Utah's schoolchildren gave their nickels and dimes for a battleship's silver service

Published: Sunday, Nov. 6 2011 7:06 p.m. MST

The Battleship Utah, as seen in 1911. The ship was announced in the tabernacle in 1903, launched in 1909, commissioned in 1911 and sunk at Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.

Utah State Historical Society

In the Salt Lake Tabernacle on May 29, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt announced the planned construction of the Battleship Utah. Six years later the battleship was launched into the waters of New York Harbor. It took another two years to finish the ship and ready it for service in the U.S. Navy.

In 1910, Utah Gov. William Spry formed a commission to oversee the fundraising, design and presentation of a state silver service for the new battleship bearing the state's name. It was a tradition in the Navy at the time that when a battleship was named in honor of a state, the state would buy a set of sterling silver serving wear for use by the captain and officers to be used as they entertained in different ports.

The commission wanted to involve many groups in its effort. It was decided that it would approach every school in Utah and invite the students to contribute pennies, nickels and dimes to the effort. The schoolchildren raised over $2,700 toward the $10,000 cost of the service. The Legislature appropriated funds needed to complete the purchase.

On a cold morning 100 years ago, on Nov. 6, 1911, the ship's decks were busy with activity. A group of more than 500 from Utah came to present the silver service. Two hundred of them were members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The choir performed the "Star Bangled Banner" and a reworded state song, "Utah I Love Thee," to fit the ship and men who manned it. The choir was on a nationwide tour and was in New York City at the time of the event.

In 1930, when the battleship was changed to an auxiliary ship used as a target training ship, Gov. George Dern requested the silver service to be returned to the state. The Navy at first refused, so the governor asked Sen. William King to introduce a bill in Congress for its return. President Hebert Hoover signed the bill in 1930 and the silver came back to the state where it was displayed at the Capitol for a while, and for many years now it has been in use at the Governor's Mansion for entertaining guests.

On Monday, Nov. 7, Utah first lady Jeanette Herbert will open the doors of the Governor's Mansion at 603 E. South Temple from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to the public to show many pieces of the silver service, a Congressional Medal of Honor won by a sailor who gave his life on the ship, the captain's clock and the flag that was fished from the bay after the ship was sunk at Pearl Harbor on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941.

The public is invited to submit historic photos to UtahHistoryPhotos@gmail.com. Photos or scans are sought of famous visitors or events to Utah. Information will then be made available on the importance or value of the photographs. Donations to colleges and universities and state and local historical societies or church history libraries are encouraged, rather than historic images falling into disrepair or being discarded.

Ronald Fox owns a governmental relations and marketing firm. He is a photo historian and co-author with Mike Winder of the book "When the White House comes to Zion." He has served as an advance man for five U.S. presidents.

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