WINDOW INTO THE PAST #1: THE GREAT WHITE FLEET VISIT OF 1908
Location: Now part of “USS San Pedro” Navy display at 447 W. 6th Street, San Pedro, CA
The Great White Fleet Background & Information
“At 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, 18 April (1908), the fleet got under way for the ten-hour trip to San Pedro… On arrival the beaches around San Pedro were swarming with people, more even than at San Diego, and to the men of the fleet it seemed as though all of Los Angeles had turned out. The ships anchored for the night in a single column in the outer harbor. The next morning…. the divisions would proceed independently to various Los Angeles ports – San Pedro, Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Redondo.
In the meantime the fleet put on a searchlight show for the crowds before they made their way home. Many had to take an hour-long trolley ride back to Los Angeles. The public transportation system was overtaxed, the cars filling up rapidly but at the end of two hours hardly putting a dent in the crowd. As a result, some people chose to camp for the night on the bluff overlooking the harbor.”
— Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet by James R. Reckner, 1988
Theodore Roosevelt, assuming the Presidency in 1901 after McKinley was assassinated, felt that only a strong navy could prove the United States’ power and prestige abroad. To this end, he had 11 new battleships built in American shipyards from 1905 until 1907. He felt this endeavor was very important to eliminate any problems that may arise as the USA was ill prepared for war.
On December 16, 1907 Roosevelt watched from his presidential yacht off Hampton Roads, VA as 16 battleships, manned by 14,000 sailors and marines, set out on a 43,000 mile, 14 month, 6 continents cruise around the world.
Among the memorable stops on this journey were the successful passage through the Strait of Magellan; the ability to assist in an earthquake in Sicily; and the wonderful receptions they received around the world. Thousands watched from many ports as the fleet sailed into their harbors.
One of the hardest jobs on the ships was “coaling the ship.” This occurred about every 2 weeks in ports around the world, as the entire crew worked to load about 2000 tons of “black diamonds” (coal) to fill the bunkers. The men who kept the ship fueled were known as the “black gang.”
The first use of wireless telephony was employed on this trip. This new technology allowed the ships to have ship to ship communication as well as ship to shore. When working properly, the range of the wireless was 75 miles.
This fantastic journey proved the USA a world power and improved relationships with other countries, particularly Japan. Operationally it was a resounding success as there were no serious maintenance problems or breakdowns.
The trip ended as it began with President Roosevelt meeting the fleet aboard his yacht in VA on February 21, 1909. He felt that the success of the Great White Fleet was the most important accomplishment of his presidency.