The First U.S. Naval Ship Powered by Electric Motors

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The first U.S. Navy surface ship powered by electric motors was the USS Jupiter.

USS Jupiter

She was later converted into the first aircraft carrier (see image below) and renamed the USS Langley.

USSLangley

According to MIT’s site on electric ship history here, “the early electrically powered naval vessels employed two electrical systems: one for propulsion and the other for services such as lights, radar, sonar, cargo pumps, cranes and any other required systems.” After the 1940s most electric-drive ships fell out of favor because of the inefficiency of having two separate electric systems.

USSLangley

This from the Naval History and Heritage Command site here.

“USS Jupiter, a 19,360-ton collier (originally classified as a “Fuel Ship”) built at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, was commissioned in April 1913. The Navy’s first surface ship propelled by electric motors, she was an engineering prototype for the turbo-electric propulsion system widely used in Navy capital ships built during the later “Teens” and the 1920s. Jupiter provided transportation and coal carrying services for the Pacific fleet until October 1914, when she transited the Panama Canal to begin operations in the Atlantic. During the First World War, she carried cargo to Europe and supplied coal to combat and logistics forces on both sides of the Atlantic. Jupiter decommissioned in March 1920 to began conversion to an aircraft carrier. Renamed Langley in April 1920 and designated CV-1 when the Navy implemented its hull number system in July 1920, she recommissioned two years later as the first ship in the Navy’s seagoing air fleet.”

USSLangley

The damaged USS Langley.


Unfortunately, she was abandoned and scuttled after receiving Japanese bomb damage south of Java, 27 February 1942.

Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor from MIT World

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Always on the hunt for opportunities to inform my understanding of history, I’ve hit a gold mine. In addition to my fascination with the Civil War, I am equally passionate about maritime history and am a degreed engineer. Those three fields of study converge in a fascinating symposium hosted by the DeepArch Research Group in Technology, Archaeology and the Deep Sea at MIT in April 2003 which they have made available for viewing on MIT Earth (TM).

The symposium, Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor gives us an opportunity to hear from the senior archaeologist on the recovery of the C.S.S. Hunley, Maria Jacobsen. For those of you familiar with Civil War Naval history, the CSS Hunley will not be a new name. For those not, its story is nothing less than remarkable. A Confederate submarine, it was lost after driving a mine into the hull of USS Housatonic, detonating it, and sending the ship to the silty bottom of Charleston Bay in five minutes. But the Hunley was lost as well, only to be found, recovered, and excavated in the last decade or so.

I have made it through the first presentation on the Hunley (wow) and hope to watch the second half of the symposium on the Monitor. But for now, this from the MIT site:

Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and Monitor

Moderator: Merritt Roe Smith
Maria Jacobsen
David A. Mindell PhD ’96
Brendan Foley PhD ’03

About the Lecture
In the last few years, archaeologists have recovered two of the Civil War’s most ingenious inventions: the Union ironclad warship Monitor and the Confederate submarine Hunley. In this symposium panelists discuss the newest technology projects that have brought these inventions to light from the sea depths, and what they can teach about technology and the Civil War.

cwhightech

"Civil War High Tech: Excavating the Hunley and the Monitor" from MIT World

Submarine CSS H. L. Hunley [1863-1864]

  • Submarine built by Horace L HunleyCSS Hunley
  • First submarine to destroy an enemy ship
  • All three crews died aboard although several from the first crew were able to escape.
  • Lost off of Charleston after sinking the USS Housatonic with a spar torpedo
  • Remains discovered in 1995 by NUMA
  • Recovered August 8, 2000

Photo credit: Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph [#NH999]

You may be interested in previous posts I’ve made on the Hunley. My first was the following:

On Dog Tags, Sunken Confederate Subs, and Graves Registration

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War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

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John W. Dower. War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, 1987. See Pantheon’s site for this book here. See Professor Dower’s profile here.

  • Published on: 1987-02-12
  • ISBN-10: 0394751728
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394751726
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 416 pages

Dower proposes in this out-of-the-ordinary work that we must constantly work at correcting and re-creating historical memory if we are to have hope of understanding World War Two in Asia or international and inter-racial conflict in general. He suggests that the war hates between the Americans and Japanese seemed to disappear almost overnight after the surrender of Japan and that they have continued to fade over time. His ultimate goal is to better understand how racism influenced the conduct of the war in Asia. To accomplish this, he went “beyond the formal documents and battle reports upon which historians normally rely” and drew “on materials such as songs, movies, cartoons, and a wide variety of popular as well as academic writings published at the time.” These were critical, he claims, “for re-creating the ethos which underlay the attitudes and actions of men and women during the period. One of Dower’s objectives was the identification of “dynamic patterns in the torrent of war words and graphic images” and to interpret from them “how stereotyped and often blatantly racist thinking contributed to poor military intelligence and planning, atrocious behavior, and the adoption of exterminations policies.” He also sought to explain how the hatred of the war years could have dissipated so easily. Chief among his observations is that atrocities occurred on both sides, thus making the subject a good one for comparative study. He concludes that the idea of race must be explored within “a larger context of hierarchical and authorities thinking” on both sides for race and power are inseparable.

John W. Dower

Dower divides his work into four parts. The first looks at the larger topic of vilifying one’s enemies including a section on “War hates and War Crimes.” Here he seeks to answer the question of why the west would place the Japanese above their other enemies in level of hatred. The second section looks at the war from western eyes and the third from the perspective of the Japanese. A final section covers the war’s close and the nature of post war race relationships. There is an extensive bibliography and notes section as well as a large number of illustrations many of which appeared in mass media of the era.

John Dower brings an impressive albeit somewhat different background to the realm of military history. Currently Professor of Japanese History at MIT, he received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972 focusing on History and Far Eastern Languages. His book was honored with National Book Critics Circle Award and was an American Book Award Finalist. Among numerous other publications, Professor Dower’s more recent book, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize in Letters for General Nonfiction, National Book Award in Nonfiction, Bancroft Prize in American History, John K. Fairbank Prize in Asian History, Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, Mark Lynton History Prize, and L. L. Winship/PEN New England Prize.

This work is one of considerable value to military and social history. It is a unique contribution and should be of interest to scholars of Japanese history as well as media history.

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