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Atlantic Fleet Visits San Francisco
May 6, 1908

The Arrival of the Great White Fleet
Magic Lantern Slide, scan courtesy of John Freeman

Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet made a bold display of the United State’s new role as an international power at the beginning of the last century. The fleet left Hampton Roads, Virginia in December 1907 and traveled around South America, arriving in San Diego in April 1908. In each of the ports it stopped along our coast, the fleet was hosted and toasted with an exuberant show of patriotism and pride, culminating with the fleet entering the Golden Gate on May 6, 1908, as anxious crowds staked out the best vantage point around the Bay to get a look at the 16 battleships, and the flotilla of support vessels.

The anticipation of the arrival of the Atlantic Fleet (wouldn't be called Great White Fleet until much later when a journalist coined the phase to describe the ships painted white with gold trim), was an amazing spectacle. Over a million people tried to guess the best place to view the fleet. Some people chose the western shores or Lands End. Others staked out spots around and on top of Ft. Point. Others were waiting atop Russian Hill or Telegraph Hill. You could also pay to go out on a launch to see the fleet arrive.

Some of the viewers spent the night or arrived before dawn to get what they hoped would be the best view of the magnificent white battleships steaming into San Francisco Bay. The weather conditions were fairly clear early that morning, but by the time the ships arrived at the Gate, the fog began to follow the ships. By the time they were inside the Bay, there was a fog ceiling, so that the black smoke of the coal-burning ships created a photographer's nightmare. The white ships could be seen close up, but strung out in a group, you could barely make out about three ships at a time. The folks at Lands End, however, guessed right and would have had some of the best views of the arrival, because they saw the fleet ahead of the fog bank that followed the ships through the Gate.

San Francisco went wild with Fleet Fever. Visitors from throughout the West Coast arrived in town to join the festivities. The city hosted one of the finest receptions our navy has ever seen with spectacular parades, grand balls, banquets, and lots of exciting activities for all the sailors. The visit of the fleet was the first major public celebration of San Francisco's recovery from the earthquake and fire, and the city capitalized on the events to boast to the world about it’s rebuilding progress and it’s ability to accommodate the “grandest fleet in the finest harbor in the world.”

After two months based in San Francisco, the fleet would cross the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea, then into the Atlantic Ocean, arriving back at Hampton Roads on Washington’s Birthday, 1909, to complete it’s triumphant circumnavigation of the world.

John Freeman   11/22/2010



Crowds on Ft Point battlement
Glass slide, John Freeman Collection


Probably the edge of the Presidio at the corner of Broadway and Lyon Streets.  You can see that the fog bank is providing a nice ceiling, trapping the coal smoke and
obscuring the view of the ships.   John Freeman Collection


The San Francisco Call - May 5, 1908
(click above image for pdf)