At the end of the American Civil War, the United States Navy was the most powerful navy in the world. Years of conflict had enabled the industrially strong North to amass a fighting fleet of vast strength. Twenty years later though, the American fleet had fallen in capability to most South American Navies. U.S. warships gradually become useless through age and were not replaced, due to the fact that there was no definitive plan to strengthen the Navy, most people in the United States were concentrating on the Westward movement, and just a general feeling isolationism. This would soon change though.
In 1883, congress authorized a plan for the modernization of the Navy to bring it in line with the current events of the time. The plan called for four steel ships that would be of American design and incorporate as many modern features as possible. The ships were the cruisers Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and the dispatch boat Dolphin. The ships were assigned to the "White Squadron", but are more notablely know as the "ABCD fleet". Other "modern" warships were soon ordered and constructed, but these ships still lacked the capabilities of more modern navies, but this would soon change.
In the spring of 1890, the Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin F. Tracy, successfully convinced Congress to fund the construction of three new battleships that would significantly bolster the now hollow American Navy. On June 30, 1890, a Republican Congress approved the funding for the Indiana Class sea-going coastal battleships. The ships would be named Indiana, Massachusetts, and Oregon. It is important to note that many in Congress felt that the construction of new warships might harm relations with other countries, so the name "coastal battleship" was applied to ease the feelings some Congressional delegates. The ships were intended mainly to defend to coast of the United States. Thus, the ships of the Indiana's were short-legged, having a combat radius of 1,500 miles.
The lead ship of the class, the USS Indiana was commissioned on November 20, 1895. The second ship of the class, the USS Massachusetts was commissioned on June 10, 1896. Both of these ships were built by William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia, PA. The third and final ship of the Indiana class was the USS Oregon. The Oregon was built by Union Iron Works of San Francisco, CA and was commissioned on 15 July, 1896.
The launching of the USS Oregon on October 26, 1893 was indeed an event to behold for the city of San Francisco. The event itself was complex. Miss Daisey Ainsworth, representing the State of Oregon and Miss Eugenia Shelby, representing the City of Portland would together send the ship on her way. Miss Ainsworth would press an electric button that would send a bottle of California champagne crashing against the bow of the ship. Miss Shelby would press her own electric button that would cause a small guillotine to sever a cord that was holding twenty-two five pound weights. The weights would then pound against the shoring that was holding ship in position and release the Oregon from her cradle.
The inhabitants of San Francisco had been gathering on the docks and surrounding area all morning, perched on nearby buildings, factory roof tops, and anywhere else one could view the launching. Out in the bay, an immense fleet of private vessels, packed to capacity, gathered to honor the Oregon. At one point, it was asked if there was even room to safely launch the ship with all the spectator craft in the bay. Many prominent governmental figures attended the ceremony. The commanding officer of the Presidio, General Thomas Ruger and his staff, arrived in full dress uniforms. The governor of California, Henry Markham, the mayor of San Francisco, city council members, and General Compton of the Oregon Militia representing the governor of Oregon were all in attendance.
By the time 11:30 am rolled around, it was estimated that more than 100,000 people were on hand to witness the launching of the United States' newest warship. Mr. Irving Scott, of Union Iron Works, lectured to the crowd on the Oregon, her construction, and her capabilities.
At 11:45 am, the Oregon was ceremoniously launched into the bay , entering the water stern first. The Oregon was on its way to becoming a warship.