September 29: The USS Connecticut Stars in America’s Debut as a World Power


Today in 1904, the USS Connecticut was launched as the flagship of a new class of heavy battleships intended to show off a new era of American naval dominance in the early 20th century. These battleships were the hallmark of President Theodore Roosevelt’s signature initiative to modernize the American navy.

The USS Connecticut, a handsome vessel with beautiful gilded scroll work adorning its white steel bow, was the fourth U.S. Navy vessel named after the state of Connecticut. It was formally commissioned on September 29, 1906, two years to the day after it was launched, and sponsored by the granddaughter of Gideon Welles, the Connecticut native who served as Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War. In 1907, she led a flotilla of newly-built Navy warships, colloquially known as the “Great White Fleet,” on a tour around the world intended to spread American goodwill and underscore the United States’ role as a major naval power.

President Theodore Roosevelt (wearing a top hat, at right) gives a speech on the deck of the USS Connecticut in 1909.

The emphasis on naval power as the expression of American prowess was largely a response to Alfred Mayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History:1690–1783, published in 1890 while Mahan was President of the U.S. Naval War College. The book argued persuasively that a large and powerful navy was crucial to the rise of great nations and empires, and sparked a global naval arms race. The Great White Fleet, and the battleship USS Connecticut, was the United States’ most visible expression of its desire to be viewed as a great world power.

After her global tour, the Connecticut was primarily used as a training vessel and — as the famous flagship of the Great White Fleet — for ceremonial purposes. During World War I, she made several transatlantic trips to bring U.S. soldiers back home from the battlefields of Europe. After the war, the Connecticut continued serving as a training vessel until her decommissioning in 1923. Because of the provisions of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which set tonnage limits for the navy of every signatory nation, the U.S. Navy promptly sold the USS Connecticut for scrap mere months after she was decommissioned. After the flagship of Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet was dismantled, the state of Connecticut would remain without a namesake vessel until 1997, when the Seawolf-class nuclear submarine USS Connecticut (SSN-22) was launched.

Further Reading

USS Connecticut, 1906 – 1923,” US Naval History and Heritage Command