Her keel was laid down on 1 December 1896 at
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by the William Cramp and Sons Ship and
Engine Building Company. She was launched on 18 May 1898 sponsored by
Miss Mary Morgan, daughter of the Honorable John T. Morgan, United
States Senator from Georgia and commissioned on 16 October 1900, Capt.
Willard H. Brownson in command.
Though assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Alabama
did not begin operations with that unit until early the following year.
The warship remained at Philadelphia until 13 December when she got
underway for the brief trip to New York City. She stayed at New York
through the New Year and until the latter part of January 1901.
Finally, on 27 January, the battleship headed south for winter
exercises with the Fleet at the drill grounds in the Gulf of Mexico
near Pensacola, Florida. Alabama's Navy career began in earnest with
her arrival in the gulf early in February. With a single exception in
1904, each year from 1901 to 1907 she conducted Fleet exercises and
gunnery drills in the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies in the
wintertime before returning north for repairs and operations off the
northeastern coast during the summer and autumn. The exception came in
the spring of 1904 after the conclusion of winter maneuvers when she
departed Pensacola in company with Kearsarge, Maine, Iowa, Olympia,
Baltimore, and USS Cleveland (C-19) on a voyage to Portugal and the
Mediterranean. After a ceremonial visit to Lisbon honoring the entrance
of the Infante into the Portuguese naval school, Alabama and the other
three battleships cruised the Mediterranean until mid-August. Returning
by way of the Azores, she and her traveling companions arrived in
Newport, Rhode Island, on 29 August. Late in September, the warship
entered the League Island Navy Yard for repairs. Early in December,
Alabama left the yard and resumed cruising with the North Atlantic
Near the end of 1907, the battleship set out upon a
special mission. On 16 December 1907, she stood out of Hampton Roads in
company with what became known as the Great White Fleet. Alabama
accompanied the Fleet on its voyage around the South American continent
as far as San Francisco. On 18 May 1908 when the bulk of the Fleet
headed north to visit the Pacific Northwest, she remained at San
Francisco for repair at the Mare Island Navy Yard. As a consequence,
the warship did not participate in the celebrated visit to Japan.
Instead, Alabama and Maine departed San Francisco on 8 June to complete
their own, more direct, circumnavigation of the globe. Steaming by way
of Honolulu and Guam, the two battleships arrived at Manila in the
Philippines on 20 July. In August, they visited Singapore and Colombo
on the island of Ceylon. From Colombo, the two battleships made their
way, via Aden on the Arabian Peninsula, to the Suez Canal. Through the
canal early in September, Alabama and Maine made an expeditious transit
of the Mediterranean Sea, pausing only at Naples at mid-month.
Following a port call at Gibraltar, they embarked upon the Atlantic
passage on 4 October. They made one stop, in the Azores, on their way
across the Atlantic. On 19 October as they neared the end of their long
voyage, the two battleships parted company. Maine headed for
Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Alabama steered for New York. Both
reached their destinations on the 20th.
Alabama was placed in reserve at New York on 3 November
1908. Though she remained inactive at New York, the battleship was not
decommissioned until 17 August 1909. The warship underwent an extensive
overhaul that lasted until the early part of 1912. On 17 April 1912,
she was placed in commission, second reserve, at New York, Commander
Charles F. Preston in command. At that point, she became an element of
the newly established Atlantic Reserve Fleet. According to that
concept, the Navy organized a unit that comprised nine of the older
battleships as well as Brooklyn, Columbia, and Minneapolis for the
purpose of keeping those ships constantly ready for active service
using the fiscal expedient of severely reduced complements that could
be filled out rapidly by naval militiamen and volunteers in an
emergency. The unit as a whole possessed enough officers and men to
take two or three of the ships to sea on a rotating basis to test their
material readiness and to exercise the sailors at drill.