Theodore Roosevelt and Navy Day

By Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

From John Paul Jones to Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, from Rear Adm. Grace Hopper to Master Chief Carl Brashear – when it comes to heroes and notable people in history, the list of names in naval history is nearly endless.

One enormous personality people may not necessarily associate with the history of the U.S. Navy is the 26th President of the United States, and all-American tough guy, Theodore Roosevelt.

It is not widely-known, but up until about four decades ago, the U.S. Navy actually used Roosevelt’s birthday (October 27th) as “Navy Day” – a date the Navy celebrated annually much like it does with its birthday today. It actually wasn’t until 1972 when then Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt authorized October 13th as the Navy’s birthday.

Throughout his life, Roosevelt acted as one of the Navy’s greatest promoters. His first book, The Naval War of 1812, demonstrated the importance of the Navy to the defense of the United States. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he was implemental in the U.S. Navy’s victories in the Spanish-American War; and as President, he oversaw the build-up of the battle fleet and ordered the world cruise of the Great White Fleet.

To Roosevelt, the aggressive diplomat, a large and efficient navy constituted a primary tool for the conduct of foreign policy, so he launched a program to raise the Navy up to a high standard of efficiency and strength. He enlarged the fleet, modernized its ships, increased both its officer corps and enlisted complement, and improved efficiency through better training.

President Theodore Roosevelt (standing on 12 gun turret at right) addresses officers and crewmen on the after deck of USS Connecticut (Battleship # 18), in Hampton Roads, Virginia, upon her return from the Atlantic Fleet’s cruise around the World, 22 February 1909.

President Roosevelt with turret gun pointers of USS TEXAS, on board that ship in Oyster Bay, Long Island, 17 August 1903, during the naval review. The president took a great interest in naval gunnery and at the graduation exercises at the U.S. Naval Academy May 2, 1902, in addressing the young officers about to join the fleet, first used publically the words, “the only shots that count are the shots that hit.”

Navy Day poster from 1946, from the collection of the Curator of the Department of the Navy.

USS Connecticut (Battleship # 18) Leading the Atlantic Fleet’s battleships out of Hampton Roads, Virginia, probably at the start of the Great White Fleet cruise around the World in December 1907. Photo printed on a stereograph card, copyrighted by Underwood & Underwood. Donation of Louis Smaus, 1985 U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

“Your Navy – First line of attack; Navy Day Oct. 27th.” Poster artwork, showing a “scene on flight deck of modern U.S. Navy aircraft carrier,” by John Falter, USNR. NRB no. 33686-9-28-42-50M.

President Roosevelt aboard USS LOUISIANA en route to Panama, 1906.

Asst. Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt encouraged the development of war plans against the Kingdom of Spain.

 

For more information on Roosevelt, Navy Day and naval history in general, visit the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

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