OLYMPIA's 125th Commissioning Anniversary

Cruiser Olympia has been docked in Philadelphia for nearly 100 years and served in various capacities, starting with exhibiting as part of the Philadelphia Navy Yard’s annual public Navy Day events, officiating the construction celebrations of the Delaware River Bridge (later renamed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge), and most notably as a Museum ship starting in 1957.  

Over her years in the city, Olympia has welcomed visitors of all ages, from school students who marvel at her sheer size, adults who want to see a part of history, and even descendants tracing the steps of a family member’s service on-board. We are excited to celebrate her commissioning in the city she’s called home for so many years! 

FAQs for the Crew:

What are we celebrating?
Cruiser Olympia’s 125th commissioning anniversary! It’s basically a ship’s birthday. 

What is a commissioning?
A ship’s commissioning is the act or ceremony of placing a ship in active service. A commissioning is different from a launch, which is when a ship is named and placed in the water. Olympia, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world, was launched in 1892 and commissioned for service in 1895. 

What did Olympia do?
In addition to serving as the flagship of the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish- American War under the direction of Admiral George Dewey, Olympia has played a pivotal role in several major historical events. Her final mission was transporting the Unknown Soldier of World War I from Le Havre, France to the United States where he is now entombed at Arlington National Cemetery. Learn more about Olympia’s history and significance here

How are we celebrating?
So glad you asked! February 5 is Olympia’s actual commissioning date, so we are marking the occasion with plenty of fun activities (scroll down for a full list). Can’t make it to celebrate on February 5? We hope you can join us but we get it, it’s a Wednesday in February. Don’t worry, we are having a bigger birthday bash on Saturday, May 9! Be sure to tag us in your photos and use #Olympia125 

Schedule of Events:

Olympia’s Commissioning Celebration
Wednesday, February 5 | 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Celebrate Olympia’s commissioning anniversary with free admission to Olympia as well as Submarine Becuna and the Museum. Climb aboard for guided tours every hour starting at 11 a.m. plus have a chance to ring Olympia’s bell at 1:25 p.m. Warm up with free hot chocolate (while supplies last). Imagine the life of a sailor by testing your knot-tying skills, lie in a hammock similar to those the crew slept in, and try to fit all of your belongings in a ditty box while you’re aboard. Free RSVP here.

Inside the Museum, be sure to explore Olympia's role in World War I in our exhibit World War I: USS Olympia and check out the Curatorial Corner in the lobby with rotating thematic displays of artifacts and photos through the ship's history.

Youth and Opportunities in Society: 1890s to Today
Saturday, February 15 | 1 p.m.

Explore the challenges and opportunities facing youth today with guest speakers Juwan Z. Bennett of Temple University and Dr. Uade Da Silva, Lieutenant, USN, Retired. Bennett will discuss the challenges of equal opportunity for youth in today's workforce, while Da Silva will speak about contemporary race relations in the Navy. Explore the different opportunities and roles open to seamen during Cruiser Olympia's service time in the 1890s.

20th Century to Present: The Changing Role of Women in the Navy
Saturday, March 14

Join the Cruiser Olympia Living History Crew to explore the roles of women on board ships and in the Navy during Olympia’s time period.

Cruiser Olympia Hard Hat Tours
Bi-monthly, starting March 28

Hard Hat Tours return this spring for Olympia’s 125th! Explore more than 12 areas of the warship normally only reserved for staff. Learn about Olympia's technical details (did you know she was one of the first ships to have a radio communications system installed?), what life was like aboard for her crew, and more! Ticket information available soon.

Philadelphia Science Festival: Citywide Star Party
Friday, April 17 | 7 p.m.

Climb aboard and learn all about the stars from astronomers as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival!

Battle of Manila Bay Commemoration
Saturday, May 2

Step on board with the Olympia Living History Crew (pictured right) as they explore the history of the American Navy and highlight society at the height of the Victorian age. Visitors will experience what life was like aboard the vessel in 1898 through demonstrations of ship-to-ship signaling, artillery drills, and more.

Olympia’s Waterfront Splash!
Saturday, May 9

Join us for Olympia’s official 125th birthday party! A special ceremony featuring guest speakers and the unveiling of a gift for Olympia will take place in the morning. Stay tuned for more information.

Join the Living History Crew for activities aboard the ship and learn more about what life was like for her crew. Stick around for the season opening of Admiral’s Tavern, our pop-up beer garden on Olympia’s fantail open all summer long! Sign a birthday card for Olympia and of course, enjoy some cake. 

2020 Waterfront Gala
Saturday, May 9

Join us for a delightful evening as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of Cruiser Olympia’s commissioning and honor Burchenal Green, President and Executive Director of the National Maritime Historical Society, who will receive the 2020 Independence Seaport Museum Award for Maritime Preservation in honor of her commitment to protecting America’s historic ships and promoting our maritime heritage. Tickets and more information about the gala available here.   

Interested in volunteering to help out with any of the above events? Contact Greg Williams, Submarine Becuna Manager, Shipboard Educator, and Volunteer Coordinator, at gwilliams@phillyseaport.org or 215-413-8679.

This celebration would not be possible without the generous support of our community! Interested in making a gift in support of Cruiser Olympia? Click here.