Class of 2021: Stephen B. Luce

Published on October 4th, 2021

The U.S. National Sailing Hall of Fame selected eleven sailors in 2021 to join the 90 previously-recognized individuals who have been enshrined since the first class in 2011.

Among the 11th class to be formally inducted on October 16 is Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce (1827-1917), the founder of the U.S. Naval War College (1884) and leading educator on seamanship and training for the Navy. He is profiled in this tribute by 2011 inductee Gary Jobson:

For many years Stephen Bleeker Luce proposed that the United States create a Naval War College to prepare officers and sailors for war. His proposal was accepted and on October 6, 1884 and the Naval War College was established with Captain Luce as the President. He was promoted to Rear Admiral soon after the college’s opening.

Luce had a long career in the Navy training young sailors to be proficient in Naval operations. He started an apprentice training program for enlisted sailors. He wanted intelligent young men between the ages of 14 and 17 to prepare for a possible career in the Navy. Luce realized that education was the key to a strong Navy. His important educational innovation was conducting training aboard vessels at sea.

Luce served with distinction during the Civil War. He was an expert in naval strategy, navigation, seamanship, and professional development. He was a Lt. Commander during the Civil War and was part of the blockaders. He commanded the monitor USS Nantucket at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina.

When the US Naval Academy was relocated from Annapolis, Maryland to Newport, Rhode Island at the start of the war, he was head of the Seamanship Department. He edited the Navy’s first text book titled ‘Seamanship’.

When the war broke, in addition to serving on the USS Nantucket, he also served on the USS Sonoma and the USS Canandaigua. He was assigned as the captain of several additional naval vessels after the Civil War. Luce could see that training was essential if the Navy was going to expand its capabilities. He was promoted to the rank of Commodore and became the commander of the U.S. Navy Training Squadron.

Rear Admiral Luce retired at the mandatory age of 62 in 1889, but continued his educational work on behalf of the Navy. He was a faculty member at the War College until his retirement at the age of 83 in 1910.

He also founded the U.S. Naval Institute and its popular publication, Proceedings. And, he was the institute’s first president (1884-1886). In 1901 he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Navy named three ships in his honor. The Naval Academy named one of its training buildings Luce Hall. The building contains classrooms and offices in a sophisticated learning environment. Luce Hall was originally built in 1920 as an ice skating rink but was modified over a 17 month period and sits alongside Santee Basin where the Naval Academy’s sailing fleet of boats is located.

He spent 48 years on active duty with 33 of those years at sea. Luce’s vision for the Naval War College was to give Naval officers advanced education in strategy, tactics, diplomacy, and international law. He left an important legacy that has strengthened the Navy and America’s standing in the world.

The Class of 2021 will be formally inducted in a ceremony on October 16, 2021 in Newport, RI.

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