Assorted Naval Firsts

Aviation Other
Battles People
Minorities Ships


First aircraft to take off from a ship.  Eugene Ely, a Curtiss pilot, launches from an 83 foot wooden  platform built over the ram bow of the cruiser USS Birmingham in Chesapeake Bay on 14 November 1910.  His aircraft is a Curtiss pusher land plane powered by a vertical, four-cylinder, water cooled 50 hp Curtiss engine. 
First "arrested landing on" and "take off from" a ship's deck.  Eugene Ely, on 18 January 1911 successfully lands and takes off from the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay.
First aircraft purchased by the U.S. Navy.  On 8 May 1911, the Navy Department allocates $5,500 dollars to purchase a Curtiss A-1 Triad.   The date is the official birthday of U.S. naval aviation.   
First Naval Aviator.  Lt. T. G. Ellyson, USN, receives orders to flight training in 1910 and becomes naval aviator number one.  Following the initial aircraft buy, an additional Curtiss and one Wright aircraft are purchased.  Curtiss and Wright each include training for one pilot and one mechanic with the aircraft.  Lt. John Rogers and Lt. John H. Towers become naval aviators number two and three respectively.  
First official flight by commissioned naval aviators.  On 1 July 1911, Lt. T. G. Ellyson and Lt. John Rodgers fly the Curtiss A-1 Triad.  
First Marine Corps aviators.  Lt. A. A. Cunningham and Lt. B. L. Smith report for flight training in 1912 to become naval aviators five and six respectively.
First operational flights over hostile territory.  On 25 April 1914, air detachments on the USS Birmingham and USS Mississippi (five aircraft and seven pilots) conduct a series of observation flights over Mexican positions.
First combat damage to an American aircraft.  Lt. P. N. L. Bellinger returns from an observation flight over Mexican positions near Vera Cruz with bullet holes in his aircraft.  
First U.S. Naval aviator to achieve the status of Ace (five enemy aircraft downed). Ens. David Ingalls, USNR, flying a RAF Sopwith Camel downs his fifth German aircraft in November 1918.
First U.S. aircraft carrier.  In 1919, Congress authorizes the conversion of the collier USS Jupiter into an aircraft carrier to be named the Langley.  The USS Langley is commissioned on 20 March 1922.
First aircraft to takeoff and land on USS Langley.  Aeromarines and Vought VE-7's.  The first aircraft designed specifically for the new carrier is the Curtiss TS-1.
First aircraft carrier designed from keel to island to accommodate aircraft.  The USS Ranger is authorized in 1929 and commissioned in 1934.  The USS Lexington and USS Saratoga preced the Ranger but are designed as battleships and converted to aircraft carriers.
First trans Atlantic flight. The first aircraft to cross the Atlantic is the Curtiss built NC-4 commanded by Lcdr. Albert C. Read with a crew of five.  Senior pilot of the NC-4 is Lt. Elmer Stone, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG aviator number one).  The total trip is 19 days (58 hours and 53 minutes flying time) from Rockaway Beach NY to Plymouth England via Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Azores and Portugal.  The flight utilizes a picket line of 68 naval vessels at 50 mile intervals for navigation and safety along the flight path. See first across. 
First Aviation Squadron to be "born" in a combat zone.  The first US Navy Attack Helicopter Squadron,   Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3, The Seawolves, at Vung Tau, Republic of Vietnam, on 1 April 1967.


First American to make a British naval vessel strike her flag.  John Manley, under a Massachusetts commission and under the Pine Tree Banner.
First  to carry the Grand Union flag, or American flag, into naval operations and to make a capture.  Esek Hopkins.
First to make a British naval vessel strike her colors under a commission of the Congress and under the American flag.  John Barry.
First ship under the American flag to fight in the Pacific.  The Essex commanded by Captain David Porter rounds Cape Horn in 1813 to break up British navigation. Essex is captured on 28 March 1814 off Chile by HMS Phoebe commanded by Captain Hillyar.
First sea battle in which opposing ships do not have visual contact.  The Battle of Coral Sea on 7-8 May 1942 is between opposing aircraft carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States Navy.  See Coral Sea.


First black American commissioned in the modern U.S. Navy.  Bernard W. Robinson, Harvard University medical student, is commissioned as an ensign in U.S. Naval Reserve on 18 June 1942.
First black American commission in the Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy.  James Russell Brown of the African Methodist Episcopal Church serves on active duty from 26 April 1944 - 30 April 1946. 
First African-American to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Wesley A. Brown graduates from the Naval Academy on June 3, 1949.
First black American promoted to the rank of Navy Captain.  Thomas David Parham, Jr, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy, enters the U.S. Navy on 26 August 1944 and retires on 1 April 1982.  Promoted to Captain on 1 February 1966, he is an ordained minister of the United Presbyterian Church.
First black American flag officer.   Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. is promoted to Rear Admiral on 28 April 1971.  Following a series of successful commands he commands the Navy's Third Fleet, one of four numbered fleet commands in the U.S. Navy of that time.  Gravely is also the first black American to command a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Falgout, a destroyer escort, on 31 January 1962.


