Five Little-Known Facts About the History of the U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy boasts some famous (and surprising) servicemen and women, from Humphrey Bogart to John F. Kennedy to WWE wrestler (and Minnesota governor) Jesse Ventura.1 But many people don’t realize the key role the U.S. Navy has played in national and global security for nearly two-and-a-half centuries—as early as 1775, when there was no official U.S. to have a Navy. Read on for five little-known facts about the history of the U.S. Navy.

1) The Continental Navy played a key role in the defeat of the British during the Revolutionary Warbut the first Congress determined that a U.S. navy was not necessary in the late 1780s.

In July 1775, General George Washington took command of the U.S. Continental Army. But he quickly found his troops low on ammunition, and outfitted seven small ships to interfere with British ships carrying much-needed supplies. In one lucrative capture, Commodore John Manly recovered more munitions than the Continental colonies could have manufactured in the next 18 months.2

After the war ended, there seemed less need for these seagoing vessels. The Continental Navy was disbanded, its vessels sold, and the first Congress determined that a navy was not necessary. But when Barbary pirates began to interfere with U.S. ships, Congress finally authorized the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798.

2) In the mid-1800s, during the Mexican-American War, the Navy took over California and administered its government.

The Mexican-American War lasted just two years, from 1846 to 1848, but during that time it significantly reshaped the Western and Southwestern U.S., particularly California. During this war, the U.S. Navy took over California and administered its government, sending troops as far south as Veracruz, Mexico, to assist in the battle. At the end of the war, Mexico signed a treaty ceding Alta California, along with parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, in exchange for $15 million dollars.3

3) Several years later, during the U.S. Civil War, many Navy officers joined the Confederacy.

In 1860, the U.S. broke out into civil war. Because the majority of Navy officers tended to be stationed on the southern coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico, many wound up joining the Confederacy instead of fighting on the Union side. As a result, in April 1861, President Abraham Lincoln to order a blockade of all ports in the South.

Not only was this a period of great turmoil in the U.S., but it also marked the end of wooden navy ships and the advent of iron (and later, steel) fleets.

4) During World War II, the Navy significantly expanded its size and capabilities.

From 1941 to 1945, the U.S. Navy expanded from about 300,000 to more than 3 million officers and servicemen. The Navy played key roles in seizing some of the biggest ports and cities in France and Italy, and provided planes, destroyers, and aircraft carriers.

5) Today’s Navy handles a diverse range of missions.

The Navy boasts some of the world’s most elite special forces, including Seal Team Six, who captured and killed Osama Bin Laden. But it’s not just about warfare anymore—the Navy also performs some cutting-edge scientific research, from mapping the ocean floor to researching sustainable energy and studying infectious diseases. These efforts not only benefit the Navy’s security forces, but also can have ripple effects when it comes to providing international humanitarian aid or making ocean transportation more efficient.


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