Battleship IOWA: The Story of an L.A. Icon

Discover the history of "The Battleship of Presidents"

Photo courtesy of Battleship IOWA, Facebook
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The famed Battleship IOWA was ordered on July 1, 1939, commissioned on Feb. 22, 1943, and served our country for almost 50 years. She was designated the "World's Greatest Naval Ship" because of her big guns, heavy armor, fast speed, longevity and modernization flexibility, which allowed her to keep pace with technology.

Also known as the “Battleship of Presidents,” Battleship IOWA was outfitted in WWII to be the flagship that carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt across the Atlantic in 1943 for meetings with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. A bathtub was installed on the IOWA as a convenience for FDR, making it the only U.S. Navy warship with a bathtub built for a president.

Battleship IOWA also was re-commissioned in 1984 by Vice President George H.W. Bush, who would later be the ship’s Commander-in-Chief from 1989 until she was decommissioned in 1990. In addition, the Battleship IOWA was the flagship for President Ronald Reagan for our nation's Celebration of Liberty in New York City on July 4, 1986.

6th Annual Gravely Celebration Experience at Battleship IOWA
6th Annual Gravely Celebration Experience | Photo courtesy of Battleship IOWA

There is no better place in Los Angeles to celebrate and commemorate the impact African Americans have had in the United States Navy and to this country than Battleship IOWA, the same ship where Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely, the first African American to command a Navy warship, served during his illustrious Naval career.

The Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Leadership & Service Award, which is conferred annually by the nonprofit Pacific Battleship Center (PBC), will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 21 aboard the historic ship. This award recognizes African American leaders in Southern California who exemplify the trailblazing service of the late Vice Admiral. This year’s recipients are Bill Coggins, VADM Walter Davis (Ret.), and Judge Mablean Ephriam. Sharing the stage will be Student Essay Contest winners, who have explored VADM Gravely's motto: "Education, Motivation & Perseverance." The celebration experience launches on the fantail of the Battleship IOWA with a sunset reception at 5:30pm, followed by the Starlit Award Program at 6:30 PM. For more info and to RSVP, visit the Gravely Celebration Experience website.

Crew members display the battle efficiency "E" award won by Battleship IOWA, Facebook

Battleship IOWA earned nine battle stars for World War II service and two for Korean War service. The ship also was awarded the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Navy Occupation Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and was the four-time recipient of the coveted Navy “E” Ribbon.

Battleship IOWA makes its final journey along the L.A. Waterfront
Battleship IOWA makes its final journey along the L.A. Waterfront | Photo courtesy of Port of Los Angeles, Facebook

On July 7, 2012, the Battleship IOWA celebrated its grand opening as a floating museum, now permanently docked at Berth 87 in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro. Veterans, their families, school children, local and international tourists alike can tour the IOWA and learn about life on board the ship and its legacy as one of the fastest and most powerful ships ever to sail the world’s oceans. IOWA tour guides help bring the ship to life as they share historical and technical information. Many guides are U.S. Navy veterans, and they fill the tour with amazing tales of life at sea.

Crew living areas on the tour show how officers and crew slept, ate, and relaxed when not on duty. Visitors can stroll the famous teak decks - unique to U.S. battleships - which are undergoing daily restoration and refurbishment.

The world-famous Captain’s Cabin was the actual living and sleeping quarters of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR and his war cabinet planned major WWII strategy at the cabin’s table in 1943. In this formal setting, IOWA’s commanding officers welcomed U.S. Presidents and world dignitaries.

Nos. 1 and 2 Mark 7 16-inch/50-caliber gun turrets are fired to starboard during a main battery firing exercise aboard Battleship IOWA| Photo courtesy of PHC Hilton, Facebook

IOWA’s big gun exhibits include videos and interpretive signs about her nine 16” guns, twelve 5” guns, Tomahawk and Harpoon missiles, and the radar-guided 3,000 round/minute Gatling guns. Thick steel walls and gun mounts throughout IOWA show why she was called the most heavily armored ship in the world.

At the restored Admiral’s Bridge, three of America’s five-star admirals observed IOWA’s underway operations. The tour concludes on the fantail, where seaplanes and helicopters were launched, and breakthrough drone technology was tested.

Photo courtesy of Brandi Jones,Battleship IOWA, Facebook

Battleship IOWA offers the whole family a day of history, education and fun. During the tour, kids get to touch, feel and play on the ultimate “jungle gym” at sea. “Victory the Dog Adventure” is a scavenger hunt for kids, who follow “Victory” (IOWA’s official mascot) on an adventure through the ship.

Navy barbers give two crew members a trim in the enlisted barbershop aboard Battleship IOWA.
Navy barbers give two crew members a trim in the enlisted barbershop aboard Battleship IOWA.(February 1st 1986). | Photo Courtesy of PH2 Jeff Elliott, Battleship IOWA, Facebook

For an in-depth look at the Battleship IOWA, join Dave Way for the Inside the IOWA Curator Tour. This 4.5 hour tour includes a one-hour history presentation, a 90-minute guided tour to decks that are off-limits to everyday guests, a behind the scenes presentation, a Q&A session, souvenir photo, and a boxed lunch. The ship’s brig, barbershop and post office are just a few of the unique stops on this special tour.

Battleship IOWA is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), with last admission sold at 4 p.m. Various group and membership ticket options are available. To purchase tickets, visit

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