The Great White Fleet Enters San Francisco Bay

San Francisco

The Great White Fleet Enters San Francisco Bay
May 6, 1908

The “Great White Fleet” sent around the world by President Theodore Roosevelt from 16 December 1907 to 22 February 1909 consisted of sixteen new battleships of the Atlantic Fleet. The battleships were painted white except for gilded scrollwork on their bows. The Atlantic Fleet battleships only later came to be known as the “Great White Fleet.”

The fourteen-month long voyage was a grand pageant of American sea power. The squadrons were manned by 14,000 sailors. They covered some 43,000 miles and made twenty port calls on six continents.

The battleships were accompanied during the first leg of their voyage by a “Torpedo Flotilla” of six early destroyers, as well as by several auxiliary ships.

(above courtesy Naval Historical Center)

The fleet arrived in San Francisco on May 6, 1908 from Magdagalena Bay, Baja California, and departed for Honolulu on July 7, 1908. From Library of Congress.

San Francisco and the Great White Fleet
The City’s Welcome.

On December 2, 1907, the Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution requesting the President of the United States send the fleet to San Francisco after leaving Magdalena Bay, Baja California.

It had been just a year and a half from the 1906 Earthquake and much of the City had not been rebuilt, yet San Francisco enthusiastically went to work when the city was selected as a port of call. Committees of finance, decoration, entertainment, sight-seeing were formed. The chairman was one of San Francisco’s most distinguished men, James D. Phelan. In the Municipal Report it took 19 pages to list all of the names of individuals and business firms who made donations. Even citizens who gave 50 cents or a dollar are listed, as are firms such as the United Railroads, $5,000; DuPont Powder, $300; the Emporium, $250; the Fly Trap Restaurant $10. Donations totaled $74,000.

The report assails the Southern Pacific Railroad and the Santa Fe Railroad who refused to make a donation. Yet no other firms benefited as much by the Fleet’s visit as these companies. The report uses a half page to detail the business done by the Southern Pacific as a result of the celebration. Here is just one example:

“Transbay traffic during May 5 to May 17 exceed the normal business by 450,000 passengers. The heaviest day’s business was on May 6 when 186,000 passengers were taken across the Bay, showing that the day of the arrival of the fleet drew together the larges crowd of Californians ever assembled.”.

The officers of the fleet were entertained at theater parties, and had two days of hotel expenses paid, and were hosted at a reception at the Ferry Building. Reception rooms were maintained at the St. Francis Hotel and the Fairmont.

The enlisted men were entertained at a cost of $19,000, including an exclusive Naval Club House, music, athletics and sightseeing.

There was a surplus at the end of the visit of $4,400 and this was used to maintain the Club House for all sailors in the future, until the funds were exhausted.

This concept could be called a forerunner of the U. S. O.

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  1. Where did you get the pictures from? I have a panoramic picture from R J Waters that looks a lot like the ones above but it was taken shorty after the ones you have.

    1. Hi Barry

      The story came from a version of our website from back in the early 2000s. I don’t think we ever had the original photos – all I can find in our digital archives are the image files, but with no indication of the source. I suspect the Library of Congress image collections though.