It was a beautiful day in February 1844 when the USS Princeton got under way from the Washington Navy Yard for a short cruise on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. She was a singular vessel, and this was a singular—and very special—occasion.
In many ways the Princeton was emblematic of the age. Despite her wood-burning boilers belowdecks, she was crowned by a trio of tall masts draped with sails—a vestigial testament to the infancy of her steam propulsion and a tangible reminder of the conservatism among many naval officers who remained wary of that new technology. Yet this nod to caution was offset by the fact that the Princeton was the first warship to shed the cumbersome paddlewheels that had served her forerunners and was driven instead by a screw propeller.