Spanish-American War: USS Oregon (BB-3)

USS Oregon during the Spanish-American War
USS Oregon (BB-3). Library of Congress

In 1889, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy proposed a large 15-year building program consisting of 35 battleships and 167 other vessels. This plan had been devised by a policy board that Tracy convened on July 16 which sought to build upon the shift to armored cruisers and battleships that had begun with USS Maine (ACR-1) and USS Texas (1892). Of the battleships, Tracy wished ten to be long-range and capable of 17 knots with a steaming radius of 6,200 miles. These would serve as a deterrent to enemy action and be capable of attacking targets abroad. The remainder were to be of coastal defense designs with a speed of 10 knots and a range of 3,100 miles. With shallower drafts and more limited range, the board intended for these vessels to operate in North American waters and the Caribbean.


Concerned that the program signaled the end of American isolationism and the embracing of imperialism, the US Congress declined to move forward with Tracy's plan in its entirety. Despite this early setback, Tracy continued to lobby and in 1890 funding was allocated  for the building of three 8,100-ton coastal battleships, a cruiser, and torpedo boat. The initial designs for the coastal battleships called for a main battery of four 13" guns and a secondary battery of rapid-fire 5" guns. When the Bureau of Ordnance proved unable to produce the 5" guns, they were replaced with a mixture of 8" and 6" weapons.

For protection, the initial plans called for the vessels to possess a 17" thick armor belt and 4" of deck armor. As the the design evolved, the main belt was thickened to 18" and consisted of Harvey armor. This was a type of steel armor in which the front surfaces of the plates were case hardened. Propulsion for the ships came from two vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines generating around 9,000 hp and turning two propellers. Power for these engines was provided by four double-ended Scotch boilers and the vessels could achieve a top speed around 15 knots.


Authorized on June 30, 1890, the three ships of the Indiana-class, USS Indiana (BB-1), USS Massachusetts (BB-2), and USS Oregon (BB-3), represented the US Navy's first modern battleships. The first two ships were assigned to William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia and the yard offered to build the third. This was declined as Congress required that the third be built on the West Coast. As a result, construction of Oregon, excluding guns and armor, was assigned to Union Iron Works in San Francisco.

Laid down on November 19, 1891, work moved forward and two years later the hull was ready to enter the war. Launched on October 26, 1893, Oregon slid down the ways with Miss Daisy Ainsworth, daughter of Oregon steamboat magnate John C. Ainsworth, serving as sponsor. An additional three years were required to finish Oregon due to delays in producing the armor plate for the vessel's defenses. Finally completed, the battleship commenced its sea trials in May 1896. During testing, Oregon achieved a top speed of 16.8 knots which exceeded its design requirements and made it slightly faster than its sisters.

USS Oregon (BB-3) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Union Iron Works
  • Laid Down: November 19, 1891
  • Launched: October 26, 1893
  • Commissioned: July 15, 1896
  • Fate: Scrapped in 1956


  • Displacement: 10,453 tons
  • Length: 351 ft., 2 in.
  • Beam: 69 ft., 3 in.
  • Draft: 27 ft.
  • Propulsion: 2 x vertical inverted triple expansion reciprocating steam engines, 4 x double ended Scotch boilers, 2 x propellers
  • Speed: 15 knots
  • Range: 5,600 miles at 15 knots
  • Complement: 473 men



  • 4 × 13" guns (2×2)
  • 8 × 8" guns (4×2)
  • 4 × 6" guns removed 1908
  • 12 × 3" guns added 1910
  • 20 × 6-pounders

Early Career:

Commissioned on July 15, 1896, with Captain Henry L. Howison in command, Oregon commenced fitting out for duty on the Pacific Station. The first battleship on the West Coast, it commenced routine peacetime operations. During this period, Oregon, like Indiana and Massachusetts, suffered from stability problems due to the fact that the vessels' main turrets were not centrally balanced. To correct this issue, Oregon entered dry dock in late 1897 to have bilge keels installed.

As workers completed this project, word arrived of the loss of USS Maine in Havana harbor. Departing dry dock on February 16, 1898, Oregon steamed for San Francisco to load ammunition. With relations between Spain and the United States quickly deteriorating, Captain Charles E. Clark received orders on March 12 instructing him to bring the battleship to the East Coast to reinforce the North Atlantic Squadron.

