What’s In a Name? American Vessels Called Enterprise

This Saturday, September 8th, marks the 52nd anniversary of the debut of the “Star Trek” series on television.

For over two hundred years, ships called Enterprise have been helping us “Boldly Go”.  From vessels that sailed the Great Lakes of the United States in the War of 1812 to the most decorated ship of World War II and even into space, Enterprise has been a name carried with distinction and valor.  So, sit back, buckle up, and get ready for a tour of some of the National Archives’ holdings related to vessels called Enterprise.

To date, there have been a total of eight ships and one space shuttle that share the name Enterprise.  The first three of these vessels are, most unfortunately, not accounted for in the holdings of the National Archives.

The first of these ships, originally belonging to the British, was captured from the British by Benedict Arnold in 1775.  Later, in 1775, the ship was burned to prevent it’s recapture by the British.[i]  The second Enterprise began as privateer prior to being purchased by the Continental Navy in 1776.  This schooner operated mainly in the Chesapeake Bay as a convoy and reconnaissance vessel protecting the Bay from British attacks.  She was out of service by 1777.[ii]  The third Enterprise was a schooner built in 1799.  According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS), the ship initially patrolled the Caribbean protecting American interests from French privateers.  Later, the Enterprise joined the Constitution and patrolled the Barbary Coast before participating in a series of attacks on Tripoli.  The vessel continued to serve in various campaigns until July of 1823, when she stranded and broke up on Little Curacao Island in the West Indies.[iii]

Now, we come to the first Enterprise that is represented in the Archives’ holdings, which is to say, the fourth Enterprise.  This vessel was a schooner built at the New York Navy Yard and launched in 1831.[iv]  She patrolled in the waters around Brazil from 1832 to 1834 and then went on to circumnavigate the globe, a mission which continued until 1839.  In 1844, the Enterprise sailed to Boston Navy Yard and was sold in October of that year.[v]

RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 40-9-1. Part I.
RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 40-9-1. Part II.

The fifth Enterprise was barque-rigged screw sloop-of-war built in 1874 and used mostly for survey missions.  When not on duty conducting hydrographic surveys, this Enterprise sailed around the waters of the Mediterranean, the East Coast of Africa, and Europe.  Later, she came home to serve as a training vessel for Naval Academy students before being sold in 1909.[vi]

RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 136-8-38.
RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 18-8-33.
RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 28-5-19. Midship Section.  *Note the very light wood grain design shown on the hull.
RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 28-5-19. Midship Section. *Note the intricacy of the illustration on the reverse of this map.  The depth and coloring of this illustration allow a shadow to show through on the face of the map, giving a suggestion of the wood work without overpowering the image.
RG 19: Ship Design and Construction Drawings, Dash Plans, 78-1-21D. Cross Section, Gundeck.

The sixth Enterprise (SP-790) to serve the United States Navy was a 66-foot motor patrol boat that was in service during WWI.  Commissioned in 1917, the vessel was turned over to the Bureau of Fisheries in August of 1919.[vii]

The seventh Enterprise (CV-6) was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier was launched in 1936.  Also known as the “Grey Ghost” and “The Big E”, the aircraft carrier Enterprise was the sixth United States aircraft carrier to be put into service.  Interestingly, Enterprise was one of only three United States aircraft carriers commissioned prior to WWII that survived the war and participated in more American actions against Japanese forces than any other United States ship.  The Grey Ghost would go on to become the most decorated warship of WWII, earning 20 battle stars.  During engagements, the Enterprise shot down 911 enemy planes, sank 71 ships, and damaged or destroyed 192 more.[viii]  Following the war, the carrier participated in Operation Magic Carpet, which was a program to transport the millions of soldiers left overseas back home.[ix]  She was officially scrapped in 1960.

The eighth vessel to carry the name Enterprise was also an aircraft carrier.  Bearing the distinction of being the only ship in the Enterprise class of carriers, CVN-65 was commissioned in 1961 and was the first to be nuclear powered.  According to the United States Navy, during her over 50 years of service, the “USS Enterprise” became the first nuclear powered ship to transit the Suez Canal and the first carrier to operate the F-14 fighter jet.[x]  She was decommissioned in 2017.  The ninth Enterprise, (CVN-80), a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier is currently set to be commissioned in 2028.[xi]

Now, we move from the oceans to space as we look towards the next USS Enterprise.


Did you know that the Space Shuttle Enterprise (OV-101) was named after the fictional starship featured in the television series “Star Trek”?  According to documents generously provided by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the space shuttle was so-named in part because of a huge public letter writing campaign requesting the name.  The formal request to name the shuttle Enterprise reads:

“NASA has received hundreds of thousands of letters from the space-oriented “Star Trek” group asking that the name Enterprise be given to the craft.  This group comprises millions of individuals who are deeply interested in our space program.”

President Gerald Ford’s “Remarks Dedicating the First Space Shuttle as Enterprise, dated September 8th, 1976, speak more about the importance of naming the shuttle, saying

“…A great many people have written to me in recent months, suggesting one name in particular for this spaceship, which will carry us not only into space but into the future.

It is a distinguished name in American naval history, with a long tradition of courage and endurance.  It is also a name familiar to millions of faithful followers of the science fiction television program “Star Trek”.  To explore the frontiers of space, there is no better ship than the space shuttle, and no better name for that ship than the Enterprise.”

As an aside, the original model of the starship Enterprise (NCC-1701) that was used in filming the original television series is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

So, what is in a name?  In short, over 200 years of history and a bold vision for the future!


[i] “The First Enterprise.” Naval History Blog, Naval Institute Archive, 13 Apr. 2011, www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/18/the-first-enterprise-2.

[ii] “Enterprise II (Schooner).” Naval History and Heritage Command, 7 July 2015, 1:54pm, www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/e/enterprise-schooner-ii.html.

[iii] “Enterprise III (Schooner).” Naval History and Heritage Command, 7 July 2015, 1:54pm, www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/e/enterprise-schooner-iii.html.

[iv] “The Legend of the USS ENTERPRISE.” The Sextant, usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/2013/05/15/the-legend-of-the-uss-enterprise/.

[v]Nav-Source Online: Service Ship Photo Archive, USS Enterprise.    http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/86/86416.htm

[vi] Lockwood, Eric, and Heritage Command. “Ships Named Enterprise: For More than 240 Years, They’ve Boldly Served America’s Navy.” Military News, 9 Feb. 2017, www.militarynews.com/norfolk-navy-flagship/news/top_stories/ships-named-enterprise-for-more-than-years-they-ve-boldly/article_d9c27cec-d4dc-5dd5-a622-8b8c84921c8f.html.

[vii] “USS Enterprise (sp-790)”.  Naval History and Heritage Command Website. https://www.history.navy.mil/content/history/nhhc/ourcollections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-54000/NH-54385.html
[viii] USS Enterprise (cv-6) https://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/ships/big-e.html
[ix] “Bringing Home The 8 Million Boys After WWII; Operation Magic Carpet”

Elly Farelly – https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/brining-home-8-million-boys-wwii-operation-       magic-carpet.html

[x] https://www.navysite.de/cvn/cvn65.html

[xi] Kelly, Erin; Green, Kevin (August 24, 2017). “Crews cut first steel for next aircraft carrier Enterprise”. WAVY.com. Rear Adm. Brian Antonio said the ship is expected to be ready by 2028.