February 1999 is the 90th anniversary of the return of the Great White Fleet from its epic voyage around the world, a perfect time to look at the journey's reasons, benefits, and lessons and to start planning for a similar voyage early in the 21st century.
At the beginning of the l9th century, the young U.S. Navy had been reduced to "Mr. Jefferson's Navy," a handful of lightly armed sloops incapable of opposing ships-of-the-line or the frigates that England and France were operating in U.S. waters. Without an effective Navy, the young United States was forced to pay tribute in the Mediterranean, and in large part, impressment—the seizure of crewmen from U.S. ships for service in the Royal Navy—led to the War of 1812.
A century later, President Theodore Roosevelt showed that the United States was a world power by sending his fleet around the world. "A proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace," he said, and the U.S. Navy went on to become the most powerful in the world.