Have you ever heard of “christening” a ship? When a ship sets sail on its maiden voyage, there is a ceremony held where a bottle is broken over the ship’s bow for good luck and safe travels. The practice dates back to the days of the ancient Romans, the Vikings, the explorers who voyaged to this country, the US Navy and is even an important tradition in the Thomas Edison family.
While the Greeks called their Gods to protect seamen by drinking wine and pouring water on the ship to bless it, the U.S. Navy would break a wine or champagne bottle to send their ships into their duties of defense. In fact, the glass remains of the champagne bottle that Edison’s daughter-in-law broke on the bow of the Battleship New Jersey are still preserved today.
The sponsor that the Navy chooses is also traditionally a woman, with multiple Edison women have been chosen to do the honors throughout history.
First, Thomas Edison’s wife, Mina Edison launched the USS Edison (DD 439), a fleet destroyer, on November 23, 1940 in Kearny, New Jersey. His son and NJ governor, Charles Edison, was also in attendance for the historical launch. The ship sent off in his namesake served with distinction throughout WWII.
In 1942, Carolyn Edison (wife of Charles Edison; the son of Thomas and Mina) launched the Battleship New Jersey (BB-62) on December 7. The ship became one of the most decorated in US naval history and is now berthed at Camden NJ. The ship was actually named by Charles Edison when he was Secretary of the Navy under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Madeleine Sloane-Edison (daughter of Thomas and Mina) was the last one to launch a ship into the sea and history on March 10, 1962 – the Nuclear Ballistic Submarine named the USS Thomas A. Edison SSBN-610. Later on, the same ship hosted a visit by President John F. Kennedy.
From these historical ships and ceremonies to Edison’s Naval Consulting Board during World War II to Charles Edison being secretary of the Navy for some years, the Edison Family was proud to be part of the tapestry of this country’s Armed Forces. Our foundation, the Edison family foundation, still supports the preserved Battleship New Jersey and similar efforts to carry on the tradition as part of our mission to “keep their light lit.”
Learn more about Thomas Edison, his family, or our foundations on thomasedison.org.