U.S. Navy history from the year you were born
Since the Revolutionary War days of Commodore John Barry and Capt. John Paul Jones—two of the candidates for the title “Father of the Navy”—the U.S. Navy has been at the forefront of defending the shores of America.
The last 100 years have seen two world wars, fighting in the Korean Peninsula, conflict in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, the Cold War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus assorted flare-ups from Lebanon to Grenada. Through it all, the Navy has been there—both above and below troubled waters.
Six presidents have been veterans of the Navy or Naval Reserves: In World War II, John F. Kennedy commanded a patrol torpedo (PT) boat and George H.W. Bush was a young naval fighter pilot. Others include Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter. Franklin Roosevelt served as an assistant secretary of the Navy.
Then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016 promised a 350-ship Navy—up from about 280. While that goal may be elusive, the U.S. Navy remains the most dominant fighting force on the high seas. For example, it has 11 aircraft carriers, including the $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford commissioned in 2017, compared with one modern carrier for China and one for Russia. The Ford has been beset with problems, but no nation has a ship that is anywhere near as advanced—at least on paper.
In the future, the U.S. complement of ships may include unmanned vessels—a so-called Ghost Fleet. The Navy is setting aside some $400 billion in its 2020 budget to build two large, unmanned surface vessels, with a goal of building 10 ships the size of small warships. But whether any ships without officers and sailors can ever match the nautical exploits of the Navy over the past 100 years remains to be seen.
For a look at some of those extraordinary instances of sea power and Navy heroics, take a gander at the historical moments Stacker has selected from 1920 to the present, and be sure to zero in on the year you were born.
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1920: A sailor takes flight
Navy strength: 121,845 people (0.11% of U.S. population)
The first enlisted sailor, Harold H. “Kiddy” Karr, became a naval aviator after flight training in France and Italy. His insignia designated him as a Naval Aviator Pilot (NAP).
1921: Unknown Soldier comes home
Navy strength: 132,827 people (0.12% of U.S. population)
The USS Olympia—the steel flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish–American War of 1898—brought the remains of the Unknown Soldier back to America from World War I.
1922: First aircraft carrier is commissioned
Navy strength: 100,211 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
The Langley, a converted collier named after aviation pioneer Samuel P. Langley, was commissioned at Norfolk, Va., complete with a wooden flight deck.
1923: Honda Point disaster
Navy strength: 94,094 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The year marked the biggest peacetime naval accident to date—the Honda Point disaster in which 23 sailors died and seven destroyers were destroyed off the rocky coast of California.
1924: Scandal rocks the Navy
Navy strength: 98,184 people (0.09% of U.S. population)
Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby resigned in disgrace after becoming ensnared in the Teapot Dome Scandal during the Harding administration. The corruption involved bribes paid to sell Navy petroleum leases to private oil companies without competitive bidding.
1925: Airship down
Navy strength: 95,230 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
In 1923, the USS Shenandoah, the first of the Navy's rigid airships, was launched and could hit speeds of 70 mph. It crashed in the hills of southern Ohio two years later—signaling the beginning of the end for dirigibles.
1926: Byrd over the North Pole
Navy strength: 93,304 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The first flight over the North Pole was made by Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd Jr. and aviation pilot Floyd E. Bennett. In a round trip taking 15.5 hours, they circled the Pole before flying back to Norway.
1927: Bringing Lindbergh home
Navy strength: 94,916 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
Aboard the cruiser USS Memphis, with The Spirit of St. Louis in the ship's hold, President Calvin Coolidge pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Charles Lindbergh after the first-ever solo flight across the Atlantic.
1928: Blimp on board
Navy strength: 95,803 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
The USS Los Angeles, a German-built zeppelin, landed on the USS Saratoga carrier. The building of the rigid airship by the Zeppelin Co. was part of reparations demanded of Germany after World War I.
1929: Byrd over the South Pole
Navy strength: 97,117 people (0.08% of U.S. population)
Richard E. Byrd Jr., now a Navy commander, and civilian pilot Bernt Balchen, along with two others, made the first flight over the South Pole in 1929. The Ford 4-AT trimotor they flew in was named after Floyd Bennett, Byrd's co-pilot on his flight over the North Pole.2018 All rights reserved.