For decades after its founding, the United States Navy did not have the rank of admiral because the title sounded too reminiscent of royalty. The highest rank was captain; those who commanded squadrons received the honorary title “commodore.”
In 1857 Congress replaced the designation “commodore” with the more grandiose sounding “flag officer,” the traditional title for commanding officers of naval squadrons. During the Civil War, it quickly became apparent that “flag officer” was too vague because it wasn’t clear whether the Army equivalent was captain, brigadier general, or major general. To quell the bickering that arose over who was the ranking officer during joint operations, Congress authorized the rank of rear admiral (two stars) on 16 July 1862.
Four years later, Congress established the rank of full admiral (four stars) to honor the Civil War’s greatest naval leader. The President named David G. Farragut as admiral and the Senate confirmed the nomination immediately, making Farragut the Navy’s first admiral, his commission dating 25 July 1866.