Herbert Hoover’s Good Will Tour – by Battleship

President-Elect Herbert Hoover at a formal reception aboard USS Maryland.

When Herbert Hoover was elected President in 1928, long-distance air travel was still in the future; Franklin Roosevelt would become the first President to travel internationally by air.  Hoover left the continental U.S. twice: first, as President-Elect in 1928, he traveled to Latin America on a “Good Will Tour,” then in 1931 he visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  In both cases, he traveled by battleship.

Hoover’s trip to Latin America actually involved two battleships.  The first leg, southbound from California along the west coast of Central and South America, was aboard USS Maryland.  His return trip, from Montevideo, Uruguay via Rio de Janeiro to Norfolk, Virginia, was aboard USS Utah.

A battleship would seem like a poor choice for a “Good Will Tour” – big guns hardly seem friendly – and it was not Hoover’s first choice.  When Hoover proposed the trip to President Coolidge, Hoover indicated his preference would have been the troop transport USS Henderson, but she was too slow for such a long trip, and was also in need of an overhaul.  (Incidentally, Henderson was the ship that carried President Warren Harding and Secretary of Commerce Hoover to Alaska in 1923.)  In consultation with Admiral Thomas Washington, the commandant of the Navy base in San Francisco, it was determined that Hoover’s party including  sizable press contingent was too large for a cruiser, and a battleship was deemed necessary.  With Coolidge’s encouragement, Hoover chose USS Maryland for the Pacific leg of his trip.

USS Maryland preparing for the Good Will Tour, 1928.

Completed in 1921, USS Maryland was one of the newest and largest battleships in the fleet.  Maryland represented the zenith of the “standard type” U.S. battleship, that is, battleships built between 1916 and 1923.  These twelve ships had compatible speeds, turning circles, and guns, allowing them to form a squadron that could operate effectively as a unit.  Maryland and her two sisters (USS Colorado and USS West Virginia) were armed with eight 16″ guns in four twin turrets, the largest guns in the fleet.  Maryland was 624 feet long and displaced 33,000 tons;  her top speed was 21 knots, though cruising speed for the Good Will Tour was 10 to 15 knots.

Maryland left California on November 19, 1928, stopping for Hoover to visit Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile.  Hoover disembarked from Maryland the final time at Valparaiso, Chile, where he and his party continued overland to Santiago, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay.

For the return journey, USS Utah was dispatched on November 21 from Hampton Roads to Montevideo, where she embarked Hoover’s party on December 18.  Utah transported the President-elect’s party to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, then continued her homeward voyage, reaching Hampton Roads on January 6, 1929.

USS Utah, late 1920s after modernization.

USS Utah was, in 1928, the oldest operational battleship in the U.S. Navy, commissioned in 1911.  Utah was 510 feet long and displaced 23,000 tons;  she carried a main battery of ten 12″ guns in five twin turrets – an arrangement that had proved inefficient in practice.  Utah and her sister ship USS Florida were both modernized between 1925 and 1927, provided with new oil-fired boilers (to replace the original coal-fired models), improved torpedo protection and other modifications.  With her new boilers, Utah’s speed was comparable to Maryland.

Maryland and Utah each typically carried a crew of about 1000 officers and sailors, and both ships found it necessary to leave some junior officers at home in order to free up enough cabins for the 12 members of Hoover’s party, plus the 27 journalists and photographers in the press corps.  Accommodations aboard Utah were more cramped than on Maryland, due to her smaller size and the configuration of her armament.  Both Maryland and Utah were equipped to serve as flagships, that is, the each had extra cabins for an Admiral and his staff.  Neither ship had an Admiral on board for the Good Will Tour, so of course the President-Elect was assigned the Admiral’s Cabin.

The crews of both ships put forth every possible hospitality for their guests, and by every account the voyages were enjoyed by all of the civilians.  As Mrs. Hoover wrote afterwards to Captain Victor Kimberly of the USS Maryland, “none of us wanted to get back to the United States we all loved the sea so!  The friendliness and courtesy of the Maryland’s officers and crew we found expressed in the same pleasing fashion by the Utah’s personnel.”

6 thoughts on “Herbert Hoover’s Good Will Tour – by Battleship

  1. The first picture above at the USS MARYLAND was taken nov 28 – 1928 ( not in nov 19 , 1928 ). in Corinto Nicaragua president elect Herbert Hoover welcomed by president of Nicaragua. Adolfo Díaz Recinos ( Not Henry P.Fletcher because he was in ITALY United States Embassador to that country in office April 2 ,1924. to August 3, 1929 ) and also Mr Hoover met president elect from Nicaragua Gen Jose M Moncada the same day.

    1. Even though Henry Fletcher was US Ambassador to Italy, Herbert Hoover specifically requested Fletcher’s assistance for the South American tour because of his expertise in the region, and Fletcher did travel with Hoover. See, for example, page 387 of the American Foreign Service Journal for Dec. 1928, http://www.afsa.org/sites/default/files/fsj-1928-12-december_0.pdf.

      This photo comes from an album prepared for Hoover after the trip. It is possible that the photo was incorrectly captioned. Do you have any sources that would help us describe the photo more accurately?

  2. Yes, Let me introduce my self I’m the grand son of president of Nicaragua Gen Moncada who met Mr Hoover in Corinto Nic ( at that time my grandpa was president elect ) on nov 28, 1928 , when this picture was taken. LOOKING again the picture Mr Henry P Fletcher is on the picture but walking behind Mr Hoover which on his right is Mr Adolfo Diaz Recinos president of Nicaragua his term end dic 31, 1928. If is possible that you can send me your email ( write me a short note for example ) I would provide you with more evidence that this picture was taken on nov 28, 1928. NOT on nov 19, 1928.

  3. Mr Howard,I just received

    a email on July 23 from Mr Matthew Schaefer member of archival staff and he was granted admission to the Hoover Library on limited basis for the situation of the coved-19 And he found that I was correct in my judgement that this picture show on the USS Maryland was taken in Corinto Nicaragua where is Mr Herbert Hoover and Mr Adolfo Diaz president of Nicaragua on that day of November 28 of 1928, Mr Howard thank you for your effort of this matter, now the correction has been made.

    1. Thank you for bringing the error to our attention; we always seek to improve the accuracy of our records. And thank you for sending the additional information.

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