In 1927, young Army Air Corps reservist Charles Lindbergh was catapulted to international fame when he won the $25,000 Orteig prize for the first solo New York to Paris flight. Months later, he published a book on his life, exploits, and his views on aviation. Today we feature one of two authors copies that were signed by Lindbergh himself, one which was presented to his friend and benefactor, Harry Guggenheim. Although not a Navy pilot, Lindbergh nevertheless had a tremendous impact on both naval aviation and the U.S. space program.
Even though submarines entered mainstream use during World War I, they nevertheless were dangerous, and accidents were usually fatal. A series of mishaps on US submarines finally inspired one man to develop the tools that would help sailors escape from a sunken submarine. Charles Momsen was a pioneer in underwater rescue, and developed the rescue device that bears his name.
The recent 72nd anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor allows for a pause in our chronological narrative of naval history. Fifteen Medals of Honor were awarded to Navy sailors for heroism during that attack, and our object today is one of those medals.
World War I spurred naval aviation development into high gear, and helped set in motion the development of the aircraft and the training of aviators that would go on to make the first trans-Atlantic crossing. In a tremendous logistical undertaking that in many way’s eclipsed that of the Great White Fleet, the US Navy set up an unbroken line of warships across the Atlantic Ocean. These ships held position in stormy seas with their spotlights illuminating the sky to help guide the Glenn Curtis-built flying boat NC-4 during its historic crossing.
While the Navy was building its new steel battleships, and airplanes were in their earliest stages of development, polar exploration, long a hallmark of the Navy, was in its heyday. Two of the Navy’s great polar explorers, Admirals Byrd and Perry continued to push north and south from the late 19th century through World War I and beyond. Today’s object, a bronze bust of Admiral Byrd, helps take us back to the days of the first explorers to reach the poles.
As naval aviation was under development, so was another pivotal early 20th century invention, the radio. The Navy was a very early adopter of wireless communication, and the outbreak of World War I necessitated an alternative to the transatlantic telegraph. The massive radio complex at Greenbury Point across the river from the Naval Academy filled this need. The three towers remaining today help us discuss the birth of radio, and the incredibly rapid evolution of wireless communications in the Navy.
Even as the most powerful battleships ever to float were still under construction during the first decades of the 20th century, they nevertheless were on the verge of being made obsolete by a new emerging technology, the airplane. Although much of the naval senior leadership still believed in the concept of the battle fleet, even in the early days there were visionaries in naval aviation who saw the potential of this new technology. Most of the first naval aviators conducted their training right on the banks of the Severn River across from the Naval Academy, and they used aircraft identical to our object today, a replica of one of the earliest naval aircraft built by the Wright Brothers.
The major overhaul and construction efforts of the US Navy from the 1890s into the 20th century were dwarfed by those of Germany and England. A massive naval arms race was underway, catapulting the world towards its first world war. When the United States finally was pulled into the conflict in 1917 with the commencement by the Germans of unrestricted submarine warfare, one of the first naval undertakings was the laying of massive mine fields to combat the German submarine force. However, mine warfare was nothing new to the US, because we had been developing and using mines since the Revolutionary War.
Since its inception, the Navy has been a leader in science and technology in the United States. Less known, however, is that several famous U.S. scientists have had close associations with the Navy, including Nobel Prize winner Albert Michelson, Naval Academy Class of 1873. The establishment of formalized scientific research in the Navy was spearheaded by another famous scientist and inventor, Thomas Edison, with the establishment of the Naval Research Laboratory. So it is fitting we use our object today, a rotating mirror used by Michelson to study light, to talk about science and the Navy. Michelson’s studies would win him the Nobel Prize in physics and helped another Albert develop his famous theory of relativity. It all started at the Naval Academy on the banks of the Severn River.
Last week we looked at the implications of the Great White Fleet’s cruise around the world. This week, we look at the voyage itself, and what better way to remember a long trip than through a scrapbook. Today’s object is the scrapbook of a crew member who was a part of this famous voyage, and it helps tell the story of what it was like to sail around the world as part of the one of the most powerful naval surface fleets ever assembled.
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- On Midrats 22 March 2015 – Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again – with Will Beasley
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- On Midrats 3/15/15 – Episode 271: “Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter “