December 16th is the anniversary of the departure of the Great White Fleet from Hampton Roads on its voyage around the world. On that date in 1907 the Atlantic Fleet departed on the first leg of its voyage to San Francisco, California. As the Panama Canal was not operative yet, the sixteen battleships, all painted white, steamed around Cape Horn to get to America’s Pacific coast. Once the fleet arrived in San Francisco, Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf announced that it would return home by way of Australia, the Philippines, Japan, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean.
This world voyage had two purposes. The first was to test the mechanical systems of these new warships and their ability to arrive in the Pacific in fit condition to engage an enemy, thus bolstering the security of America’s west coast. The second was to demonstrate America’s naval prowess to the world and to generate enthusiasm for the Navy among Americans—and Congressional funders. The cruise was a clear demonstration that the U.S. Navy was powerful enough to project its presence anywhere in the world. In a sense, today’s Navy was born on that Monday morning.