The United States Navy was born during the American Revolution due to the need to raid British ships for munitions and other prizes. The continental navy achieved several victories of the American coastline and in 1779, John Paul Jones raided the British coast and captured the frigate Serapis in the Bonhomme Richard.
Allowed to expire at the end of the war, the Navy was brought back to life in 1794 when Congress appropriated funds for six frigates in response to the pirate activities off North Africa. The Navy Department was established in 1798. There followed an undeclared naval war with France during which more than 85 French vessels were captured.
During the War of 1812, the frigate USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides," distinguished itself. The navy also achieved victories on the Great Lakes, notably Admiral Perry`s victory on Lake Erie in 1813.
The period between the War of 1812 and the outbreak of the Civil War brought little combat action for the navy. During the Civil War, the primary goals of the navy were to protect Union shipping from Confederate raiders and to maintain a blockade of the Southern coast. The navy was important in the capture of New Orleans and control of the Mississippi River, but strong efforts to take Charleston were never successful.
The first battle between a U.S. Navy ironclad and a hostile vessel was the battle between Monitor and CSS Virginia, also known as Merrimack. Following the war, the navy began to convert from wood and sail to metal and steam. By the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the process was largely complete. That conflict was precipitated by the blowing up of the battleshi Maine in Havana Harbor.
In World War I, the response of the U.S. Navy to Germany`s submarine warfare may have prevented a German victory over the allies. Following the war, various efforts were made to limit naval development to reduce tension that might need to another conflict, but to little avail.
During World War II, the impact of aircraft against battleships demonstrated the superiority of aircraft carriers as the primary means of delivering military force over water.
After the dawn of the nuclear age, Hyman Rickover advocated a nuclear submarine fleet for the navy, a dream which was realized with the launch of USS Nautilus in 1954. Rickover, who was later made an admiral, is known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy." The United States now operates both the largest fleet of nuclear aircraft carriers and the largest fleet of nuclear submarines in the world.