The USS Olympia is the world’s oldest steel-hulled warship afloat. Launched in 1892, it served as the US Navy’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, marking the United States’ emergence as a world naval power.
The Philippine Islands had been under the control of Spain for around 300 years when Commodore George Dewey, commander of the US Asiatic Fleet, received notice of the start of the Spanish-American War and orders to attack the Spanish Fleet posted there. Slipping into Manila Bay during the night, six ships of the Asiatic Fleet attacked at dawn of May 1, 1898 to the words of Dewey on the bridge of his flagship USS Olympia: “You may fire when ready, Gridley.”
In five hours, the American fleet obliterated the outdated Spanish Pacific Squadron, sinking eight ships and inflicting some 340 casualties, to less than 50 American losses (Dewey claimed eight). Though Manila would not fall until August, the Philippines would in effect be under American (and Philippine rebel) control. Dewey returned to the United States a national hero and was promoted to admiral.
After subsequent service around the world, Olympia’s last official naval mission was to carry the body of the Unknown Soldier from France to the United States in 1921. In 2000, the contract and the care of the ship were transferred to the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) on the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia. In early 2010, the Independence Seaport Museum announced that it could no longer afford the upkeep of the ship, nor raise the funds necessary for its restoration. (source)
Illustration shows a flotilla of ships with Theodore Roosevelt’s face on the lead ship; the figure of Peace (or Columbia), wearing armor and carrying a sword in one hand and an olive branch fashioned out of bayonets in the other, is sitting atop this ship. Two doves flying by her side are wearing armor and are armed as well. (Puck J.S. Pughe March 29,1905)
Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet (named after its gleaming white paint) on an around-the-world cruise in 1908-09. By 1904, the United States had the fifth largest Navy in the world; by 1907, it had the third largest.
Roosevelt also viewed a major naval base in the Philippines as a critical strategic asset in light of Japan’s growing military might in the Pacific region and increasing political unrest in China. However, opposition from Leonard Wood, governor-general of the Philippines, and various military leaders, who preferred to build up an already existing base at Cavite in the Philippines, eventually derailed Roosevelt’s plans to move the Navy’s headquarters to Subic Bay. Roosevelt, disgusted with the hostile opposition of the military brass and Governor Wood, abandoned the idea in 1907. He then turned his attention to another potential site for an expanded naval base: Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii.