Christening Ships

A long-time practice is the christening of new ships using a bottle of champagne smashed at the bow sending the ship into the water. Ususally, the person breaking the bottle at the ship’s bow also announces the ship’s name.

Going back to ancient history, there were tons of rituals and ceremonies that varied in their specifics, but they all had the general goal of ensuring the ship’s safety at sea. However, eventually, christening went secular, no real tie-in with religion today.

The ocean was such a dangerous place. It’s still a very dangerous place now, but remember before the days of GPS or accurate world maps, these early people were literally setting off into the unknown in many cases, and they needed all the help they could get.

The United States borrowed their christening tradition from what they saw people doing in England, back in 1797. The christening of the USS Constitution did involve the breaking of a bottle, but it wasn’t champagne, it was Madeira which is a dessert wine. Also used was whiskey for the christenings of the USS Princeton, the Raritan, and the Shamrock. Those were all ships that were christened with whiskey. The USS New Ironside was actually christened twice, first with brandy and then with Madeira wine.

So the switch to champagne, which is considered fancy and used in celebrations. In 1890, we know the Secretary of the Navy’s granddaughter christened the Navy’s first steel battleship with champagne. Another instance just a year later was when Queen Victoria of England launches the HMS Royal Arthur, she also smashes a bottle of champagne against the ship.

During era in the United States of Prohibition (no public use of alcohol, even for ceremonies) in the 1920s and early 1930s, there was more use of juices like apple cider. And also again, water from the specific body of water the ships were destined to travel in. But champagne became popular again after the end of Prohibition in the early 1930s.

Champagne bottles can be hard break on a ship’s bow. Many times people tie the bottle to a rope, because a lot of these ships are massive, and you can’t get right up on them. So, they would swing the bottle from the dock on a rope and then hit the side of it. And the way to go about that is apparently to use a very rigid rope because of its elasticity that’ll soak up some of the impact that you need to actually break the bottle.

Any boat christening events in your family history?

Photo: A ship being christened.

Related Blogs:

U.S. Naval Ship Personnel

Lists of Ships in the 19th Century

Database of Ships Carrying Immigrants

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Sara N Martin 3/08/22

Yes it was !!
alice 3/08/22

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