|(President Theodore Roosevelt via Mort Künstler.com)|
It was on Monday December 16, 1907, that the Great White Fleet steamed out of Hampton Roads Virginia at the beginning of a good will tour that took them to twenty ports on six continents, a voyage that lasted fourteen months and traversed 46,000 miles across the world’s largest oceans. It was a warm cloudy morning, and President Theodore Roosevelt was on the deck of the presidential yacht “Mayflower”’ and he saluted the more than thirty navy vessels and 14,000 navy and marine personnel that set out on the most ambitious venture thus far in the entire history of the United States of America, an event that demonstrated the mighty power of his nation that was emerging widely into the international political arena.
A total of sixteen magnificent battle ships, all newly painted in gleaming white with golden ornamentation upon the bow, steamed in a neat row at four hundred yard intervals, flanked by four destroyers. Billowing black smoke announced that these ships were now set out on a course for diplomatic endeavors on an international scale that the world had never witnessed before. This majestic flotilla of naval power was under the direction of Admiral Robley Evans, and this was the final grand event in his notable career before retirement.
The first port of call was at Port of Spain on the British island of Trinidad, at the edge of the Caribbean. The crew spent six days in coaling all of their vessels, and in visiting throughout the island which was not yet an international tourist destination in those days. They also celebrated a special Christmas at the island. On the occasion of the departure of the Great White Fleet, Governor Jackson held a fitting ceremony in which he complimented the navy personnel on their good behavior on his island.
The Great White Fleet crossed the equator on January 6 of the next year, 1908, and then steamed down the coastline of Brazil in South America. Here the American ships were welcomed by several naval vessels from Brazil.
After coaling at Rio de Janeiro, and a multitude of festivities ashore, the American flotilla left on January 21 for the stormy Straits of Magellan at the bottom of the continent. Here they were met by a navy vessel from Chile which guided them safely through the turbulent and dangerous waters.
Along the Pacific coast of the South American continent, the ships were welcomed at several ports, and they arrived back in their home waters at San Diego in California on April 14. There were several ports of call in California and Washington, and then they left for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, arriving on July 16.
Across the Pacific, they visited Auckland in New Zealand, and the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Albany on the southern coast of Western Australia. At their arrival in Sydney, a quarter million people came out to welcome the Great White Fleet.
Next was Manila in the Philippines, and then Tokyo in Japan, where they were granted a most gracious welcome, which was described as an event that was overflowing with Japanese hospitality. Three Japanese destroyers welcomed and escorted the American ships; the newspaper Boyaki Shimpo printed a special edition to honor the arrival of the Great White Fleet; and 50,000 people celebrated with a torchlight parade.
As they were passing Formosa on the way to Tokyo, they encountered s massive storm. One sailor was washed overboard by a huge wave, and another huge wave washed him up onto the deck of another nearby ship.
The onward voyage of the Great White Fleet took them to Colombo Ceylon; they celebrated their second Christmas in the Indian Ocean; and they traversed the Suez Canal, taking on coal again at Port Said. Several ships from the Great White Fleet went on to Messina on the Italian island of Sicily to provide relief supplies for survivors of the recent earthquake. The entire fleet re-assembled at Gibraltar on February 6, 1909 and steamed out into the Atlantic for the final leg on their journey back home.
A couple of week’s later, on February 22 to be exact, also a Monday, President Theodore Roosevelt was again on the deck of the “Mayflower” this time to welcome home the men and the ships of his triumphant Great White Fleet, though on this occasion the weather was dull, windy and rainy.
We go back to the the summer of the year 1907, a few months before the Great White Fleet set out on its epic journey, and two sets of Forest wireless equipment were installed on the American navy vessels, “Connecticut” and “Virginia”. In September, test transmissions were carried out between the two ships and with station CC on Cape Cod. Although these test transmissions were conducted in haste and they were considered to be incomplete, yet they were described as being fairly successful.
The navy ordered 26 sets of the Forest wireless equipment, transmitters & receivers, and these were manufactured in haste. At best, Forest equipment had a reputation for poor quality, and there were no instruction manuals. Dr. Lee de Forest himself supervised the installation of his equipment into some of the ships of the Great White Fleet. The remaining sets of wireless equipment were sent to Rio de Janeiro prior to the arrival of the fleet for installation there by American navy wireless electricians.
On departure day from Hampton Roads, Forest presented a live program broadcast from the deck of the ship “Dolphin” which was anchored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. The program consisted of messages of good will and musical items. Swedish born 34 year old opera singer, Eugenia Farrar, sang several songs, including the popular parlor song, I Love You Truly, and this is considered to be the first live broadcast of a musical presentation.
The wireless equipment on the USS “Ohio” under the callsign DC was considered to be the network control station for the Great White Fleet. On January 12, 1908, the ship’s brass band made a broadcast for the benefit of the combined navies of Brazil and the United States.
Many subsequent broadcasts were made from station DC, for the benefit of passings ships, and for amateurs living in each of the various ports of call. The Forest equipment was a spark wireless transmitter modulated with a telephone mouth piece. All transmitters were tuned to approximately the same wavelength.
Some of the other ships that were equipped with the Forest wireless sets also made program broadcasts while en route with the Great White Fleet. However, none of the 26 sets, most of which were operable, were taken into usage for naval communication.
While anchored in San Francisco, the wireless personnel on board the “Ohio” procured several music recordings and a phonograph player and these were used in subsequent wireless broadcasts. The broadcasts in San Francisco were picked up by station PH at Russian Hill and the information was printed in a local newspaper report.
Good will broadcasts consisting of music, interviews, speeches and reports were made at each of the subsequent ports of call from transmitter DC on board the “Ohio”. In most of these locations, these radio broadcasts were the very first radio broadcasts in the history of those localities.
At the end of the more than a year long itinerary of the Great White Fleet, and with many successful program broadcasts transmitted at so many different locations, all of the wireless equipment was removed from each ship, and placed into storage, permanent storage, and never used again.
(AWR Wavescan/NWS 290 via Adrian Peterson)