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Modernization began during the administration of President Chester Arthur in the early 1880s. Rapid growth in overseas markets and a foreign policy aimed at U.S. control of communications across the isthmus of Central America drove the country towards naval expansion. President Arthur addressed a receptive Congress in his first annual message when he concluded, "I cannot too strongly urge upon you my conviction, that every consideration of national safety, economy, and honor imperatively demands a thorough rehabilitation of the navy."

The distinction between "Old" Navy and "Steel" Navy is somewhat artificial, the former being the old iron-hulled vessels with early steam engines, while the latter term covers (with a few exceptions) the new steel-hulled triple-expansion steam engine warships that become the standard ships of 20th-century navies. The New Navy's need for steel armor and ordnance forged the military-industrial bonds that mutually benefited U.S. industry and national defense. By 1889 the "New Navy"'s steel ships, with powerful engines and modern ordnance, were beginning to enter service and, in the next half-decade, would almost completely displace what contemporary opinion regarded as the seagoing "relics" of the post-Civil War era. By the turn of the century, the only active sailing ship left in the Navy (the rest had become stationary receiving or training ships or had been transferred to State Militias or Marine Schools) was the bark Severn, used to train midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Men recruited under the system and standards of the days of wooden warships, coped with the complex machines of the New Navy.

Two years of debate on the nature of this expansion culminated with the Navy Act of 1883, authorizing the construction of the steel cruisers Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago, and the dispatch vessel Dolphin. The U.S. authorized first vessels of the "New Navy" [also called the "steel navy"] in 1883 and 1885. On August 5, 1882, came the first authorization of the "New Navy", of modern steel ships.

The bids for the new vessels were opened on July 2, 1883. Eight firms participated in the competition. The proposal of John Roach, whose shipyard was at Chester, Penn., was the lowest, and it was accepted. To the gratification of the department, the contract cost of the four vessels, excluding masts, spars, rigging, and boats, was only $2,440,000. This was $774,100 less than the estimates of the Advisory Board. Now that the contracts had been awarded, the pessimists reiterated the statement that it would be impossible to carry out the provision of the law requiring that the vessels should be built of "steel of domestic manufacture, a tensile strength of not less than 60,000 pounds to the square inch and a ductility in 8 inches of not less than 25 per centum."

To insure compliance with this law the Advisory Board prepared a set of strict regulations governing the acceptance tests of steel supplied to the navy. The high standard then fixed is largely responsible for the excellent reputation early gained by this product of American resources and skill and for the phenomenal growth which the industry has attained, so that again the navy is to be credited with one of the greatest industrial advances of the time.

The contract cost of hull and machinery for Atlanta was $617,000, and Boston $619,000. Their rigging is the same, but presents some peculiar and unusual features, one of the most marked being the bringing together of the poop deck and topgallant forecastle, thus forming a superstructure amidships, and leaving the deck fore and aft clear for gun service in time of action. At the time of the launch there was considerable adverse criticism on this point, many seamen claiming the vessel could not be handled in a gale, could not be made to "lie to," etc.,

The criticism which had discovered flaws in the designs of the new vessels, suggested grave defects in the new ships as their construction progressed. Inadequate sail power, slow speed, the doubtful value of the machinery of the Chicago, the absence of sheathing, and the peculiar shape of the Atlanta and Boston, were the subjects of never-ending comments by critics of the navy.

The unfortunate financial failure of John Roach in 1885 forced the government to take over and complete the Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago, and it was not until 1886 that the Atlanta was commissioned, and 1887 that the Boston and Chicago entered active service.

The boats behaved well at sea and proved efficient cruisers, the Boston a little speedier than the Atlanta. Both are square rigged with masts well amidships. These features were in the nature of innovations, and not kindly taken to by many, but theorists who were formerly objectors realize now that with a 3,500 horse-power engine aboard a cruiser does not lay in the trough of the sea, depending on a close-reefed mainsail to keep her steady.

The principal dimensions of the Atlanta are as follows : Length between perpendiculars, 270 ft. ; length on water line, 276 ft. ; length over all, 283 ; extreme breadth, 42 ft.; mean draught at load water line, 16ft. 10 in. ; displacement at water line, 3,000 tons ; sail area, 10,400 square feet ; I.H.P., 3,500 ; speed at sea, 13 knots ; capacity of coal bunkere, 580 tons. The vessel is built of steel, and is divided into bine main compartments by eight complete transverse bulkheads extending to the main deck. The boilers and machinery are protected by a coal armour 8 ft. thick above the water line and 5 ft. below it, the coal bunkers being formed by longitudinal bulkheads extending on each side through the machinery space.

The doors closing the compartments can be worked from below or from the main deck. In addition to the 580 tons of coal carried in the bunkers, about 200 tons more can be taken on board if necessary ; and thus filled with coal the Atlanta would be able to steam 2,500 miles at full speed, or 6,300 miles at the rate of 10 knots. For a length of 100 feet the machinery spaces are protected by a steel deck 1-1/2 in. thick, and at the bottom of these spaces is a watertight double bottom divided into 12 water-tight cells. Tho outside plating is 23 Ibs. to the square foot, and is doubled from the stem to near the stern at the water-line.

The machinery consists of a three cylinder compound horizontal engine of 3,600 H.P. ; the high-pressure cylinder being 54 in. and the two low-pressure 74 in. in diameter, the latter being arranged on either side of the former, and the length of stroke is 42 in. The steel shaft is 16 in. in diameter at the journals, and is made in three interchangeable sections. The low pressure cranks are set at right angles, while the other is placed between the two at an angle of 136 deg. The screw is four-bladed, 17ft. in diameter, and has a pitch of 20 ft. Steam is supplied by eight horizontal return tubular boilers, placed forward of the engine, and separated into two groups by a transverse bulkhead. Each boiler is 9ft. 9 in. long and 11 ft. 8 in. in diameter, and is provided with two cylindrical furnaces having grate surface of 25 square feet. A forced draught is obtained from six blowers, each having a capacity of 12,000 cubic feet per minute. The boilers were tested to 160 Ibs.

The Atlanta made three trial trips, the last of which was from the Navy-yard out to sea and return, running continuously from seven in the morning to seven in the evening. The average speed obtained was 15-35 knots for six hours, the maximum being 16-33 knots. The maximum I.H.P. was 3-606. The boiler pressure varied from 94 Ibs. to 96 Ibs., the safety valve having been set to blow off at 100 Ibs. The shaft made an average of 68 revohitions per minute. The engines were not stopped during the whole of the trip, and everything is stated to have worked easily and satisfactorily, and her speed was far above that contracted for.

Her armament consists of two 8-in breech- loading rifled guns, one being placed on the forward deck and one a stern chaser; six broadside 6-in rifled guns, seven Gatling guns, and one 3 Ib. 47 -millimtre Hotchkiss gun, the latter being placed in a Hotchkiss tower. The vessel is also provided with two search lights and an armored pilot-house.

The second Atlanta-a protected cruiser and one of the first steel warships of the "New Navy" of the 1880's-was laid down on 8 November 1883 at Chester, Pa., by John Roach & Sons; launched on 9 Octomber 1884; sponsored by Miss Jessie Lincoln, the daughter of Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln and granddaughter of President Abraham Lincoln; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 19 July 1886.

The fifth Boston, a protected cruiser, was launched 4 December 1884 by John Roach and Sons, Chester, Pa., and commissioned 2 May 1887, Captain F. M. Ramsey in command. Boston, being the second cruiser of the New Navy completed, was not ready for active service until 1888. One of the first ships of the "New Navy", she operated actively in the Atlantic until 1891.

