Thanks to:
By Kennedy Hickman, Guide

USS Illinois (BB-7)
Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command

USS Illinois (BB-7) - Overview:

  • Nation: United States
  • Type: Battleship
  • Shipyard: Newport News Shipbuilding
  • Laid Down: February 10, 1897
  • Launched: October 4, 1898
  • Commissioned: September 16, 1901
  • Fate: Sold for scrap, May 18, 1956
USS Illinois (BB-7) - Specifications
  • Displacement: 10,492 tons
  • Length: 368 ft.
  • Beam: 72.3 ft.
  • Draft: 23 ft., 6 in.
  • Propulsion: 2 x vertical inverted triple-expansion steam engines, 2 x propellers
  • Speed: 16 knots
  • Complement: 660 men
4 13 in. guns
14 6 in. guns
2 3 in. guns
16 6-pounder guns
6 1-pounder guns
4 18 in. torpedo tubes

USS Illinois (BB-7) Design & Construction:

Designed as an improvement on the Indiana-class (USS Indiana, USS Massachusetts, and USS Oregon) and Kearsarge-class (USS Kearsarge and USS Kentucky), the Illinois-class was described as a new type of sea-going, coastal battleship. Consisting of three ships, USS Illinois (BB-7), USS Alabama (BB-8), and USS Wisconsin (BB-9), the new class carried four 13 in. guns mounted in twin British-style turrets. A change from the round monitor-style turrets that had been used on earlier vessels, the new type were simpler to armor and required less space. The Illinois-class also saw the elimination of the secondary battery of 8" guns that had appeared aboard the Indiana- and Kearsarge-class ships. Instead, the main battery was supplemented by fourteen 6" guns and sixteen 6-pounder guns. This streamlining of the vessel's armament simplified munitions handling and logistics. Powered by two inverted vertical triple-expansion steam engines, the class featured two distinctive, side-by-side funnels amidships.

Ordered on September 26, 1896, the contract for Illinois' construction was awarded to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Virginia. Laid down February 10, 1897, work continued through the following year as the Spanish-American War raged. Launched on October 4, 1898, Illinois was sponsored by Nancy Leiter, daughter of Levi Leiter, a co-founder of Marshall Field & Company. Work continued on Illinois over the next three years until the vessel's completion in 1901. Commissioned on September 16, Captain George A. Converse, a pioneer in naval electricity, assumed command.

USS Illinois (BB-7) - Early Service:

Spending October 1901 in the Chesapeake, Converse conducted a shakedown cruise and commenced training the battleship's crew. The following month, Illinois departed for Louisiana where it aided in testing a new floating dry dock. Completing this assignment, the battleship returned to Newport News before becoming Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans' flagship during a visit by Prince Albert Wilhelm Heinrich of Prussia. With the end of these festivities, Illinois departed New York City on April 30, 1902, to serve as Rear Admiral Arent S. Crowninshield's flagship in the Mediterranean. Leading the European Squadron, the battleship ran aground on July 14 while in Kristiania (Oslo) harbor in Norway. Sustaining hull damage, Illinois traveled to Britain where it entered dry dock at Chatham Dockyard.

Returning to service on September 1, Illinois steamed to the Mediterranean before departing for fleet maneuvers in the South Atlantic. Reassigned to the North Atlantic Fleet in January 1903, the battleship engaged in maneuvers, training, and port visits over the following three years. In 1906, Illinois, with Captain Gottfried Blocklinger in command, became the first warship to win the Battenberg Cup, a challenge cup for rowing between American and British vessels. Later that year, President Theodore Roosevelt became concerned about the US Navy's lack of strength in the Pacific due to the increasing threat posed by the Japanese. To impress upon the Japanese that the United States could move its main battle fleet to the Pacific with ease, he commenced planning a world cruise of the nation's battleships.

USS Illinois (BB-7) - Great White Fleet:

Dubbed the Great White Fleet, Illinois, commanded by Captain John Bowyer, was assigned to Rear Admiral Charles Sperry's Fourth Division, Second Squadron. Among the older battleships in the fleet, Illinois' squadron consisted of Alabama, Kearsarge, and Kentucky. Departing Hampton Roads on December 16, 1907, the fleet sailed south making port calls in Brazil before steaming through the Straits of Magellan. Turning north, the fleet, led by Evans, reached San Diego on April 14, 1908. Following a pause in California, Illinois and its consorts transited the Pacific to Hawaii before reaching New Zealand and Australia in August. After taking part in festive visits, the fleet turned north for the Philippines, Japan, and China. Concluding port calls in these nations, the American battleships crossed the Indian Ocean before passing through the Suez Canal and entering the Mediterranean.

Reaching Suez, Egypt, the fleet learned of a severe earthquake at Messina. In an effort to render aid, Illinois, USS Connecticut (BB-18), and the supply ship USS Culgoa were dispatched to Sicily. Rejoining the fleet at Gibraltar, Illinois prepared for the voyage back to the United States. Crossing the Atlantic, the battleship arrived at Hampton Roads on February 22, 1909, where it was met by Roosevelt. Having completed its world cruise, Illinois received orders to sail to Boston for an overhaul and modernization. Decommissioned on August 4, work began which saw the installation of two cage masts and the removal of all but four of the 6-pdr. guns. In addition, Illinois received new boilers and other modern equipment.

USS Illinois (BB-7) - Later Service:

Though made obsolete by newer and larger battleships, work on Illinois continued and on April 15, 1912 it returned to service but in reserve commission. Activated that November, it took part in fleet maneuvers in the Atlantic. No longer a key part of the battle fleet, Illinois spent the summers of 1913 and 1914 as a training ship for US Naval Academy midshipmen. Three years later, following the United States' entrance into World War I, the battleship moved into a training role on the East Coast. Laid up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1919, Illinois shifted to New York two years later when the US Navy loaned it to the State of New York.

Used as a training vessel and floating armory by the New York Naval Militia, Illinois was rendered inoperable as a warship in 1922 as per the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty. Remaining at New York, the battleship was renamed USS Prairie State (IX-15) on January 8, 1941 in order to free the name Illinois for use. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and American entrance into World War II, Prairie State served as a Naval Reserve Midshipmen Training School for the duration of the conflict. Reverting to the state in 1945, the vessel remained in use by the Naval Reserve until December 31, 1956. Towed to Baltimore, it was sold to Bethlehem Steel Company for scrap on May 18, 1956.