October is a big month for the United States Navy with two holidays celebrating the maritime service branch. Learn more about the U.S. Navy’s birthday, the history of the branch, and lesser-known facts.
The U.S. Navy Birthday
The Navy celebrates its birthday on October 13, honoring the day the Continental Congress authorized in 1775 purchasing 2 armed vessels and forming the Continental Navy to fight the British. The holiday wasn’t officially authorized as the service’s birthday until 1972.
This is not to be confused with Navy Day, which is celebrated later in the month on October 27. Sponsored by The Navy Leave of New York, this holiday was created in 1922 to honor the naval service and coincides with President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday.
U.S. Navy History
The Continental Navy was formed for the Revolutionary War but had mixed results in battle. While it was successful in multiple raids and British engagements, it also lost 24 vessels and at its smallest was reduced to only 2 ships in active service. A decade after its formation, due to lack of funds, the last ship Alliance was sold and the Navy was temporarily abandoned.
The predecessor to the Coast Guard, the U.S. Revenue-Marine, was the sole maritime presence from 1790 through 1797 when the Navy launched its first warships. The first three frigates brought into service were the USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution.
Its first engagements include an undeclared quasi-war with France from 1798 to 1799, then the First Barbary War from 1801 to 1805. Its first substantial action, however, came in the War of 1812. The U.S. Navy was victorious in 11 single-ship duels with the Royal Navy.
After the war ended in 1815, the Navy focused on protecting American shipping assets in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, South America, Africa, and the Pacific. The Navy was also instrumental in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, blocking ports and capturing fleets in the Gulf of California.
When the American Civil War began in 1861, the Union troops had a massive advantage over the Confederacy out at sea. A Union Navy blockade on all major Confederate ports helped cease exports and coastal trade. The Civil War was also the first time the U.S. Navy used ironclad warships in combat for the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862.
In the 1880s, the program was modernized and became a formidable force prior to World War II. The Japanese forces were unsuccessful at neutralizing the American forces with the infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, in Hawaii. During WWII, the Navy participated in many significant engagements, including the Battle of Okinawa, the Battle of Midway, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
At its peak on V-J Day in 1945, the U.S. Navy operated more than 6,700 ships and maintained more than 70% of the world’s total naval vessels weighing more than 1,000 tons.
Noteworthy Navy Facts
In the 240-plus years since the Navy was formed, many famous people have served in its ranks, and more fun facts have accumulated about the sea-faring branch.
- President John Adams is colloquially known as the “father of the American Navy” due to his desire to build a strong Navy during the late 1700s.
- The Navy SEAL Mental Toughness Program is designed to override the brain’s instinct to panic. Designed by neuroscientists, the training enables Navy SEALs to handle stress differently and do what is necessary despite the chaos.
- Six of the 46 United States presidents have served in the U.S. Navy, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush.
- The Navy focuses on the seas, but it was also the owner of the largest flying boat in history. The Martian JMS-3 Mars was built for the Navy in 1938 with a 200-foot wingspan and was the most intimidating aircraft of its era.
- If a Navy vessel is named after a person, the oldest living female descendant of the honoree must christen the ship, which is also identified with female pronouns.
- Recently popularized by the hit TV show, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has more than 190 locations in more than 40 countries. This civil-run agency is headed by a civilian law enforcement professional reporting directly to the Secretary of the Navy.
- While most enlisted in the Navy are men, more than 52,000 women are currently serving on active duty.
- The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, served as a naval aviator during the Korean War.
Happy Birthday U.S. Navy!