Building the Navy & Marines

Navy shipbuilding was also born in Philadelphia in 1775 when the Second Continental Congress authorized the constructions of frigates.

Several of those frigates were constructed on the Delaware River, and the Navy opened its first shipyard in Philadelphia in 1776.

Thus began a tradition of Navy shipbuilding on the Delaware that continued for well over two hundred years. Joshua Humphreys built the U.S. Navy’s first frigate, the USS United States, and designed her sisters including the USS Constitution. Innovative and productive shipyards on both sides of the Delaware produced the U.S. Navy’s largest ship of the line (USS Pennsylvania), first steam-powered frigate (USS Mississippi), first screw-driven frigate (USS Princeton), first successful seagoing ironclad (USS New Ironsides), first submarine (USS Alligator), first steel ship and cruiser (USS Atlanta), first designated destroyer (USS Bainbridge), first battleship (USS Indiana), first dreadnought (USS Michigan), first commissioned aircraft carrier (USS Saratoga), first light carrier (USS Independence), first escort carrier (USS Long Island), longest and last battleships (USS New Jersey and USS Wisconsin), as well as a supercarrier (USS Kitty Hawk) and nuclear attack submarines. The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, with other shipyards in Philadelphia, Camden, Chester, and Delaware, built many of the ships that won two World Wars and the Cold War.

Building the Frigate Philadelphia in the First Navy Yard, Philadelphia
Credit: Independence Seaport Museum
Launching the USS New Jersey, Philadelphia Navy Yard
Credit: Naval History & Heritage Command

The States on the Delaware River also contributed some of the Navy and Marine Corps’ greatest heroes. In addition to Commodore Barry, the Navy’s first flag officer, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware produced such legends of the early Navy as Biddle, Truxtun, Bainbridge, Lawrence, Decatur, Macdonough, Dupont, and Porter. Famous Marines from the Delaware Valley, beside the first Commandant Samuel Nicholas, include Commandants Charles McCawley who chose "Semper Fidelis" as the Marines' motto, decorated Marine Smedley Butler, and the first Commandant to be a full general. World War II’s great fighting admirals, Admirals Halsey and Spruance, were New Jersey born or raised, as was heroic Marine John Basilone.

Stephen Decatur Jr.

David Dixon Porter

William Bull” Halsey, Jr.

Charles McCawley

Smedley Butler

John Basilone

The Delaware River also was where the Navy and Marines made history. The ships sailing to the 250th celebrations will traverse the Delaware Bay where the Navy fought British frigates and German U-Boats; pass under the Commodore Barry Bridge, named for the Father of the U.S. Navy; sail between Forts Billingsport, Mercer, and Mifflin, where Marines and Naval officers defended Philadelphia in 1777 and helped destroy a British ship of the line, the largest ship sunk by Americans before 1898; and view the old Philadelphia Navy Yard and the Philadelphia Reserve Fleet facility, berthing many proud ships including the last conventional aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy. Help us make history for the Navy and Marines in 2025 - JOIN UP or DONATE today!

Marines' Fighting Withdrawal from Fort Billingsport
Credit: Colonel Charles Waterhouse
Destruction of Ship of the Line HMS Augusta in Battle of Fort Mifflin
Credit: Independence Seaport Museum