sea power. The 43,000-mile journey included 20 port calls across six continents with about 14,000 Sailors and Marines participating. The voyage ended on 22 February 1909, leaving a lasting legacy at home and abroad. 

On 2 April 1917, the U.S. joined World War I after years of neutrality. The most significant contribution of the Surface Navy during the "Great War" was the escort and transport of 2 million U.S. Soldiers to France. 


Suggested Reading

Selected Imagery

Steamer Fulton

Steamer Fulton (1814) lithograph, depicting the ship's launching at New York City, 29 October 1814 (NH 53968).

USS Texas (1895-1911)

USS Texas returning from Cuban waters following the Spanish-American War, 1898 (NH 61226).

The "Great White Fleet" transits the Suez Canal, January 1909

The Great White Fleet transits the Suez Canal, January 1909. Battleships of the fleet nearing Port Said, Egypt, circa 5-6 January 1909, as they approached the Mediterranean Sea during the final months of their cruise around the world. USS Ohio (battleship #12) was in the right center (NH 101494).

U.S. Destroyers entering Brest harbor, France during World War I

U.S. destroyers entering Brest Harbor, France, during World War I (NH 121706).

World War I troop convoy

U.S. troopships en route to France during World War I (NH 76380).

USS Maine (1895-1898)

USS Maine enterd Havana Harbor, Cuba (NH 48619).

USS Connecticut

USS Connecticut leading the Atlantic Fleet's battleships out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, probably at the start of the Great White Fleet's cruise around the world, December 1907 (NH 100349).

USS Minneapolis (C-13)

USS Minneapolis (C-13) in dazzle camouflage (S-023.01).

Depth Charges on board U.S. Destroyer, World War I

Depth charges on board a U.S. destroyer during World War I (NH 123847).

Photo #: NH 55013 USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6)

USS San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6), 28 January 1915, while serving as flagship of the Pacific Fleet. The ship's name had been changed from California on 1 September 1914 (NH 55013).

Published: Tue Feb 20 10:59:33 EST 2024