Racing to the Atlantic:

Putting to sea on March 19, Oregon began the 16,000-mile voyage by steaming south to Callao, Peru. Reaching the city on April 4, Clark paused to re-coal before pressing on to the Straits of Magellan. Encountering severe weather, Oregon moved through the narrow waters and joined the gunboat USS Marietta at Punta Arenas. The two ships then sailed for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Arriving on April 30, they learned that the Spanish-American War had begun.

Continuing north, Oregon made a brief stop at Salvador, Brazil before taking on coal at Barbados. On May 24, the battleship anchored off Jupiter Inlet, FL having completed its journey from San Francisco in sixty-six days. Though the voyage captured the imagination of the American public, it demonstrated the need for the construction of the Panama Canal. Moving to Key West, Oregon joined Rear Admiral William T. Sampson's North Atlantic Squadron.

Spanish-American War:

Days after Oregon arrived, Sampson received word from Commodore Winfield S. Schley that the Admiral Pascual Cervera's Spanish fleet was in port at Santiago de Cuba. Departing Key West, the squadron reinforced Schley on June 1 and the combined force commenced a blockade of the harbor. Later that month, American troops under Major General William Shafter landed near Santiago at Daiquirí and Siboney. Following the American victory at San Juan Hill on July 1, Cervera's fleet came under threat from American guns overlooking the harbor. Planning a breakout, he sortied with his ships two days later. Racing from the port, Cervera initiated the running Battle of Santiago de Cuba. Playing a key role in the fighting, Oregon ran down and destroyed the modern cruiser Cristobal Colon. With the fall of Santiago, Oregon steamed to New York for a refit.

Later Service:

With the completion of this work, Oregon departed for the Pacific with Captain Albert Barker in command. Re-circling South America, the battleship received orders to support American forces during the Philippine Insurrection. Arriving in Manila in March 1899, Oregon remained in the archipelago for eleven months. Leaving the Philippines, the ship operated in Japanese waters before putting into Hong Kong in May. On June 23, Oregon sailed for Taku, China to aid in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion.

Five days after leaving Hong Kong, the ship struck a rock in the Changshan Islands. Sustaining heavy damage, Oregon was refloated and entered dry dock at Kure, Japan for repairs. On August 29, the ship steamed for Shanghai where it remained until May 5, 1901. With the end of operations in China, Oregon re-crossed the Pacific and entered Puget Sound Navy Yard for an overhaul.

In the yard for over a year, Oregon underwent major repairs before sailing for San Francisco on September 13, 1902. Returning to China in March 1903, the battleship spent the next three years in the Far East protecting American interests. Ordered home in 1906, Oregon arrived at Puget Sound for modernization. Decommissioned on April 27, work soon commenced. Out of commission for five years, Oregon was reactivated on August 29, 1911 and assigned to the Pacific reserve fleet.

Though modernized, the battleship's small size and relative lack of firepower still rendered it obsolete. Placed in active service that October, Oregon spent the next three years operating on the West Coast. Passing in and out of reserve status, the battleship took part in the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco and the 1916 Rose Festival in Portland, OR.

World War II & Scrapping:

In April 1917, with the United States' entry into World War I, Oregon was re-commissioned and commenced operations on the West Coast. In 1918, the battleship escorted transports west during the Siberian Intervention. Returning to Bremerton, WA, Oregon was decommissioned on June 12, 1919. In 1921, a movement began to preserve the ship as museum in Oregon. This came to fruition in June 1925 after Oregon was disarmed as part of the Washington Naval Treaty.

Moored at Portland, the battleship served as a museum and memorial. Redesignated IX-22 on February 17, 1941, Oregon's fate changed the following year. With American forces fighting World War II it was determined that the ship's scrap value was vital to the war effort. As a result, Oregon was sold on December 7, 1942 and taken to Kalima, WA for scrapping.

Work progressed on dismantling Oregon during 1943. As the scrapping moved forward, the US Navy requested that it be halted after it reached the main deck and the interior cleared out. Reclaiming the empty hull, the US Navy intended to use it as a storage hulk or breakwater during the 1944 reconquest of Guam. In July 1944, Oregon's hull was loaded with ammunition and explosives and towed to the Marianas. It remained at Guam until November 14-15, 1948, when it broke loose during a typhoon. Located following the storm, it was returned to Guam where it stayed until being sold for scrap in March 1956.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Spanish-American War: USS Oregon (BB-3)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Spanish-American War: USS Oregon (BB-3). Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Spanish-American War: USS Oregon (BB-3)." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).