Today in History: United States Navy turns 246 years old!

by Alex Caldwell

Oct. 13, 2021 marks the 246th anniversary of the United States Navy’s creation. Organizers of the Navy’s birthday celebration stated that this year’s theme is “Resilient and Ready,” speaking to the history of the Navy shaking off disasters. 

The Navy received its first official recognition in 1972 by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalk. Since their recognition in 1972, each Chief of Naval Operations has encouraged a celebration of the U.S. Navy’s anniversary. 

Gen. George Washington established the first naval fleet after weaponizing fishing boats in 1775 to prevent British forces from receiving supplies from overseas. President John Adams put a bill creating the Department of Navy into law in 1798.

The United States Navy was established on October 13, 1775 by the Continental Congress. It was established to prevent British forces from getting supplies from overseas during the American Revolution. 

Gen. George Washington, an early proponent of the U.S. Navy, established a fleet of small fishing ships to use as warships while waiting for the Continental Congress to act. The U.S. Navy was created by the Continental Congress one month later. 

At the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States disbanded the Navy because of their lack of funding for it. Congressmen thought it was useless to have a Navy while there were no naval threats. However, the U.S. Navy re-launched two years later in 1794 after constant attacks on American merchant ships from pirates. Seeing a need for executive oversight for naval affairs, Congress established the Department of the Navy. President John Adams signed the bill into law in 1798.

The early U.S. Navy was incredibly small compared to other countries. At the beginning of the War of 1812, the U.S. Navy had only 16 warships, while Great Britain had nearly 600. However, the U.S. Navy won several single-ship battles against the Royal British Navy. The USS Constitution, which earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” for the way cannonballs bounced off of it, played a critical role during the War of 1812. It went undefeated in battle and destroyed 33 opponents. It is the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and it is located in Boston Historical Park.

The USS Kearsarge destroyed and sank the CSS Alabama on June 19, 1864. The Alabama captured 66 ships during the Civil War.

Throughout the 19th century, the U.S. Navy expanded around the globe. Sec. of Navy George Bancroft established the Naval Academy in 1845 in Annapolis, Maryland. The U.S. Civil War brought many technologies developed that changed naval warfare around the world such as the use of submersible naval weapons.

During the following decades, the U.S. Navy would grow to become the most powerful in the world.  While the U.S. Navy did not participate in sea battles during World War I, it drastically expanded and created quality warships. By World War II, the U.S. Navy had built aircraft carriers and warships like the world had never seen. 

Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush served in the United States Navy. President Lyndon Johnson was called into active duty while serving in Congress three days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

29 United States Presidents have served in a branch of the United States military. Six of them served in the Navy. John F. Kennedy commanded a motor torpedo boat. Lyndon B. Johnson was briefly stationed in New Zealand. Richard Nixon supervised air cargo operations. Gerald Ford served as an aircraft carrier’s assistant navigator. Jimmy Carter became a submariner after World War II. George H.W. Bush was a pilot aboard the USS San Jacinto and was shot down by the Japanese.

Since beginning as a small fleet of fishing ships, the U.S. Navy has grown to become the largest, most advanced, and most lethal naval force in the entire world. It is America’s primary deployed force, following four-core attributes, including initiative, accountability, integrity, and toughness. 

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