First American naval articles adopted by the Continental Congress.  The Rules for the Regulation of the Navy of the United Colonies of North America, are adopted on 28 November 1775 and known as the "Blue Book." See Rules.
First to raise the American flag on a ship of war.  John Paul Jones.
First American navy yard.  Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire, consisting of 58.18 acres at a cost of $5,500 is acquired after the establishment of the Navy Department on 30 April 1798.
First American newspaper published in California.  Chaplain Walter Colton, U.S. Navy, publishes The Californian on 15 August 1846 at Monterey.  Colton is the first Protestant clergyman to settle in California.
First Protestant worship services in California.  Commander J. B. Montgomery, U.S. Navy, in June 1846, conducts Divine Worship Service at Yerba Buena, San Francisco.  He requests permission to hold services after finding no Protestant church ashore.  Montgomery, who command the USS Portsmouth, also hoists the Stars and Stripes ashore at San Francisco on 9 July 1846 when official news of the war with Mexico reaches him.
First Commander in Chief to hold divine worship service for the Navy.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1934, in absence of a chaplain stood on the quarter deck of the Nourmahal and read the service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  Officers and men of the USS Ellis are present.  The flag of the President of the United States is flying from the yacht.
First Civil Engineer Corps officers appointed.  1867


First U.S. Navy officer to become a Commodore.  John Barry is appointed Commodore in 1794, following the Navy  reorganization.
First commission issued by President Washington to an officer afloat.  Captain Hopley Yeaton, Master of a Revenue Cutter, is commission is dated 21 March 1791.  The commission is signed by both Washington and Jefferson..  The Continental Navy is disbanded and the sole maritime defense is the Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard.
First U.S. Navy officer to become an Admiral.  David Glasgow Farragut is appointed Admiral on 25 July 1866.
First naval officer to become an engineer in the U.S. Navy.  Charles Haynes Haswell is commissioned 19 February 1836 by Secretary of the Navy Dickerson to design steam power equipment.
First chaplain commissioned in the U.S. Navy after the Navy Department is established in 1798.  William Balch, whose father was a Continental Navy chaplain, and whose grandfather was a Royal Navy chaplain.
First female U.S. Navy officer to command a ship.  LCDR Darlene Iskra reported for duty aboard USS Opportune (ARS-41) as commanding officer on 27 December 1990.


First vessels commissioned by the Continental Congress in December 1775.  Alfred, Columbus, Cortez, Andrea Doria, and Providence.
First United States warship to circumnavigate the world.  USS Vincennes, commanded by Commander William Finch leaves New York on 3 September 1826 and returns via the Cape of Good Hope on 8 June 1830.
First American warship of iron using steam.  USS Michigan is built at Erie, Pennsylvania, under an Act of Congress dated 9 September 1842.  The Michigan is fabricated in Pittsburgh and transported in parts to Erie, where she is completed and launched in 1844.  Renamed the Wolverine in 1905, she is stricken from the naval list on 12 March 1927.
First warship with propelling machinery below the water line.  The screw warship Princeton, designed by Ericsson in 1841.
First paddle wheeled steam warships.  The USS Mississippi and USS Missouri, finished in 1841.
First United States warship to be docked in a government dry dock.  The Delaware enters the Norfolk dry dock, Portsmouth, Virginia on 17 June 1833.
First U.S. battleship.   The keel of the USS Maine is laid 17 October 1888 and the vessel is launched in 1890.  Maine is destroyed by a mysterious explosion in the harbor of Havana, Cuba on 15 February 1898.  Of a crew of 354, only 16 escaped injury or death.  The Maine had 12 inch side armor and two 10 inch guns in each of the two turrets.  A second battleship Maine is constructed.
First commissioned U.S. Navy submarine.  The USS Holland (SS-1) is purchased from John P. Holland, the inventor, on 12 October 1900 for $160,000.  The Holland is the sixth submarine built by the inventor and is capable of a speed of six knots and depth of 75 feet..  Following the civil war, U.S. Navy tests with a 22 foot submersible built by Oliver Halstead, the Intelligent Whale, ended in disaster with the loss of 39 lives.
First electrically propelled vessel of the U.S. Navy.  The collier Jupiter is commissioned on 7 April 1913, is converted to the first U.S. aircraft carrier USS Langley and re-commissioned on 20 March 1922.
First hospital ship assigned for a sole purpose.  USS Solace is outfitted as a hospital ship in 1898.  The Navy Register of 1864 lists USS Red Rover as a "hospital steamer" indicating a dual role.
First large floating dry dock of the U.S. Navy.  The Dewey, Subic Bay, Philippine Islands.
First nuclear powered warship.  USS Nautilus (SS-571) is launched 21 January 1954 and is commissioned on 30 September 1954.  Nautilus' first commanding officer is Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, USN.
First nuclear powered surface warship.  The USS Long Beach (CGN-9) is launched 14 July 1959 and is commissioned 9 September 1961.  In addition, the Long Beach is the first large combatant in which the main batteries are missiles and the last U.S. warship built with teak decks.