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Stephen B. Luce papers

Identifier: MSC-010

Content Description

Manuscript Collection 10, the papers of Stephen B. Luce, was created in 1970 from a Naval War College Library historical file. Information on provenance is unknown. This small collection consists of three series: correspondence, writings and miscellany. The correspondence series, letters received and copies of letters sent, 1876-1911, includes such prominent correspondents as Alfred T. Mahan, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Stockton and Henry C. Lodge. Topics at issue are Naval War College lectures, the publication of Luce's own articles, the continued existence of the College, A.T. Mahan's writings and war games.

Series II, writings, contains several articles written by Luce for various publications, including the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and The North American Review, 1905-1911, along with reviews of several of Mahan's works. Finally, miscellany, series III, has tributes to Stephen B. Luce, articles by other writers, and publisher's notes.

A collection of photocopies of the publications of Stephen B. Luce, 1862-1911, was a 1973 gift to the Naval War College Foundation for deposit in the Naval Historical Collection by John B. Hattendorf, co-editor of the first contribution to the Naval War College Historical Monograph Series, The Writings of Stephen B. Luce. These items comprise manuscript collection 23.

The Captain Kay Russell collection of research source materials on Stephen B. Luce is the third major component of this register. This collection was presented to the Naval War College Foundation in 1980 for deposit in the Naval Historical Collection by Mrs. Kay Russell, through the good offices of Professor Thomas Etzold. Unfortunately, Captain Russell died before he was able to complete his graduate work and his dissertation on Luce.

This collection consists, in part, of three boxes of copies of S.B. Luce correspondence, lectures, articles, and reports reproduced from the collections at the Library of Congress. In addition, there are copies of portions of books and articles by other authors, and Russell's holograph and typewritten notes, and seminar and term papers.

The appendix lists items either by or about S.B. Luce found in the Naval War College Archives or other manuscript collections in the Naval Historical Collection. One particularly significant collection consists of 19 reels of microfilm of the Luce papers on deposit in the Library of Congress. Finally, Naval War College issued publications about Luce complete the entries.


  • Creation: 1876 - 1919


Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Material in this collection is in the public domain, unless otherwise noted.

Biographical Note

Stephen B. Luce, founding father of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI, was born in Albany, New York on March 25, 1827. His parents, Vinal and Charlotte Bleecker Luce, were of English and Dutch extraction respectively. When Stephen was six, the family moved to Washington, D. C., where his father had accepted a position as a clerk in the Treasury Department.

There was nothing in Luce's family history or background that predestined him for a naval career; however, at age 14 he enlisted in the navy. For the next seven years, he served in USS NORTH CAROLINA and cruised around the world and on the South American and Mediterranean Stations in USS COLUMBUS and USS CONGRESS. Six months on the California coast during the Mexican War completed this first period of his naval career.

While Luce gained invaluable, practical experience at sea during these years, in 1848 he was sent for formal study to the newly established U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. There he passed the requisite exams for promotion to midshipman and then served three years in USS VANDALIA on the Pacific Station. He continued the process of self-education by reading widely, absorbing the lessons of the classics, and continued travel. In December 1854, while serving in the U.S. Coast Survey, he married his childhood sweetheart, Eliza Henley, daughter of Commodore John C. Henley. Three years service in USS JAMESTOWN on the Central American coast beckoned next.

By 1860, the year in which he was assigned to the Naval Academy as an instructor in seamanship and gunnery, Luce had developed some fairly specific ideas about the reforms needed in the U.S. Navy; however, he was not able to implement them until the war ended. Education, training, administration, and organization were to be the focus of his attention for the next 50 years. As an academy instructor, he was able to find time for writing and produced a textbook on seamanship and a revised manual on naval gunnery. When the war broke out, the academy moved to Newport, and so did Luce. Charmed by this New England seacoast town and former colonial entrepot, the Luces settled there permanently in 1880.

In 1863, Luce was assigned as commanding officer of USS MACEDONIAN, taking midshipmen on a practice cruise to European ports. There he observed the training practices and the administration of the French and Royal Navies, both of which he regarded as superior in this regard to ours. Later, he incorporated his observations into published articles advocating reforms in the U.S. Navy. Assigned to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in USS NANTUCKET in 1863, he began to write articles on naval personnel and training, hoping to reach a wider audience with his proposals for reform. He also began legislative efforts to extend the 1862 Morrill Act to cover naval and merchant marine education. In 1874, the New York State Maritime Academy was established and others soon followed. With this, Luce had achieved his first major success; he then went on to fashion a naval training system for recruits, established in Newport, RI, in 1881.

