William S. Benson
Chief of Naval OperationsClass of 1877
- Chief of Naval Operations 11 May 1915 - 25 September 1919
William Shepherd Benson was born in Macon, Georgia, on 25 September 1855. Completion of his U.S. Naval Academy studies in 1877 was followed by years of sea duty, including a cruise around the World in USS Dolphin during the 1880s. He was also active in coast survey and hydrographic duties, was an instructor at the Naval Academy, commanded the cruiser USS Albany and served as a flag aide and fleet chief of staff, in addition to other assignments.
In 1911, Captain Benson became the first Commanding Officer of the battleship USS Utah (BB-31). He was Commandant of the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1913-15, and from there was ordered to Washington, D.C., where he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and became the Navy's first Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
Benson was heavily involved in defining the functions of the new CNO position and strengthening the Navy during a period marked by internal Navy Department tensions, U.S. interventions in the Caribbean and Central America, and the European war crisis. Promoted to the rank of Admiral in 1916, his responsibilities greatly expanded when the United States entered the First World War in April 1917. Over the next year and a half, he oversaw a huge expansion of the Navy, the extension of its operations to European waters and the transportation of the United States' Army to France. After the November 1918 Armistice, he was an active participant in the lengthy peace negotiations held in France.
Admiral Benson retired from the Naval service in September 1919. Over the next decade, he was active in the leadership of the U.S. Shipping Board. Admiral William S. Benson died in Washington, D.C. on 20 May 1932.