The Dreadnaughts

At first glance these photo may seem ordinary but with a little backstory you will want to look again at these images of the USS Baltimore and Charleston on Commencement Bay in 1892. These navy warships were in between major moments in American history when these photos were taken. Just a year before, the Baltimore was moored at Valparaíso during the Chilean Civil War protecting U. S citizens as a squadron flagship. On October 16, 1891, a mob attacked a group of American sailors on shore leave from the USS Baltimore outside a bar called the True Blue Saloon.Two sailors were killed and eighteen were injured in the chaos. The diplomatic incident between Chile and the United States became known as the Baltimore Crisis and it would have been the background and subtext everyone in Tacoma knew when the ships sailed into the harbor.
Five years after these photos, the Baltimore joined Commodore George Dewey’s fleet during the Spanish American War and on the morning of May 1, 1898 entered Manila Bay and destroyed the Spanish fleet stationed there. USS Baltimore was second in line behind Dewey’s flagship, the USS Olympia. But no one in Tacoma watching that summer day in 1892, including the photographer taking these pictures, could have known what was ahead-that war with Spain in the Philippines would be happening at the same time prospectors were finding gold in the Klondike and that soon ships departing Tacoma would be carrying passengers to and from both destinations. Sometimes history just sails into your harbor.



A reader with better knowledge of warships and maritime terminology corrected me on the term dreadnaught. The threatening name for heavily armored vessels bristling with big guns was coined from the Royal British warship HMS Dreadnaught which was launched in 1906, more than a decade after the episodes mentioned in the story. Today the term dreadnaught has been used to describe everything from spaceships to computer viruses. Forgive the slight inaccuracy in the title.

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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.


  1. Please research your naval history a bit closer. The term “dreadnought” did not come into general usage until the HMS DREADNOUGHT was launched She was the first “all big gun” battleships since she carried (8) 13″ guns (6 pointed forward and 2 pointed aft). All ships launched before her were referred to as “Pre-Dreadnoughts” and all launched after her were referred to as dreadnoughts referring to a major capital ship with (6) or more major caliber guns. Interestingly, the HMS DREADNOUGHT never fired a gun in anger, but she is considered the first in the line of all big gun battleships.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks for the terminology correction. Its pretty obvious I’m not a naval historian. I used the dreadnaught term from an article about the Valparaiso affair and the American ships involved. So what happened to the namesake Dreadnaught if she never was in a wartime engagement and never used the guns? Scrapped? Sounds like an interesting story indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Sims is correct. The Baltimore was a protected cruiser and was part of a rapidly advancement in technology in both armament and armoring of the American steel navy. When the USS Maine, the first of the Armored Cruisers (ACR) was commissioned in 1905, the U.S. Navy took a major leap forward. When the HMS Dreadnought entered service in 1906, the U.S. pushed forward with designs of bigger, more heavily armed and armored capital ships (battleships). The relatively recent yet technologically ancient ACRs were reclassified as heavy cruisers (CA) and re-named (such as the USS Washington, ACR-11 became the USS Seattle, CA-11) as the Colorado-class battleship, USS Washington (BB-47) was funded and construction commenced. The Pre-dreadnought term was coined in the years following World War I.

    It is a very interesting study of terms, regulation, designs and laws (the Washington Naval Treaty (signed in 1922) was enacted to slow the world’s war machine down and limit the number of ships, size ships and armament installed, numbers of guns, etc. That is a fun read.


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