SALT LAKE CITY — One hundred years ago, Utah presented a custom silver service for use on the newly commissioned USS Utah battleship.
The unique silver service is now on exhibit in the dining room of the Governor’s Mansion at 603 E. South Temple. One of the most sentimental pieces is the presentation to the USS Utah by the schoolchildren and the people of the state, who were asked to raise money for the gift.
“It was tradition for a state or city to provide silver service named after their state or their city,” said Doug Misner, Utah State History Department librarian and collections coordinator. “Utah certainly took great pride in having a ship named after their state, a battleship, which at the time was really an expression of power throughout the world.”
In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt spoke before a capacity crowd in the Mormon Tabernacle to announce the construction of the battleship.
“When Theodore Roosevelt made the announcement in the Tabernacle, there was a lot of pride in that, a lot of excitement,” Misner said.
On Dec. 23, 1909 the USS Utah was launched. According to a 1978 article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, the battleship was the 510-foot-long and was to be armed with ten 12-inch caliber guns, sixteen 5-inch caliber guns, and 10 torpedo tubes.
To connect the state and its people to the ship, Gov. William Spry asked students to raise funds to help buy the silver as a gift.
“One of the wonderful things about this is how this kind of helped bring the state together,” said Mike Mower, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert. “Thousands of schoolchildren from small towns up and down the Beehive State contributed their pennies and their nickels and their dimes and raised several thousand.”
The children raised about $2,700. The Legislature came up with the rest of the money to pay for the $10,000 service by the Gorham Silver company. The Silver Service included 102 pieces.
“They all have Utah symbols on them, Utah scenes to make that local connection from Utah to the battleship,” said Alan Barnett, with the Utah State Archives. “And it was a great element of pride to be involved, to have a battleship named for their state and then to be involved in contributing to a silver service for that, so that there would be a piece of Utah on that ship.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed when the governor delivered the silver on Nov. 6, 1911.
But the project was not without its controversy.
"Several people wrote to the U.S. Senate and U.S. Navy asking them that they not accept this piece because Brigham Young's likeness was on it,” Mower said. “The Secretary of the Navy and the President said, 'That's ridiculous. If that's what Utah wants to present to the country. We'll let them present it to the country.'”
The Silver Service was used often and was specifically used to entertain President-elect Herbert Hoover in 1928.
In 1930, the USS Utah was redesigned as an auxiliary ship for training and the silver came home, but torpedoes struck the ship Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor. The battleship sank, most onboard escaped, but six officers and 52 crewmen were killed, including Chief Water Tender Peter Tomich. An Austrian immigrant with no traceable family, he became an adopted son of Utah and the state has his Medal of Honor.
Navy veteran Jack Dowdle remembers and came to see the exhibit. “I knew that I should serve, so when Pearl Harbor happened, I was interested in that," he said.
Other items include the flag flown on Dec. 7, 1941, which was pulled from the water, and the Captain’s clock.
The exhibit is open to the public through the holidays, every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 to 4 in the afternoon.