Wednesday, February 2, 2011

James N. Ryan and the "Great White Fleet"

I have to admit -- I'd never heard of the "Great White Fleet."  Along with the artifacts that Matt Biederman shared with me by email, he included a link to a site that discusses the Great White Fleet. Jim may have died at the age of 22, but what a life he had!

According to the Wikipedia site,
The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the United States Navy battle fleet that completed a circumnavigation of the globe from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 by order of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It consisted of 16 battleships divided into two squadrons, along with various escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability.

President Roosevelt envisioned the tour to be a demonstration of not only U.S. seapower, but also American industrial prowess.  The fourteen month-long voyage included sixteen battleships with hulls painted in peacetime white, hence, the nickname.  The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors.  During the tour, the fleet traveled 43,000 nautical miles, making twenty port calls on six continents.  What an adventure for a 18-year old!


Jim began his naval career as a "coal passer." He and his colleagues were responsible for the "fuel" that powered these ships. If you refer to the previous post, you can see that the picture showed Jim and crew members aboard a "Coaling Ship." Jim was initially assigned to the USS Franklin but was transferred to the USS Virginia in the October before the fleet's December departure. Over the next fourteen months, this boy from Elmwood Place was about to become a man.

The Great White Fleet

The tour was divided into four legs. Since the Panama Canal was not yet completed, the fleet had to travel around the South American continent.

Credit:  Wikipedia - The Great White Fleet

On the second leg, the fleet traveled from San Francisco to Puget Sound and back. Our young man, Jim, must have loved San Francisco. His disciplinary report states that on June 23, 1908, he returned three hours overleave to the Virginia. Apparently, the ship was in port preparing for the third leg of the trip that would take them to the Philippines.  I can't imagine the joy of traveling the world at such a young age.  In the next post, I will discuss the life of a "coal passer"/ fireman aboard ship.


  1. Nice article, I have bell from the Great White Fleet. Its very rare and may be the only one known. Will

  2. Will,
    I wish I knew who you were. I really appreciate your comment.


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