Our Iowa Heritage: U.S.S. Iowa – The Navy’s Finest.

With the dawn of the 1940’s, America’s recovery from the Great Depression was in full swing. Franklin Roosevelt was completing his third term as President and running again for a fourth, this time with a Vice Presidential running mate from nearby Missouri, Harry S. Truman.

In Europe, things were bleak. Hitler was overrunning nations while building strong alliances with other dictators from Italy and Japan. With an awareness that the United States would eventually be drawn into the war, Roosevelt began gearing up for battle. The Navy ordered six new state-of-the-art battleships in 1939. The BB-61 would be the most powerful warship ever to sail the seas. On June 27, 1940, the keel of the first ship was laid into place in the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn. Within two years, the U.S.S. Iowa would be ready for war.


The USS Iowa (BB-61) Battleship was launched on August 27, 1942. It is the last lead ship of any class of United States battleships and was the only ship of its class to have served in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.


In 1943, the USS Iowa carried President Franklin Roosevelt across the Atlantic to Algeria, en route to a meeting of vital importance in Tehran with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union. The battleship finished its WWII service in the Pacific, serving as the Third Fleet’s flagship at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.

(C-0241) Everybody in America joined the War Effort – even Uncle Sam.
(C-0137) This stamp was issued to commemorate the important role of the U.S. Navy during World War II. The stamp pictures a group of sailors in their summer uniforms. The Artcraft cachet features WWII sailors stationed on the USS Iowa, assigned to the Third Fleet in the Pacific.

(C-0142) (C-0143) U.S.S. IOWA Postmark on the Iowa State Centennial stamp – December 28, 1946 – Iowa Statehood Day.

(C-0230) This “stamp-less” postal cover is Military Mail, thus has the “Free” marking in the upper right corner. The letter is postmarked October 8, 1943 on the U.S.S. Iowa and also stamped “Paused by Naval Censors” with the initials of the censor who reviewed the contents of the letter. Military mail is not always censored by opening or reading the mail, but this is much more likely during wartime and military campaigns. The military postal service is separate from civilian mail and is usually totally controlled by the military, so during wartime, mail from the front (in this case – the U.S.S. Iowa was actively involved in WWII) is often opened and offending parts blanked or cut out, and incoming civilian mail may be subject to much the same treatment.
(C-0236) The USS Iowa was decommissioned on October 26, 1990 in Norfolk, Virginia, after 48 years of service.
In 2011, the Iowa was donated to the Los Angeles–based non-profit Pacific Battleship Center and was permanently moved to Berth 87 at the Port of Los Angeles in 2012, where she is now open to the public as the USS Iowa Museum.

Did you know there were other USS Iowa’s ???

While the U.S.S. Iowa Battleship was, and still is the greatest warship of all time, it was actually the sixth ship in United States history to be named after the State of Iowa. Not bad for a prairie state where the nearest ocean is over 1,000 miles away! So, here’s the rest of the story about the other five ships that preceded her majesty…

#1- Steamboat(s) Iowa (1838)

Revered as one of the largest and fastest boats on the Mississippi in the mid-19th century; the Iowa is incorporated into the official Seal of Iowa. Built in 1838, the Iowa was the first vessel named for the newly formed Territory of Iowa. It weighed 112 tons, could pull 10 keelboats, and it set the speed record from Galena, Illinois to St. Louis in 1843, making the trip in 44 hours, a record that held until 1849. The Iowa was hired by Mormon supporters of Joseph Smith, Jr. as part of a plan to rescue him from jail in June 1843; the excursion was cancelled after Smith was murdered in jail. The Iowa sank after a collision with the steamboat Declaration on Oct. 1, 1847 while traveling from New Orleans to St. Louis. This liability for this collision was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court case John Walsh v. Patrick Rogers (54 U.S. 283- 1852). However, the Iowa was apparently rebuilt, or a new steamboat was later rechristened Iowa, since a similar side-wheeler appeared twice in Barber and Howe’s 1865 Loyal West in the Time of Rebellion, and there is reference to the Iowa being used as a troop transport during the Civil War. Click here for more info about steamboats in Iowa.

