Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet 

1922 5¢ Theodore Roosevelt, dark blue
US #557 – from the Series of 1922-25

On December 16, 1907, Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet departed the United States for a 434-day journey around the globe to demonstrate America’s sea power.

The practice of sending naval ships to other countries wasn’t a new one. It was common practice in the 1800s to send ships for the birthdays of monarchs or other foreign celebrations.

In the case of the Great White Fleet, Roosevelt had many reasons. He wanted to show the US and the world that America was a major sea power. Additionally, since Japan had recently emerged as another significant sea power, he wanted the fleet to demonstrate to them that America’s Navy could go anywhere from any of its ports to defend the nation’s interests. On the home front, Roosevelt hoped the fleet would distract Americans from the economic depression at the time and rouse patriotism. The journey would also give the fleet more experience in navigation, communication, coal use, and maneuvering.

1945 3¢ US Armed Forces: Navy
US #935 –The US Navy considers the Great White Fleet to be one of it’s greatest peacetime efforts.

The Great White Fleet consisted of 16 battleships and several auxiliary ships. The ships were painted white with gilded bows. On December 16, 1907, President Roosevelt oversaw the fleet’s departure from Hampton Roads, Virginia. Roosevelt stood on the deck of the presidential yacht Mayflower as the ships passed. Many more people watched from the shore as the song “The Girl I Left Behind Me” played.

Interestingly, Roosevelt hadn’t made his plan for the fleet to travel the globe public until shortly after the fleet departed. Once other nations learned of this, they quickly sent invitations for the fleet to visit their ports. The fleet first went to the South Atlantic and made its first visit at Port of Spain in Trinidad on December 23. On January 6, the fleet crossed the equator and ships held a number of costumed initiation ceremonies.

2006 OGPM The Great White Fleet Sails, 1907
Item #571566 – Commemorative Cover marking the 99th anniversary of launch of the Great White Fleet

As the fleet made its way around the world, groups greeted them in the thousands at every port. They stopped in California in May 1908 and the officers were treated to a grand ball. In Japan, the fleet was greeted with a large friendly welcome, as the Japanese wanted to show their desire for peace.

The Great White Fleet returned to Hampton Roads, Virginia, on February 22, 1909. Roosevelt was again present for the ceremony and stated “Other nations may do what you have done, but they’ll have to follow you.”

1977 Cover Great White Fleet
Item #92107 – Commemorative Cover making the 70th anniversary of the Great White Fleet

In all, the fleet consisted of four squadrons manned by 14,000 sailors and Marines commanded by Rear Admiral Robley “Fighting Bob” Evans. Over the course of 14 months, they traveled 43,000 miles and made 20 port calls on six continents. The journey of the Great White Fleet is often considered one of the greatest peacetime efforts of the US Navy.

Click here for photos and more from the journey.

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4 responses to "Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet "

4 thoughts on “Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet ”

  1. Don,
    I start every morning reading your column. GREAT! History lessons of events we never heard about in school. Good conversation at cocktail parties.

    Keep up the great history lessons.

    Mike

    Reply
  2. As a side note to this story, Congress initially failed to appropriate enough funds for this trip. There was enough in that year’s Navy budget, though, for TR to send it halfway around the globe, which he did, using his authority as Commander-in-Chief. He then told Congress that if it wanted to get the fleet back home it would have to appropriate the money to do so. Given that choice, Congress quickly complied.

    Reply

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