This year marks the centennial of the establishment of the Naval Training Center Great Lakes.
The success of the American Navy during the Spanish-American War of 1898 prompted talk of establishing an additional naval recruit training station. Thirteen years later, in 1911, the Naval Training Center Great Lakes (formerly known as the Great Lakes Naval Training Center) in North Chicago opened. Large letter postcard by the Curt Teich Co., 1950. Teich Postcard Archives OCH185.
A key player in the creation of the new naval training facility was Congressman George Foss (1863-1936) of northeastern Illinois. Foss spearheaded the idea of a naval training station on the Great Lakes to Commander Hawley, U.S.N. in 1902. Hawley spoke highly of the number and quality of recruits from the Midwest.
That same year a Naval Appropriations Bill was passed, appointing a board to select a suitable Great Lakes location for the training station. At least 36 sites were considered, and by 1904 the fight in Congress had become quite brutal, despite the number of locations being narrowed down to four—Lake Bluff (North Chicago), Racine, WI, Milwaukee, WI and Muskegon, MI. Eventually a provision was drafted to give the President of the United States authority over the appointed board, bypassing Congressional arguments.
In the end, it was again Foss who played a pivotal role in locating the station. Foss realized that the purchase price of $1,000 per acre for the North Chicago site was the chief objection. He enlisted the aid of the Commercial Club of Chicago (the same group that in 1887 had presented Fort Sheridan to the U.S. Army) and got the Club to subscribe more than $100,000 for the purchase. The Commercial Club offered the government over 160 acres, free of charge. The board then recommended the North Chicago site, President Roosevelt approved it, and construction of the station began in 1905.
Renowned Chicago architect, Jarvis Hunt (1863-1941), was commissioned to design the original 39 buildings, built between 1905-1911 at a cost of $3.5 million. One of the landmarks is Building 1, also known as the Clock Tower or Administration building. Completed in 1911, the building is made of red brick, and has a tower that stands 300 feet over the third floor of the building. Postcard view of Administration Building, circa 1918. LCDM M-86.1.316
The first recruit, Joseph Gregg, arrived at Great Lakes on July 1, 1911. Gregg was from Indiana and had served in the Navy from 1911-1914. He is buried at Great Lakes. Postcard "Learning to Lower a Boat" at Great Lakes, circa 1918. LCDM 95.20.1
Postcard view "Sham Battle with Tank in Action" at Great Lakes, circa 1915. LCDM Fort Sheridan Collection 92.24.274
In January 1917, there were 618 sailors in training at Great Lakes, but with the United States' involvement in World War I, by August the number grew to 50,000. A tent city and temporary buildings were raised to accommodate this swell in numbers, and the facility expanded from 167 acres to over 1,200. During the war, Great Lakes became the largest training station in the U.S., graduating 100,000 men. Some of the trainees included Jack Benny, Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien and George Halas.
Another famous American was stationed at Great Lakes during WW I, American bandleader, John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). In 1917, at the height of his career and in support of the war effort, the bandsman assumed the musical directorship of the Great Lakes Band. “The Naval Reserve March,” also known as “The Great Lakes March,” was written in 1918 during his tenure as the director of the Great Lakes band.
Photograph of Great Lakes Band on parade, Genesee Street, Waukegan, circa 1930. LCDM Fort Sheridan Collection 92.24. 1708.
Today, Great Lakes is the only training station for the U.S. Navy. All recruits go through this base and an average of 800 graduate each week.
Image from negative of Great Lakes sailors, circa 1951. LCDM Collection.