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Naval Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1891 (Battleship Act of 1890), June 30, 1890

In 1890 Congress passed a naval appropriations bill that included funding for construction of a protected cruiser, a torpedo boat, and “three sea-going coast-line battle ships designed to carry the heaviest armor and most powerful ordnance.” The legislation, which went into effect on June 30, 1890, for the following fiscal year, came to be called the Battleship Act.

General Records of the U.S. Government, National Archives and Records Administration

Naval Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1891 (Battleship Act of 1890), June 30, 1890

Creating a Modern Navy

The end of the nineteenth century was a time of change for the U.S. Navy as the nation became increasingly engaged in international affairs. When proponents of a “Big Navy” called for state-of-the-art steel ships to protect the United States and its interests, Congress responded with the Battleship Act of 1890, the first significant legislation authorizing construction of new battleships. Marking an era of greater U.S. naval power, the ships played a significant role in the Spanish-American War of 1898.

To carry on even a defensive war with any hope of success we must have armored battle-ships. . . . for it is not to be tolerated that the United States, with its population, its revenue, and its trade, is to submit to attack upon the threshold of its harbors

Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy, Report of the Secretary of the Navy to Congress, October 15, 1889