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By Patrick McSherry

The Bureau of Fisheries Ship Albatross
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Click here for a later view of the ALBATROSS
Click here to learn more about the ALBATROSS' paymaster, Leroy Church Hooker


The ALBATROSS, a small vessel owned the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Fisheries, was transferred to the U.S. Navy for use during the war. She was armed, and other changes may have been made. She took no active part in the campaign.


The Bureau of Fisheries’ vessel, the ALBATROSS was launched on October 19, 1882, and was commissioned the following month with Commander Zera L. Tanner in charge. Her executive officer was Seaton Schroeder, who would later command the USS MASSACHUSETTS during the Spanish American War. The vessel was constructed as a floating laboratory for the Bureau. She had seven compartments, six of which were watertight. It was the first U.S. government vessel to be provided with electrical lighting. This was done with an Edison incandescent lighting system which was equipped with 140 lights. The vessel had a full laboratory, cold storage and tanks for holding specimens.

During its history, the vessel was periodically transferred to the U.S. Navy for specific missions.  For instance, between 1883 and 1885, she was put to work correcting charts of the Caribbean, taking part in the North Atlantic Squadron’s review at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1884.  In the winter of 1884-1885, ALBATROSS was docked at the World' Industrial Fair, where many people came aboard to see the progressive vessel. Between October, 1891 and March 1892, ALBATROSS surveyed the route for the telegraphic cable between San Francisco, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1893 and 1894, ALBATROSS was in the Bering Sea enforcing fur seal and fishing regulations.

With the approach of the Spanish American War, the ALBATROSS was again transferred to the Navy, on April 9, 1898. She was converted to a gunboat and a 3 inch gun was installed at the Union Iron Works, in San Francisco, California. The work proceeded slowly, and was not completed until August 11, just days before the conclusion of hostilities.  Following the war, the ALBATROSS was sent on a cruise along the Mexican west coast, from August 11 to September 7, 1898. At the conclusion of this cruise, she was returned to the Bureau of Fisheries.

In 1911, the ALBATROSS made a research cruise to Alaska with a navy crew. The mission carried scientists through the Inside Passage and to the Aleutian Islands.

In World War One, the ALBATROSS was again transferred to the U.S. Navy, and was commissioned on November 19, 1917. Her duties included patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean as part of the American Patrol Detachment, charged with protecting the shipment of oil. She was returned to the Bureau of Fisheries on June 23, 1919.

One last sidelight to the ALBATROSS is that in 1916, that old Spanish American War warhorse, Theodore Roosevelt asked the American Museum of Natural History to sponsor a six-month expedition to the South Pacific. Roosevelt was known for being a naturalist and an explorer (even having a river named for him after he led an expedition down the unknown Brazilian river...something which nearly cost him his life and ultimately contributed to his death). The expedition was to be launched in 1918 using the ALBATROSS. The coming of World War One ended the effort. Roosevelt, in poor health, bearly outlived the war, and the expedition never occurred.


The vessel was not built for use in war, was unarmored, and only lightly armed. Her engines were outdated, and she was basically slow. Her use in the war was limited by these factors. However, her use is indicative of the Navy’s desperation to find vessels to supplement the fleet. The ALBATROSS had virtually no military value but was still pressed into service.

The ALBATROSS was very well-balanced and rolled little, even in heavy seas.


October 19, 1882
November 1882
One 3 inch gun
Pusey and Jones Corp., Wilmington, DE.
234 feet
27 feet, 6 inches
13 feet, 11 inches
638 tons
Crew of 110 men under the command

of Lt. Commander J. F. Moser
Engine Type:
Two compound engines, 2 shafts.
10 knots
Coal bunker capacity:
200 tons


Clerk of the Joint Committee on Printing, The Abridgement of the Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress, Vol. 2, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899.

Girard, Maureen, family records of Leroy Church Hooker. The image on this page was contributed by Maureen Girard.

McSherry, Jack L., Things We Remember, (private printing, 1966),  76-82.

Naval History Department, Department of the Navy, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. 1, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1959, 22

Ornig, Joseph R., My Last Chance to Be a Boy - Theodore Roosevelt's South American Expedition of 1913-1914. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, , 1994) 219.

Report of the Surgeon-General of the Navy for the Year 1863 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1884) 296-302.

Schroeder, Seaton, Rear Admiral, ret'd., A Half Century of Naval Service. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1922).

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