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Stephen Bleecker Luce
Admiral Stephen B. Luce, USN
Born (1827-03-25)March 25, 1827
Died July 28, 1917(1917-07-28) (aged 90)
Place of birth Albany, New York
Place of death Newport, Rhode Island
Place of burial St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Allegiance United States United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1841–1889
Rank USN Rear Admiral rank insignia.jpg Rear Admiral
Commands held USS Nantucket
Battles/wars American Civil War
Other work President of the Naval War College

Stephen Bleecker Luce (25 March 1827 – 28 July 1917) was a U.S. Navy admiral. He was the founder and first president of the Naval War College, between 1884 and 1886.


Born in Albany, New York, Stephen Luce was one of the Navy's outstanding officers in many fields, including strategy, seamanship, education, and professional development. He is best known for being the founder of the Naval War College. Luce married Elizabeth Henley in 1854, who was a grand niece of Martha Washington, wife of President Washington.

Luce entered the Navy, at the age of 14, on October 19, 1841, as a midshipman. He was instructed at the Naval School in Philadelphia until the newly instituted United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland was opened in 1845. He graduated from the Academy in 1848 and was warranted as a passed midshipman to date from August 10, 1847. He was promoted to lieutenant on September 15, 1855.

Luce served with the Atlantic coast blockaders during the American Civil War, and commanded the monitor Nantucket at the siege of Charleston, South Carolina. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in 1862. He was assigned to the US Naval Academy in Newport, RI from January 1862 to October 1863. In 1862, while serving as head of the Department of Seamanship at the U.S. Naval Academy, he prepared one of the first seamanship textbooks used by the Academy. During the war he also commanded the USS Sonoma (1862), USS Canandaigua (1862) and USS Pontiac (1864).[1]

He was promoted to commander in 1866.

After the Civil War, Luce organized the Navy's apprentice training program to prepare seamen and petty officers for fleet duty. He was promoted to captain in December 1872 and served at the Boston Navy Yard until 1875. He commanded the USS Hartford from November 1875 to August 1877. From from August to December 1877 Captain Luce was inspector of training ships. From January 1878 to February 1881 he commanded the training ship USS Minnesota. He was promoted to commodore, in 1881 and commanded the US Navy Training Squadron in Newport from April 1881 to June 1884.[1] While in command of the Training Squadron, Luce implemented the first formal program for training sailors for service in the Navy. Luce's plan was to have young men (in the age range of 10 to 15 years old) serve a three-year apprenticeship with the Training Squadron during which they received an academic education as well has hands on training to learn various seamanship skills. Previously, the Navy had taken recruits with no prior experience and all training of enlisted sailors was "on the job".

From July to September 1884 Luce commanded the North Atlantic Squadron with the USS Tennessee as his flagship. Based on Luce's urgings and exhaustive reports, the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island, was established 6 October 1884 with Luce as its first president. In 1885 he was promoted to rear admiral and in 1886 he was succeeded as president by Capatin Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose writings had greatly influenced the Navy's decision to establish the War College. Luce was also instrumental in starting the U.S. Naval Institute and its publication, Proceedings. He served as the institute's president from 1887 to 1898.

From June 1886 to February 1889 Luce commanded the North Atlantic Squadron with the USS Richmond as his flagship. This was his last assignment at sea before retiring, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 62, on 25 March 1889. Despite being retired, Luce continued his interest in the improving the efficiency of the Navy. He returned to the War College in 1901 and served for nearly a decade as a faculty member. He finally retired in November 1910 at the age of 83.[1]

Luce belonged to several hereditary and military societies. Luce joined the Aztec Club of 1847, a military society of officers who had served during the Mexican War, in 1894 and served as its president from 1910 to 1911. He was the founding commander of the Rhode Island Commandery of the Military Order of Foreign Wars in 1900. He was also a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the Naval Order of the United States. In 1901 he was elected to the board of directors of the Redwood Library.[2]

Luce was a member of the Episcopal Church and in April 1899 he was listed as a vestryman of All Saints Memorial Chapel in Newport.[3] There is a memorial window in his honor as St. John's Episcopal Church in Newport.

Luce died on 28 July 1917[1] and is buried at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.[4][5]

Note – Much of the above information can be found in Luce's obituary in the New York Times on July 29, 1917. Another excellent source is Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy. Vol. 1, 1862–1900. pp. 100–101.


He published Seamanship (new edition, 1905), which was used as a textbook at the Naval Academy, and edited The Patriotic and Naval Songster (1883).[6]

Dates of Rank

Reference – U.S. Navy Register, 1899. p. 70.

  • Midshipman – 19 October 1841
  • Passed Midshipman – 10 August 1847 (Note - Some sources state 10 August 1848.)
  • Lieutenant – 16 September 1855 (Note - Some sources state 15 September 1855.)
  • Lieutenant Commander – 16 July 1862
  • Commander – 25 July 1866
  • Captain – 28 December 1872
  • Commodore – 25 November 1881
  • Rear Admiral – 5 October 1885
  • Retired – 25 March 1889


Three ships have been named USS Luce in his honor. The United States Naval Academy and the Naval War College both have buildings named Luce Hall in his honor. There is also an auditorium at the former Naval Training Center, San Diego, California named Luce Auditorium, constructed 1941.[7] The library at the State University of New York Maritime College is the Stephen B. Luce Library.[8]

Military offices
Preceded by
President of the Naval War College
Succeeded by
Alfred Thayer Mahan


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Luce". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History & Heritage Command. Retrieved 2 September 2010. 
  2. New York Times. August 25, 1901.
  3. New York Times. April 21, 1899.
  4. "USS Luce (DL-7/DLG-7/DDG-38)". Retrieved 2 September 2010. 
  5. Stephen Bleecker Luce at Find a Grave
  6. New International Encyclopedia
  7. "Luce Auditorium/Future Civic Arts & Culture Center". Retrieved 2 September 2010. 
  8. "Stephen B. Luce Library". Retrieved 2 September 2010. 

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