Friday, March 22, 2013

American Warships – ca. 1900 to 1920

When I was going through my postcard collection and writing about my hometown, Jackson Michigan, I ran across a number of interesting and historical postcards.  For this blog, I thought that I’d write about a few early 20th Century United States naval vessels…while covering those who wrote and received the postcards.

This postcard was mailed in May of 1908 to Miss Therese Hildmer in Frankenmuth Michigan from Will D. in Los Angeles California.  Other than providing a new address for the writer, all Will did was to provide the comment on the card above. 

This is the USS Kearsarge, the lead ship in her class of pre-dreadnought battleships and the second of 5 US Naval vessels using that name.  The first 'Kearsarge' was a sloop of war from the Civil War.  This was the ship that finally ran down and sank the CSS Alabama, a Confederate raider that managed to sink or capture 65 union vessels before being sunk.
This 2nd Kearsarge was commissioned in 1900, decommissioned in 1909, refitted and re-commissioned in 1915 and then finally decommissioned again in 1920.  The ship was 375 feet long and had an average crew of 554 men.  Her main armament consisted of 4 – 13” Guns plus 46 others and 4 torpedo tubes.  Guests who boarded her in her early years included King George I of Greece, King Carlos of Portugal, the Prince of Wales/later King George V of Great Britain and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.  The USS Kearsarge was also part of America’s “Great White Fleet”, but more on that later.

The Kearsarge served primarily as a training ship during WWI.  In 1920, her armaments were removed and she was converted into a ‘crane ship’, and was later designated Crane Ship I. (Photo above) With her 250 ton crane she continued to work for the navy until around 1950.  She was scrapped in 1955…after 55 years of service in one form or another. 
Incidentally, in the honor of the first Kearsarge, this battleship was the only battleship not to be named after a state.  Also, my brother Robert served on CV-33, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge during the Vietnamese War.
This postcard was mailed in April of 1908 to Miss Melena A. Norton in Kenesaw Nebraska from Katie W. Thrall in San Diego California.  Katie wrote: “We are in San Diego.  We have had a good time.  The fleet was grand.  Love to all…”

The USS Vermont was commissioned in 1904 and decommissioned in 1920…and then scrapped in accord with the Washington Naval Treaty which attempted, unsuccessfully, to limit the size of the world’s navies.  She was 456 feet long and had a crew of 880.  Her top speed was 18 knots and she was armed with 4 - 12” guns plus 54 other guns!  In 1913, she and 4 other battleships entered the Mexican port of Veracruz to ‘protect American interests’.  Her landing force of 308 men and 12 officers engaged in a pitched battle with the forces of the Mexican dictator and our troops earned 2 Medals of Honor.  During WWI, the Vermont served as an Engineering Training ship in Chesapeake Bay and at the end of the war, she made 4 voyages to Europe to bring home 5,000 of our troops.

The USS Vermont and the USS Kearsarge were both part of the Great White Fleet. (Shown above at sea) Today this would be called 'gunboat diplomacy'.  Teddy Roosevelt put together a US Battle Fleet to circumnavigate the globe…16 battleships in 2 squadrons plus escorts.  He wanted to demonstrate America’s military power and especially our blue water capabilities… Japan was his primary concern.  The hulls were painted white as that was our peace-time color scheme.  Much was learned about design, gunnery, refueling, etc.  This ‘exercise’ stretched from December, 1907 until February, 1909.  
This postcard mailed in May of 1908 to Mrs. E. J. Kistenmacher, aka Aggie, in Davenport Iowa from her sister, ‘Helen’ in Holstein Iowa.  Helen wrote about ‘Rollo’, the baby and pretty much the whole family having whooping cough.  It sure didn’t sound too promising.  I hope that everyone survived…

This is a Pennsylvania Class Armored Cruiser, the USS West Virginia.  She was commissioned in 1905, decommissioned in 1920 and scrapped in 1930.  This ship was 504 feet long, had a top speed of 22 knots and a crew of 830 men.  She spent most of her time in Pacific Fleet/Asiatic Squadron until WWI.  During the war, she was outfitted with 4 seaplanes and catapults and served on convoy escort duties.  She also made 9 troop and supply trips to and from Europe.  In total, she brought 12,000 veterans home after the war. 
Two other US Naval vessels have been named after the state of West Virginia.  One was a Colorado Class Battleship that served during WWII and the other is an Ohio Class Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine.  The submarine is actually longer and heavier than this armored cruiser was…
This postcard was mailed in September 1907 to Mrs. J. L. Lankford in Springfield Illinois from a Mrs. Marsh in Bremerton Washington.  Mrs. Marsh wrote that “We were on this boat.  It’s fine.  This is 16 miles from Seattle across the sound.”

This is the USS Charleston, a “Protected Cruiser”, the first of its type to be built.  It was built in San Francisco by the Union Iron Works based on a British design.  She was 426 feet long, weighed 9,700 tons, cruised at 22 knots and had a crew of 673.  Her main armament was 14 - 6” guns.  She was part of the Pacific Squadron.
In 1906, the Charleston carried Secretary of State Elihu Root to South America on a series of goodwill visits.  In 1907, this was the first US Navy ship to attend Portland Oregon’s Rose Festival…a practice that has continued through the years.  During WWI, The USS Charleston saw lots of convoy escort duty.  She was part of the 1st American Expeditionary Force to France.
When the Charleston was scrapped in 1930, her hull was first used as a breakwater at the mouth of the Powell River at the north end of Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada.  However, when it appeared that it might sink in the channel, it was towed and beached on the island…where the rusted hull can still be seen today.
This postcard was mailed in May of 1908 to Miss Etta Roche in Chicago Illinois from someone in San Francisco who apparently just used their initials…”RJOR” is my best guess.  Based on the length and depth of the message, the postcard must have been sent by a male...  It read “This ship is in the bay here now…with love to all.”

The USS South Dakota was commissioned in 1908, was renamed the USS Huron in 1920, and she was decommissioned in 1927.  She is a Pennsylvania Class Armored Cruiser.   The South Dakota was 504 feet long, cruised at 22 knots and had a crew of 830 men.  Her main armament consisted of 4 – 8” guns…but she had 46 others as well plus 2 torpedo tubes.  Much of her time was spent in the Asiatic Fleet but she did provide escort service and guarded South American ports during WWI. 
When the USS South Dakota was scrapped in 1930, she suffered a similar fate as the USS Charleston.  Her hull was sunk in the mouth of British Columbia’s Powell River to serve as a breakwater.  The hull later sunk completely following a storm.
Just click on any of the postcard photos to enlarge them…
Thanks for stopping by for this review of early 20th Century US Navy warships plus a bit of history.  Obviously, the use of warship postcards was all the rage in 1907 and 1908.
Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. You are a man of many interests. This was fascinating. I hope you and Laurie have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

  2. Interesting as always. I worked for years at Navy Recruiting in Louisville and loved to hear all the stories the guys told about being at sea on the massive ships.

  3. What lovely and interesting post dear Dave, I love these postcards:)))