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Battleship Note Projects American Naval Strength
battleship bank noteBy Fred Reed, Coins Magazine
July 29, 2009
battleship bank note

The hero of San Juan Hill in the Spanish American War was also a visionary naval historian, whose legacy includes the descriptive "Battleship Note." It features a large U.S. battle wagon warship on its back.

Even as a boy, young Teddy Roosevelt was fascinated by the sea. His uncle had been a Confederate admiral. T.R. wrote a serious historical volume on The Naval War of 1812, which was a standard for many years. Eventually President William McKinley tapped T.R. to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897, in which post he flourished if but briefly.

At the Navy Department, Roosevelt was an advocate of modernization. He took the lead in preparing our sea forces for what he viewed as an inevitable clash with Spain. With the outbreak of hostilities following the explosion of the battleship Maine in Cuban waters, he resigned his civilian post and organized a volunteer cavalry regiment, the famous Rough Riders.

Returning home from the war as a hero, T.R. became governor of New York, vice president, and then in 1901 president of the United States after the assassination of McKinley. As president, Roosevelt greatly increased naval tonnage, including commissioning of a new battleship, the Maine, on Dec. 29, 1902.

Other battleships followed in rapid succession: the Missouri in 1903; the Ohio in 1904; the Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Georgia in 1906; the Kansas, Minnesota, Vermont and Nebraska in 1907.

Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet" sailed around the globe for 14 months in 1907-1909 projecting America's growing sea power, and demonstrating T.R.'s foreign policy of speaking softly "but wielding a big stick." Included in this armada were four battleship squadrons and escorts painted white to impress the world with America's new importance in global affairs.

Roosevelt especially wanted to project American power in the Pacific Theater, where the empire of Japan was a growing competitor. One of the final acts of his administration was to welcome the fleet home from its triumphal tour at Hampton Roads, Va. on Feb. 22, 1909, timed to coincide with Washington's birthday.

Roosevelt was also a proponent of building the Panama Canal, not only for its commercial importance to our nation, but also as a strategic artery to implement his "two ocean" navy to guard American interests in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic.

Other battle wagons followed. On Sept. 11, 1911, the keel was laid down for the USS New York (BB 34), which is the particular ship engraved on the backs of large-size $2 Federal Reserve Bank Notes like the Fr. 750 shown. On Oct. 30, 1912, the USS New York was launched, and first commissioned on April 15, 1914.

When conflict broke out only 15 weeks later in Europe at the beginning of World War I, the Allies were glad for the strong reach of American naval power, which could keep open sea lanes for movement of troops and the resupply of Western Europe.

The United States entered the conflict directly in 1917, and an armistice ended hostilities on Nov. 11, 1918. In the interim Congress had created the Federal Reserve System as its fiscal agent.

Although privately owned by member banks, Federal Reserve Banks were authorized to issue paper money under provisions of the Federal Reserve Act of Dec. 23, 1913. Obligations on these notes are similar to those on National Bank Notes.

FRBNs were issued in small denominations, $1, $2, $5, $10, $20 and $50. Two issues were circulated, Series 1915 and Series 1918. Deuces were issued by all 12 Federal Reserve Banks. Total $2 notes issued were 67.6 million. All have blue seals and serial numbers.

All FRBNs bear portraits of U.S. presidents on face and patriotic demonstrations of American commerce, industry, and history on back.

This is especially true of the "Battleship Note," which deploys C.M. Chalmers' engraving of the battleship New York steaming left to right (west to east). It is said this served a propaganda purpose of warning European despots that America was ready to return and defend freedom in Europe if it were jeopardized ever again.





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