Interesting Historical Tidbit About the USS Birmingham

Many people have never heard of this ship, but it was quite important. The USS Birmingham, designated CL-2, was a US Navy light cruiser. Unknowingly at the time it was built, it had a legacy that today sees the United States as the sole world super power. The tidbit is in how this happened.

The Birmingham was launched in 1907 and was originally designated as a scout cruiser. It had a length of around 420 feet and weighed about 4,760 tons when she was fully loaded. The ship had a speed of 24 knots (28 mph).

In 1910, the Birmingham was refitted and in November 1910, the first aircraft to ever take off from a ship was launched from the Birmingham’s deck. The pilot was Eugene Ely and the aircraft was a biplane.

What’s the big deal? The fact that was just mentioned made the Birmingham the world’s first aircraft carrier. Today, US aircraft carriers are nothing less than floating cities, with crews of about 5,000 people and almost everything a person might find in a town of that size, plus a lot more. The US has about 20 aircraft carriers in service, which is many more than the rest of the world combined.

Carriers are arguably best known for the aircraft they carry and launch, but they are also among the first ships that arrive when countries suffer major natural disasters. The humanitarian work they accomplish is staggering.

Yet, in a way, it all started with the USS Birmingham, which proved that it was feasible for an aircraft to take off from the deck of a ship. Although the 372 officers and crew of the Birmingham was far less than just the number of officers on a modern carrier, and though it was tiny when compared to the size of a modern carrier, there might not be any aircraft carriers had it not been for the USS Birmingham.

Sadly, the Birmingham was decommissioned in Philadelphia on the first day of December 1923 and was sold for scrap. However, the ship’s place in history was firmly in place by then.

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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    • What is especially neat is that the ship wasn’t designed for it and wasn’t built for it. They simply refitted it to move some things around so it could hold an airplane. That was before World War I, so it was just an experiment. I doubt that anyone was thinking that it would be useful in wartime.

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