In 1909, more than 26,000 Utah schoolchildren helped purchase the silver service used on the American battleship USS Utah.
$10,000 is a lot of money today. It was even more in 1909, particularly when it was spent to buy a bunch of silver platters and a fancy punchbowl. But that is how much the State of Utah paid for the Silver Service it presented as a gift to the newly commissioned American battleship USS Utah.
In the early 20th century, national tradition deemed that any state with a battleship named after it present the new ship with an elegant silver service. Utah’s Governor William Spry wanted the silver service to be a source of pride for all Utah citizens, so he also thought they should have the privilege of helping to pay for it. As part of his public contribution scheme, Governor Spry proposed that Utah schoolchildren participate in the funding drive, and recommended a contribution of $0.10 each. Heeding the Governor’s call, 26,477 Utah schoolchildren donated a total of $2,277.42 to the silver service fund.
By 1910 the purchase was underway. The silver service would consist of 102 pieces and be of high quality and modest design. Its distinguishing feature was its great decorative detail, with individual pieces engraved with depictions of Utah industry, historic events, and natural scenery. One of the pieces, a coffee tray depicting the Brigham Young Monument in downtown Salt Lake City, caused controversy among non-Mormon Utahns. But after months of local and national debate, the US Navy Department determined that the engravings were acceptable. On November 6, 1911 Governor Spry presented the silver service to Captain William Benson, first commander of the USS Utah, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The USS Utah was decommissioned in 1932 and served as a training ship until sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941. Thankfully, some of the these pricey silver pieces were saved and returned to the State of Utah, where they are currently in the custody of the Utah Division of State History.
1910 United States Senate Bill 5069; PAM 16162 History of the USS Utah, Utah State Historical Society; Eldrege, Michael S., “Silver Service for the USS Utah: A Naval Tradition Under Governor Spry,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Summer 1978, accessed August 3, 2010 at http://history.utah.gov/experience_history/glimpses/ussutahsilver.html