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South Jersey

September 05, 1999

Naval executive from New Jersey instrumental in naming battleship

Gannett State Bureau

The With 48 names to choose from, convincing the Navy in 1942 to name one of its four new battleships the New Jersey might have seemed harder than sailing a bathtub through a hurricane.

But the Garden State had a master at the helm.

It's a naval tradition to name battleships after states, and almost every state has had a ship in the U.S. fleet bearing its name at one time or another. But the process is hardly scientific. Usually it is decided inside the department of the Navy and the executive branch with plenty of politicking and influence exerted from inside and outside Washington, says naval historian Paul Stillwell, author of Battleship New Jersey: An Illustrated History.

New Jersey was selected almost certainly because of efforts of one man, Charles Edison, said Stillwell. Edison, a New Jerseyan like his father, inventor Thomas Edison, was assistant secretary of the Navy at the time the ship was planned.

As early as 1937, a year before Congress officially approved the construction of the four new Iowa-class battleships, citizens groups and politicians already were inundating the Navy with petitions for a particular state, Stillwell said. "In the main file for the ship, there had been all sorts of petitions for the name," Stillwell said. "One of the most active were veterans of the Spanish American War, which was still in the recent past."

In July 1939, just as the Navy was finalizing the names of the new ships, Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson died after a long illness.

For months Edison had been acting in Swanson's stead. On July 7, he was officially made acting secretary. Four days later, he approved the name New Jersey for the second of the new battleships and President Roosevelt agreed.

Although it is unclear the extent of Edison's influence in naming the ship, "you can surmise that he had a lot to do with it," Stillwell said. "At just about the same time the New Jersey was launched there was new destroyer built named the Edison after his father. That is pretty good indication he named the New Jersey as well."

Edison, who later became governor of New Jersey, was present at the laying of the keel and the launching of the New Jersey. His wife, Carolyn, christened the ship. USS New Jersey Home Page

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