cruiser olympia

Cruiser Olympia and Submarine Becuna at The Independence Seaport Museum

Cruiser Olympia

Launched in 1892, Cruiser Olympia (C-6) is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world and is one of only two ships left from World War I (the other being the Battleship Texas).

History and Significance

The ship was placed into commission by the United States Navy for the first time in February 1895 as a state-of-the-art man of war. In the years since, she continues to serve her country as a monument to American genius and ingenuity but also as a public memorial to those who gave their lives in service to their country.

The most famous vessel of the time

Cruiser Olympia rose to fame as Commodore (later Admiral) George Dewey’s flagship during the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898. This battle not only marked the beginning of the Spanish-American War, but also positioned America’s Navy as a world power. Fittingly, her final act of service was the transportation of the American Unknown Soldier of World War I from France to the United States in 1921. The soldier now lies entombed at Arlington National Cemetery. As Olympia was the most famous vessel of the time period, the selection served as a way to commemorate both the ship’s and soldier’s service.

Particulars

In between her first and last missions, she served as part of the Northern Expedition and brought the first armed Americans ever to land on Russian soil. Additionally, she provided humanitarian aid in the Adriatic and was charged with dispensing food, aid, and medicine to communities affected by the flu epidemic that broke out in Europe at the end of World War I.

27 years Of service

Over Olympia’s 27-year service life, which saw two wars and the administration of six presidents, thousands of Americans served aboard as commissioned officers and enlisted sailors.

Photo of the interior of Cruiser Olympia at The Independence Seaport Museum

Technology

Olympia’s design comes out of a period known as the New Steel Navy, an era in American ship design from the late 1880s through the early 1900s.  She was one of the first ships to be equipped with refrigeration and radio communication systems, and one of the first to use steam for a multitude of tasks.  Of particular interest, Olympia was equipped with a Fessenden oscillator installed in 1917.  The Fessenden oscillator would send out sounds through the water that were bounced back by solid objects.  Invented as a result of the 1912 Titanic disaster in order to provide ships with a way of detecting obstacles (man-made or natural) ahead.  This is the only example of this early sonar device still known to exist.

Historic Ships Collections

Along with Cruiser Olympia and Submarine Becuna, the Seaport Museum also maintains a vast collection of historical artifacts and records relating to both vessels. The Cruiser Olympia Collection has been inventoried and a collections guide can be found on the Online Catalog page of the website.

visit the seaport museum

Immerse yourself in award-winning and interactive exhibits and climb aboard the oldest floating steel warship in the world on Cruiser Olympia and submerge yourself aboard the World War II-era Submarine Becuna.