Admiral William S. Benson
1st Chief of Naval Operations: 11 May 1915 – 25 September 1919
On assuming office William S. Benson’s primary task was to prepare the United States Navy for war, and in so doing he helped define the powers of his office. The Navy began building modern steel-hulled ships in the first decade of the 20th century, but the fleet of 1916 numbered only 248. Benson went before Congress to encourage the passage of the 1916 Naval Appropriations Act, which resulted in the largest shipbuilding program in United States history, adding 76 surface ships and 67 submarines to the fleet.
Benson’s appointment was not without controversy. Thirty-one more senior officers were passed over in his appointment because Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels feared that they would pursue special interests or seek to undermine civilian control of the Navy. As it was, the Navy’s system of management through bureaus had long fostered an undercurrent of intra-bureau rivalry and it would continue to roil in Navy affairs for many years.