Deceased , Historic

Rear Admiral Stephen B.



Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce is known as the founder of the U.S. Naval War College (1884) and as a leading educator and thinker in the Navy. Among his many achievements, he wrote the U.S. Navy’s first text book on navigation, which remained the Navy’s standard text from 1862 to 1898. He pioneered the use of underway training ships to train enlisted recruits, and during his lifetime, he was considered the U.S. Navy’s foremost expert in seamanship.

After joining as a midshipman at the age of 14, Luce grew to become one of the Navy’s outstanding officers in many fields, including strategy, seamanship, education and professional development. Luce served with the Atlantic Coast blockaders during the American Civil War and commanded the monitor USS Nantucket at the siege of Charleston.

He was promoted to lieutenant commander in 1862. He was assigned to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Newport, Rhode Island from January 1862 to October 1863. In 1862, while serving as head of the Department of Seamanship at USNA, he prepared one of the first seamanship textbooks used by the Academy. During the war, he also commanded the USS Sonoma (1862), USS Canandaigua (1862) and USS Pontiac (1864). He was promoted to commander in 1866.

After the Civil War, Luce organized the Navy’s apprentice training program to prepare seamen and petty officers for fleet duty. He was promoted to captain in December 1872 and served at the Boston Navy Yard until 1875. He commanded the USS Hartford from November 1875 to August 1877. From August to December 1877, Captain Luce was inspector of training ships. From January 1878 to February 1881, he commanded the training ship USS Minnesota.

He was promoted to commodore in 1881 and commanded the U.S. Navy Training Squadron in Newport from April 1881 to June 1884.

While in command of the Training Squadron, Luce implemented the first formal program for training sailors for service in the Navy. Luce’s plan was to have young men (in the age range of 10 to 15 years old) serve a three-year apprenticeship with the Training Squadron during which they received an academic education as well as hands-on training to learn various seamanship skills. Previously, the Navy had taken recruits with no prior experience and all training of enlisted sailors was “on the job”.

From July to September 1884, Luce commanded the North Atlantic Squadron with the USS Tennessee as his flagship.

Based on Luce’s urgings and exhaustive reports, the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, was established October 6, 1884 with Luce as its first president. In 1885, he was promoted to rear admiral and in 1886 he was succeeded as president by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose writings had greatly influenced the Navy’s decision to establish the War College.

Luce was also instrumental in starting the U.S. Naval Institute and its publication, Proceedings. He served as the Institute’s president from 1887 to 1898.

From June 1886 to February 1889, Luce commanded the North Atlantic Squadron with the USS Richmond as his flagship. This was his last assignment at sea before retiring, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 62, on March 25, 1889.

Despite being retired, Luce continued his interest in improving the efficiency of the Navy. He returned to the War College in 1901 and served for nearly a decade as a faculty member. He finally retired in November 1910 at the age of 83.

Luce belonged to several hereditary and military societies. In 1894, Luce joined the Aztec Club of 1847, a military society of officers who had served during the Mexican War and served as its president from 1910 to 1911. He was the founding commander of the Rhode Island Commandery of the Military Order of Foreign Wars in 1900. He was also a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States and the Naval Order of the United States.

n 1901, he was elected to the board of directors of the Redwood Library.

Accomplishments and Honors

  • 1887-1898 Instrumental in starting the U.S. Naval Institute and served as the Institute’s President
  • 1884 First President of the U.S. Naval War College
  • 1862-1898 Wrote the U.S. Navy’s first text book on navigation, which remained standard during that period.
  • Pioneered use of underway training ships to train recruits
  • Was considered the U.S. Navy’s foremost expert in seamanship


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