#2- USS Iowa (1864)

Originally named the USS Ammonoosuc, this steam frigate was constructed in the Boston Navy Yard during the American Civil War. It was launched, apparently without ceremony, on July 21, 1864. She was intended to be used against the British should England decide to take the side of the Confederate States of America and attack the American Union North. However, as the war progressed, England’s support of the Confederacy diminished, and the fast and powerful Iowa was never placed into service. Instead, she was laid up in the Boston Navy Yard, and while there was renamed the Iowa on May 15, 1869. She was sold on September 27, 1883 to the firm of Hubel and Porter, of Syracuse, New York.

#3- USS Iowa – BB-4 (1896)




This USS Iowa saw action during the Spanish-American War and is notable for being America’s first seagoing battleship. The Iowa was launched on March 28, 1896, sponsored by the daughter of the Governor of Iowa named Mary Lord Drake. Drake commissioned the vessel on June 16, 1897, with Captain William T. Sampson in command. The Iowa was known as “Battleship No. 4” during her lifespan and called BB-4 after the hull classification symbol system became standard in 1921. When the Spanish-American war broke out, Cuba belonged to Spain. There was some speculation that the Spanish military made a mistake by sending its fleet to Cuba instead of keeping it nearer to Spain where supplies were closer; instead, it was sent to the Americas, and was discovered in the harbor of Santiago. Iowa was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and was ordered to blockade duty on May 28, 1898, off Santiago de Cuba under the command of Captain Robley D. “Fighting Bob” Evans. She participated in a naval bombardment of the fort near Santiago, and joined many other American warships blockading Cuba. While she was an improvement over the Indiana class because of a superior design, the warship became obsolete quickly in the first quarter of the 20th century, and was used for target practice and sunk on March 23,1923 in Panama Bay by a salvo of 14-inch shells.

(M-0110) Here’s a neat collectible made in Germany after WWI. It’s a small package of sewing needles sold in a decorative “patriotic” cover. Ours features the USS Iowa and is part of The Army and Navy Needle Book series – circa 1920.

#4- Steamship Iowan (1914)

This steamer was built by the Maryland Steel Company as one of eight sister ships for the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company. In October 1914, five months after she was delivered to American-Hawaiian, the Iowan rammed and sank the United Fruit Company steamer Metapan near the entrance to New York Harbor. After repairs, the Iowan resumed inter-coastal service via the Panama Canal. When the canal was temporarily closed by landslides in late 1915, the Iowan sailed via the Straits of Magellan until the canal reopened in mid 1916. During World War I, the Iowan carried cargo, animals, and a limited number of passengers to France, and returned nearly 10,000 American troops after the Armistice. During World War II she was taken over by the United States Navy and commissioned as USS Iowan (ID-3002). During the war, the ship was transferred to one of our Allies, the Soviet Union and renamed SS Tashkent. She delivered cargo and troops in support of the Soviet invasion of Japanese-held territories in August 1945. After the war, the ship remained a part of the Soviet merchant fleet until 1966. She was transferred to North Korea at that time to become a fish processing facility, and was scrapped in 1969.

#5- USS Iowa, BB-53 (1920) was a battleship already under construction when she was canceled by the Washington Naval Treaty.

So, with Iowa being land-locked, it’s interesting to see that we Hawkeyes have such a sea-going heritage. And don’t forget, during WWII, when Iowa City was a site for the US Navy Pre-Flight School, many of the finest recruits played football here as well, going under the name, the Iowa SeaHawks. Some consider the 1943 Iowa SeaHawks one of college football’s finest teams.

Read more about the WWII Navy Pre-Flight School in Iowa City here.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The Steamboat Iowa, Wikipedia

USS Iowa/Ammonoosuc, Military Wikia

USS Iowa BB-4, Military Wikia

USS Iowan, Wikipedia

USS Iowa, BB-53, Military Wikia

USS Iowa, BB-61, Wikipedia

USS Iowa, BB-61, Military Wikia

The USS Iowa Museum Pacific Battleship. com website

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