“Our New Cruisers” was how the U.S. Naval Institute announced the news in 1883. The ten-year-old organization had been founded by a group of naval officers concerned about the stagnant state of the Navy. But now the service was taking a huge leap forward by building its first modern, steel ships—three cruisers (the Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago) and a dispatch vessel (the Dolphin).
The Institute’s Proceedings recognized the momentous occasion with a special issue whose sole article was written by a participant in the nautical resurgence: Assistant Naval Constructor Francis T. Bowles. An 1879 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who’d earned an advanced degree from Britain’s Royal Naval College, the young officer served as secretary of the advisory board responsible for the new shipbuilding plan and is often credited with designing the Atlanta and Boston.
Bowles’ in-depth examination of what became known as the “ABC cruisers” was complemented by numerous foldout drawings that profiled the ships down to their boilers. Also included were charts of other navies’ 1883–84 “Ships of War Building,” which highlighted how far along they were in constructing modern armored vessels. During the previous 17 years of tight budgets and unimaginative leadership, the U.S. Navy generally had made do with wooden ships that mainly relied on sail power. Read the rest of this entry »