|Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet made a bold display of the
United State’s new role as an international power at the beginning
of the last century. The fleet left Hampton Roads, Virginia in
December 1907 and traveled around South America, arriving in San
Diego in April 1908. In each of the ports it stopped along our
coast, the fleet was hosted and toasted with an exuberant show of
patriotism and pride, culminating with the fleet entering the Golden
Gate on May 6, 1908, as anxious crowds staked out the best vantage
point around the Bay to get a look at the 16 battleships, and the
flotilla of support vessels.
The anticipation of the arrival of
the Atlantic Fleet (wouldn't be called Great White Fleet until much
later when a journalist coined the phase to describe the ships
painted white with gold trim), was an amazing spectacle. Over a
million people tried to guess the best place to view the fleet. Some
people chose the western shores or Lands End. Others staked out
spots around and on top of Ft. Point. Others were waiting atop
Russian Hill or Telegraph Hill. You could also pay to go out on a
launch to see the fleet arrive.
Some of the viewers spent the night or arrived before dawn to get
what they hoped would be the best view of the magnificent white
battleships steaming into San Francisco Bay. The weather conditions
were fairly clear early that morning, but by the time the ships
arrived at the Gate, the fog began to follow the ships. By the time
they were inside the Bay, there was a fog ceiling, so that the black
smoke of the coal-burning ships created a photographer's nightmare.
The white ships could be seen close up, but strung out in a group,
you could barely make out about three ships at a time. The folks at
Lands End, however, guessed right and would have had some of the
best views of the arrival, because they saw the fleet ahead of the
fog bank that followed the ships through the Gate.
San Francisco went wild with Fleet Fever. Visitors from
throughout the West Coast arrived in town to join the festivities.
The city hosted one of the finest receptions our navy has ever seen
with spectacular parades, grand balls, banquets, and lots of
exciting activities for all the sailors. The visit of the fleet was
the first major public celebration of San Francisco's recovery from
the earthquake and fire, and the city capitalized on the events to
boast to the world about it’s rebuilding progress and it’s ability
to accommodate the “grandest fleet in the finest harbor in the
After two months based in San Francisco, the fleet would cross
the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal to the
Mediterranean Sea, then into the Atlantic Ocean, arriving back at
Hampton Roads on Washington’s Birthday, 1909, to complete it’s
triumphant circumnavigation of the world.
John Freeman 11/22/2010