It is a great privilege to work at the historic Washington Navy Yard. I don’t know of many other freshly commissioned Ensigns who can look out the window above their desk and see the Tingey House, the renowned home of the Chief of Naval Operations, on a daily basis. The rich heritage of the United States Navy ebbs through the entire Yard and inspires admiration and reflection on the legacy of so many sailors of bygone eras.
Two fascinating events took place in this Yard in this week in history. We hope you enjoy learning about both of them below.
During the entire first century of the United States, no sitting President traveled outside of the country. The public perceived that such a trip would evoke notions of imperialism or entangle the nation in needless controversies overseas. In addition, logistical hurdles were simply more onerous, and safety and health were great concerns.
President Theodore Roosevelt, however, finally broke this tradition in 1906 – he became the first President to travel to another country during his term when he left for a visit to Panama on November 14th, 1906. His main goal was to observe the progress of the construction of the Panama Canal, arguably one of his greatest achievements as President.
Roosevelt, who traveled with his wife, Edith, left for Panama through the Washington Navy Yard, which served for many decades as the point of entry and exit for officials, ambassadors, and others. As just one example, a monument stands in the Yard near the Potomac River commemorating the arrival of the first Embassy of Japan to the United States in 1860, whose members arrived at the Yard on board a steamship (click the link below to learn more).
Roosevelt and his retinue left the Yard on board his Presidential yacht, Mayflower, meeting and boarding the battleship USS Louisiana in the Chesapeake Bay for rest of the voyage south.
According to the White house Historical Association,
[t]he fleet admiral’s cabin aboard the Louisiana was remodeled to accommodate the Roosevelts’ passage—it was mostly enlarged—and sported wicker chairs, brass beds, and Oriental rugs.
Having a woman aboard was quite a change for the sailors, but they seemed honored by the distinction of ferrying the first couple on their mission. The voyage to Panama was uneventful. As the Louisiana and its escort headed south, Theodore and Edith walked the decks—in keeping with their usual practice of hiking or riding almost daily—and read.
Once in Panama, Roosevelt visited many of the construction sites for the canal. Overall, he was impressed with the workmanship and satisfied by the progress made. Roosevelt returned to Washington aboard the Louisiana, having forever changed the role of United States Presidents in international relations.
Commander Theodore G. Ellyson became “Naval Aviator 1” on April 12, 1911. A Naval Academy graduate of the class of 1905, Ellyson trained under Glenn Curtis, legendary aviation pioneer and founder of an aircraft manufacturing company which built planes for both the U.S. Army and Navy.
On November 12, 1912 (just six years after President Roosevelt’s departure through Washington Navy Yard), Ellyson made history again by successfully piloting an aircraft launched via ship-borne catapult for the first time. After a an unsuccessful first attempt at this feat in a Curtiss A-1 aircraft, Ellyson used an improved A-3 model biplane for the second trial, taking off from an an anchored vessel in the Anacostia River. Ellyson’s success paved the way for improved aircraft-launching mechanisms afloat, eventually leading to the development of aircraft carriers themselves.
Ellyson would go on to earn the Navy Cross for for his actions in World War I. In his honor, the highly competitive ‘Cmdr. Theodore G. Ellyson Aviator Production Excellence’ Award is given annually to “the most efficient Naval Air Force Pacific and Naval Air Force Atlantic fleet replacement squadron, Marine Corps squadron, and two training squadrons from Chief of Naval Air Training that excel at meeting fleet training requirements.” (Daedalians.org)
These two historical anecdotes highlight the importance that the Washington Navy Yard has played in the history of the Navy and the nation.
Read more about these stories, and others, from our sources below: