150 years . . .
At the end of the Civil War, the U.S. Navy was one of the largest in the world, and, with its ironclads and advances in ordnance and engineering, it was on the cutting edge of technology. But the distractions of postwar reconstruction and westward expansion resulted in a calamitous decline in the state of the Navy and the nation. Within five years the number of ships had fallen from 700 to a mere 52, technological innovation had all but disappeared, and a promotion system based on seniority alone brought stagnation to the officer corps, with many gray-haired lieutenants despairing of advancement.
In the early twilight of 9 October 1873, 15 naval officers, ranging in rank from lieutenant to rear admiral, assembled in one of the U.S. Naval Academy’s academic halls to “organize a Society of the Officers of the Navy for the purpose of discussing matters of professional interest.” Many of these men had known the “dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy.” Now, armed with quills rather than swords, they were risking not their lives but their livelihoods to battle the complacency and conservatism of those in power during this discouraging and damaging era. A century earlier, John Adams had challenged his fellow Americans to “dare to read, think, speak, and write,” and these 15 were heeding that call.
They chose the name United States Naval Institute, and within a year, one of their published papers had influenced Congress to pass legislation to support state-sponsored Merchant Marine training, one of the early steps that eventually brought America out of its maritime doldrums. That influence was only the beginning. An idea conceived in extremis did not ebb once the crisis had passed, and in the subsequent 150 years, the Naval Institute has served as the chronicler and often the catalyst of the evolution—and sometimes revolution—of naval power by providing an open forum where ideas flourish, knowledge is shared, and heritage is preserved. The Sea Services needed a strong Naval Institute in 1873—and they still do today.
The Power of Resiliency
For 150 years, every major program, policy, and social change impacting the maritime services has been debated and recorded in the pages and events of the Naval Institute. Now is the time to support mission-critical programs and build resiliency so the Naval Institute can continue to be an intellectual catalyst in the years to come. Our members, friends, and donors can help ensure the Institute not only survives but thrives by supporting our 150th Power of Resiliency Fund. This fund will strengthen the Institute’s resiliency by building sufficient reserves to help us deal with increased costs and withstand economic downturns. The fund will sustain critical mission priorities, including completing the digitization of 180,000 priority images from the Institute’s archive and creating primary-source material vital to the historical record of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard through our oral history program. To learn more about this effort, contact the Foundation at [email protected] or call (410) 295-1062.