USS Olympia (C-6)

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USS Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum in 2007
USS Olympia at the Independence Seaport Museum in 2007
Career (U.S.) 100x35px
Name: USS Olympia
Namesake: Olympia, Washington
Ordered: 7 September 1888
Builder: Union Iron Works
San Francisco, California
Laid down: 17 June 1891
Launched: 5 November 1892
Sponsored by: Miss Ann B. Dickie
Commissioned: 5 February 1895
Decommissioned: 9 December 1922
Reclassified: CA-15, 17 July 1921
CL-15, 8 August 1921
IX-40, 30 June 1931
Fate: Museum ship
General characteristics
Displacement: 5,586 tons
Length: 344 ft 1 in (104.88 m)
Beam: 53 ft 0.625 in (16.17028 m)
Draft: 21 ft 6 in (6.55 m)
Propulsion: vertical triple-expansion steam engine
2 × screw propellers
Speed: 20 kn (23 mph; 37 km/h)
Range: 13,000 nmi (15,000 mi; 24,000 km)
Complement: 33 officers and 395 enlisted men
Armament: 4 × 8 in (200 mm)/35 cal Mark 4 guns (2x2), 10 × 5 in (130 mm)/40 cal guns (later replaced with 5 in (130 mm)/51 cal guns) (10x1), 14 × 6-pounders (57 mm (2.2 in)) (14x1), 6 × 1-pounders (37 mm (1.5 in)) (6x1), 4 × Gatling guns (4x1), 6 × 18 in (460 mm) above-surface torpedo tubes, firing Whitehead Mark 1 torpedoes
  • Deck: 4.75 in (121 mm) on slopes; 2 in (51 mm) flat

USS Olympia (C-6/CA-15/CL-15/IX-40) was a protected cruiser in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War. She is most notable for being the flagship of Commodore George Dewey at the Battle of Manila Bay. The cruiser continued in service throughout World War I and was decommissioned in 1922. As of 2010, Olympia is a museum ship at the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Olympia is the world's oldest steel warship still afloat.[1]


When the first Cleveland Administration came to power in 1885, Secretary of the Navy William Collins Whitney, continued the naval modernization program started during the previous Arthur Administration. U.S. naval policy at this time was focused on commerce raiding, which implied a defensive role on the part of the United States.[2]

In 1887, Whitney authorized the construction of two coastal defense battleships, which were to become the USS Texas (1892) and Maine (ACR-1).[3] The emphasis was still primarily on large and fast commerce raiding cruisers, capable of destroying an attacking fleet's supply line. President Cleveland was defeated in the election of 1888, but before he left office, Whitney managed to have Congress authorize two additional cruisers. One of these was a large, 5,300-ton protected cruiser, which was to become Olympia.[4]

Starting in 1887, the new Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Tracy, began to rethink naval policy. Although Tracy allowed the design and construction of Olympia to continue, he was a follower of Alfred Thayer Mahan. As such, Tracy advocated a battle fleet capable of engaging enemy fleets in their home waters.[5] This meant a move away from large, fast, commerce-raiding cruisers. As a result, Olympia, which would probably have been the first in a large class of ships, was the only one of her type built.[6]

Design and construction

Olympia was laid down on 17 June 1891 by Union Iron Works, San Francisco, California; launched on 5 November 1892; sponsored by Miss Ann B. Dickie; and commissioned on 5 February 1895, Captain John Joseph Read in command. She was built in a transitional period for warship design and for the US Navy. The Navy was expanding its fleet to move beyond coastal defense onto the world stage. Olympia was larger and faster than the previous generation of Navy ships, built with a new type of vertical triple-expansion steam engine. Yet she retained a vestigial suit of sails for emergency propulsion. She was one of the first naval ships to have electricity and powered steering gear.

Spanish-American War

Her initial service was as flagship on the Asiatic Station. In that role, she participated in Philippines-area Spanish-American War operations, including the Battle of Manila Bay, and returned to the US in September 1899. It was from her deck that Commodore George Dewey spoke the famous words "You may fire when ready, Gridley",[7] which launched the attack that resulted in the sinking or capture of the entire Spanish Pacific fleet under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón and silenced the shore batteries at Manila, all within the span of six hours. The precise spot where Dewey is believed to have stood when he gave the order is marked on the ship today. She was decommissioned at Boston on 8 November 1899, and recommissioned in January 1902, Captain Thomas Benton Howard in command.

World War I

From 1902-1906, Olympia was active in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Mediterranean. She was decommissioned at Norfolk on 1 April 1906, and recommissioned on 15 May 1907. She also saw occasional service as a United States Naval Academy training ship into 1909. She was a barracks ship at Charleston, South Carolina from 1912–1916, and recommissioned for sea duty in the latter year. Olympia spent World War I and the early post-war years in the Atlantic, the Russian Arctic as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War and in the Mediterranean area. She was briefly reclassified as CA-15 on 17 July 1920, then CL-15 on 8 August 1921. In October-November 1921, she brought home the body of the "Great War's" Unknown Soldier.[8] Olympia was the first ship in the US Navy to have a mechanically chilled fresh water dispenser, or "Scuttlebutt".

Preservation of Olympia

Decommissioned on 9 December 1922, Olympia was preserved as a relic, being again reclassified IX-40 in 30 June 1931. On 11 September 1957, she was released to the Cruiser Olympia Association and modified back to her 1898 configuration and became a museum ship under their auspices until 1995 when, faced with mounting debt, the Cruiser Olympia Society merged — on 1 January 1996 — with the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Investigators studied Olympia for clues to the explosion of the Maine. Two of its guns are located in the Captain's and Admiral's Quarters, which resemble Victorian sitting rooms, complete with tall cupboards, overstuffed furniture, and fireplaces.

Today, Olympia is a museum at the Independence Seaport Museum, at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia. She is the sole floating survivor of the US Navy's Spanish-American War fleet. NROTC Midshipmen from Villanova University and the University of Pennsylvania regularly work on Olympia, functioning as maintenance crew.[9]

The museum is no longer able to fund the preservation costs for Olympia. Historic steel-hulled ships should be drydocked for maintenance every twenty years, but Olympia has been in the water continuously since 1945. Essential repairs are estimated at $10 million.[10][11][12] Plans to scuttle the Olympia making her into an artificial reef are under consideration .[13] An independant non-profit corporation known as the Friends of the Cruiser Olympia was recently organized with the goal of preserving the Olympia.[1] Please note, the Independence Seaport Museum is not affiliated with the "Friends of the Cruiser Olympia".


  1. warship's future may be sunk, Philadelphia Inquirer story in, May 23, 2010
  2. Friedman, Norman (1984). U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. United States Naval Institute Press. pp. 22, 23. 
  3. Friedman, Norman (1985). U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. United States Naval Institute Press. pp. 23. 
  4. Friedman, Norman (1984). U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. United States Naval Institute Press. pp. 27. 
  5. Friedman, Norman (1985). U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. United States Naval Institute Press. pp. 23. 
  6. Friedman, Norman (1984). U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. United States Naval Institute Press. pp. 29. 
  7. warship's future may be sunk, Philadelphia Inquirer story in, May 23, 2010
  8. "The Unknown Soldier of World War I". The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969. United States Army. Retrieved 2009-05-28. 
  9. Cooling, Benjamin Franklin. USS Olympia: Herald of Empire. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 1557501483
  10. Colimore, Edward (February 26, 2010). "USS Olympia seeks a new caretaker". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  11. Van Allen, Peter. "Seaport museum can’t afford to restore historic Olympia warship". Philadelphia Business Journal. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  12. "SOS! Philadelphia maritime museum says it can't afford to care for historic USS Olympia". Associated Press (Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul). February 26, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 

Further reading

External links

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Coordinates: 39°56′37″N 75°08′28″W / 39.943502°N 75.140983°W / 39.943502; -75.140983

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