In September of 1895, Atlanta was placed out of commission at the New York Navy Yard where she was laid up for the next five years. On 15 September 1900, she was placed back in commission at New York. The work of reconstruction was very complete. The old horizontal, compound engines have been changed to triple-expansion by the addition of a high-pressure cylinder. At the same time the eight old, single-ended, Scotch boilers were removed and replaced by two single- ended Scotch boilers and four Wilcox and Babcock water-tube boilers, the Scotch boilers carrying 180 pounds of steam and the Wilcox and Babcock 250 pounds. This change not only greatly increased the boiler capacity, but it has reduced the bulk of the installation sufficiently to allow the construction of an athwartship coal-bunker, which increased the total coal capacity of the vessel by 80 tons, or about 17 per cent. These changes were expected to result in an increase of the vessel's speed from 15-1/2 to 15-1/2 or possibly 18 knots speed.

The ship's main battery, which was formerly of the short-caliber, slow-firing type, was entirely renovated. All of the guns, including the two 8-inch bow and stern weapons, are of the rapid-fire type, the sights being mounted upon a sleeve in which the gun recoils and the breech mechanism being brought fully up to date. Although the new 8-inch guns were not officially known in the US Navy as rapid-fire, they did actually possess the characteristics which mark the so-called rapid-fire guns of this size in foreign navies.

The lessons of the Spanish-American War were turned to good account in the work of reconstruction; for the Atlanta, on and above the main deck was absolutely stripped of combustible material; and if she was ever called upon to fight, there will be no fear of her being prematurely put out of action by the burning up of the wooden decks, bulkheads, and furniture. All of this wood-work was more or less, and generally more than less, highly inflammable. In the process of refitting, the wooden bulkheads were removed and the panelings stripped from the ceiling and from the outboard turtle-back. Their place was taken by corrugated metal for the bulkheads, a coating of cork paint for the ceiling, and a covering of asbestos on the outboard walls. The wooden furniture was replaced by furniture of metal, one piece of which is a neatly designed roller-top desk. The asbestos sheathing possessed the requirements of a non-conducting, incombustible, splinter-proof covering. The asbestos fire-felt was laid over wire cloth which is attached to a framework of light angle-bar, carried between the ship's frames or bulkhead-stiffeners. The felt was flush with the surface of the frames, or the edges of the angle-bars, and asbestos millboard, three-eighths of an inch thick, is placed over the fire-felt to secure a smooth, hard finish, and it is held in position by galvanized iron moldings.

The work above the main deck looking to the safety of the ship from fire found its match below deck in an entirely new system of water-tight, electrically operated doors. Briefly stated, the absolutely essential elements of a successful water-tight door system are, first, that every door may be closed simultaneously and instantly from the bridge or some central station, and that some telltale announcement shall show that they are closed; secondly, that it shall be possible to raise and lower each door independently, and from either side of the door, without conflicting with the operation from the bridge; thirdly, that it shall be possible to close the door either against a rush of water or through coal which may have accumulated in the doorway. These features, with others of minor importance, are all fulfilled in the present instance.

The renovation and reconstruction have been so admirably planned and carried out, that except for the fact that she possessed only a partial-armored deck, this vessel was now well up to the standard of modern cruisers of her class.

Congress continued the process by approving additional steel warships, including the New Navy's first armored ships, USS Texas and USS Maine. Toward the end of the decade the U.S. Navy still embraced a defensive oriented strategy with cruisers designed for commerce protection and raiding. Even the armored ships under construction were designed to counter the threat of similar vessels in South American navies.

The United States participated in the new imperialism of the late 19th Century. With the overseas holdings acquired in the War with Spain came new responsibilities. The new realism in foreign affairs, manifested in the policies of Theodore Roosevelt, was part of the price of empire. In the development of this new realism, as in that of the New Navy which had won the victories at Santiago and Manila Bay, the writings of an American naval officer were of great influence. To Alfred Thayer Mahan, as he sat in the English Club at Lima perusing Mommsen's History of Rome, there had been vouchsafed a vision of the meaning of command of the seas. Building upon this vision Mahan developed a gospel of sea power and, as his evidence was drawn from the great 18th century wars for empire, his message was well suited to the new imperial age.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:35:09 ZULU