Luce's most important educational achievement, however, was the establishment of the Naval War College in Newport, RI, in 1884. The idea of an advanced school where naval officers could master the art and science of naval warfare had been at the forefront of his thoughts since 1877. In 1884, Secretary of the Navy William Chandler signed General Order 325, which Luce had drafted, establishing the school. Luce, William Sampson, and Caspar Goodrich were appointed members of a board to iron out the details. A year later, in September 1885, the College opened its door to a class of nine students, with Luce as its president.

In 1886, Luce left the College in the hands of A.T. Mahan to begin his last career assignment as commander of the North Atlantic Squadron. He had hoped that the theories developed at the College would be tried and tested in the fleet, utilizing a permanent squadron of evolution, but political factors and the condition of the ships themselves prevented this from being fully implemented.

On February 16, 1889, shortly before his 62nd birthday, Luce officially retired from the U.S. Navy. He quickly returned to his family in Newport, where he began a second career as a writer, a naval r~former and a publicist for the Naval War College. The problem of the amalgamation of the College with the Torpedo Station faced him immediately upon his return. Since its inception, hostile bureaucrats and secretaries of the navy had hoped to dismantle the institution, viewing it as unnecessary. Without the support of Caspar Goodrich, head of the Torpedo Station, who assigned officers to attend College classes; James Russell Soley, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and was a former International Law Professor at the College; and, of course, Luce's own efforts, the College might have faced extinction. That it did not can largely be attributed to Luce's successful letter writing campaign to politicians and to sympathetic Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy.

With the College firmly established, Luce turned to other concerns-an assignment as U.S. representative to the Columbian Exposition in Madrid and a permanent appointment on the Naval War College faculty. He also continued writing articles supporting the creation of a strong navy, and he encouraged Mahan to publish his Naval War College lecture notes in book form. The result was the 1890 landmark edition of The Influence of Seapower on History, a book which had a profound influence on the naval establishments in Europe and the United States.

During the waning years of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, Luce spoke out on many issues-against the proposed union of the Coast Guard and the Navy, for the revival of the merchant marine, in support of U.S. imperialistic pretensions, and for reform in the administration of the Navy Department. The latter topic was his final consuming interest and, in that too, he eventually met with some success. In 1915, the office of the Chief of Naval Operations was created, at last giving the U.S. Navy strong central direction and leadership.

In 1911, Luce fell ill; he never quite recovered, and thus fully retired from professional activity. He died on July 28, 1917, at the age of ninety, and was buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Portsmouth, RI.

How does one evaluate the work of Stephen B. Luce? As a naval officer, educator, administrator and reformer, he worked to rationalize and professionalize the naval service in an era of transition and burgeoning technological change, when professional standards were first being thought about and formulated. He sought to educate officers, using the lessons of history, in the concepts of naval warfare, and he encouraged them to theorize, and to think about their profession; he advocated reforms where they were needed most, in naval organization and administration; and he fashioned practical training systems for naval and merchant marine recruits. He was, in his time, the Navy's most effective publicist and the intellectual leader of a small coterie of navy men. Perhaps the best testament to Luce's efforts and vision are the tangible ones that still remain with us today: the Naval War College, the state maritime academies, and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.


March 25, Born, Albany, NY
Appointed Midshipman, USN
USS COLUMBUS, 3 Year Cruise Around the World
U.S. Naval Academy
December 7, Married Eliza Henley
Promoted to Lieutenant
Promoted to Lieutenant Commander
U.S. Naval Academy, Commandant
Promoted to Commander
Promoted to Captain
Boston Navy Yard, Equipment Officer
Promoted to Commodore
Training Squadron, CO
Appointed Acting Rear Admiral; North Atlantic Station, CO
Naval War College, Newport, RI, President
Commissioned Rear Admiral
North Atlantic Station, CO
Retired, U.S. Navy
U.S. Commission for the Columbian Historical Exposition, Madrid, Spain, Commissioner General
U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI, Ordered to Active Duty
July 28, Died, Newport, RI


.5 box

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Stephen B. Luce papers
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Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Naval War College Archives Repository

US Naval War College
686 Cushing Rd
Newport RI 02841 US