Dakota Datebook

Battleship North Dakota

Monday, November 26, 2007

In 1907, when the US Navy secured a large fund to build a “first-class” battleship that would be “…carrying as heavy armor and as powerful armament as any known vessel [with] … the highest practicable speed and the greatest practicable radius of action,” North Dakota became interested in lending its name to the project.
The common practice of the time was for the Navy to name their ships after states that had not given their name to a ship. At the time this project was sanctioned, only three states remained that had not given their name to a ship: North Dakota, Utah and Delaware. However, Delaware had just given its name and was soon taken from the list of hopefuls. Finally, with President Roosevelt serving as its “doughty champion,” North Dakota received the honor.
As North Dakotans, we are long used to others considering us as strong and sturdy people. Our ancestors survived colder winters and harsher summers here than most parts of the country ever dreamed were possible. The battleship North Dakota, the “pride of the nation,” was just as strong as the state she was named after. She was 518 feet and nine inches long, and she was the first battleship to be fitted with turbine engines.
She was launched in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1908. John Burke, the governor at the time, and forty-five other men and women travelled there to see the launching of this great ship. L. B. Hanna, who would soon be governor, was invited along in this envoy, as was his wife. Also among that number was Miss Mary Benton, daughter of Colonel John Benton of Fargo.
Mary Benton had the honor of christening the great warship. “Amid the cheers of a thousand throats and the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, she threw the bottle [of champagne] against the steel side of the battleship,” one paper reported poetically.
On this day, the Boston transcript shared this of the grand November ceremony: some of Governor Burke’s friends “were afraid… that Miss Benton would not smash the bottle on the bow of the great battleship.”
“I wasn’t [afraid],” Burke told the newspaper. “My fears were that she [Miss Benton] would stave a hole in the ship. I am sure she hurled that champagne so hard that the bottle was smashed before it hit the bow of the ironclad.”
Is it any wonder we’ve carved the representation of strong and sturdy into so many other minds? It seems that ship was a perfect fit.
Written by Sarah Walker
Sources:
“Bismarck Daily Tribune,” Thursday morning, Nov. 26, 1908, p.2
“The Silver Service of the U. S. Battleship North Dakota,” by Florence Harriet Davis
“History of Battleship North Dakota (BB 25),” from Navy Dept., office of Chief of Naval Operations, Ships’ Histories Sect.
“Calvin Times,” Nov. 12, 1908, p. 1

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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