William Collins Whitney

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William Collins Whitney (5 July, 1841 – 2 February, 1904) served as the thirty-first Secretary of the Navy from 1885 through 1889.

Life & Career

This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

William Whitney was born on 5 July, 1841 in Conway, Massachusettes. He received his higher education at Yale and Harvard, and settled in New York City to practice law. As corporation counsel of that city between 1875 and 1882, Whitney completely reorganized and simplified the work of his department, thus saving taxpayers thousands of dollars annually.

After becoming Secretary of the Navy in the cabinet of President Grover Cleveland in 1885, Whitney proved to be a powerful advocate of naval expansion and "took advantage of fresh enthusiasm for rebuilding" and helped the Navy make progress towards becoming the "New Navy".[1] During his time in office, Whitney was able to obtain Congressional authorization for the U.S. Navy's first new capital ships since the unbuilt ships-of-the-line of 1832: the battleships Maine and Texas and the armored cruiser New York. In addition the Navy was able to begin work on four gunboats, a practice vessel for the Naval Academy, the ram Kathadin, the torpedo boat Cushing, and the dynamite cruiser Vesuvius. Whitney also changed the title of the Washington Navy Yard to the Naval Gun Factory and limited its mission to the manufacture of naval ordnance.

After leaving office in March, 1889 at the end of the first Cleveland administration, Whitney returned to his long-time home, New York City, where he died on 2 February, 1904. The Navy subsequently named the destroyer tender Whitney in his honor.

See Also


  • Friedman, Norman (1985). U.S. Battleships: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-715-1. (on Amazon.com).
  • Friedman, Norman (1985). U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. (on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).
  • Hagan, Kenneth J. (1992). This People's Navy: The Making of American Sea Power. Paperback ed. New York: The Free Press.


Naval Appointments
Preceded by
William E. Chandler
Secretary of the Navy
7 Mar, 1885 – 4 Mar, 1889
Succeeded by
Benjamin F. Tracy


  1. Hagan. This People's Navy. p. 187.