Luce, Stephen Bleecker, 1827-1917 Rear Admiral Stephen R. Luce was a founder and first president of the United States Naval War College in Newport. Luce entered the navy in 1841 as a midshipman and attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis when it first opened in 1845. After graduation in 1849, Luce performed a decade of sea duty before returning to Annapolis in 1860 as an instructor in seamanship and gunnery. This assignment launched a career in naval education that spanned the next half century.
In the 1860s Luce wrote the standard naval textbook on seamanship and became a leading advocate of a naval training system. In 1881, he attained the rank of commodore and was appointed commander of the U.S. Naval Training Squadron.
These efforts were a prelude to Luce’s major achievement : the establishment of a school for the advanced education of naval officers in strategy, tactics, diplomacy, and international law. President Chester Arthur’s Secretary of the Navy, William Chandler, responded to Luce’s initiatives by establishing the Naval War College on Coaster’s Harbor Island in Newport and appointing the commodore as its first president. Luce left this post in 1886 for the command of the North Atlantic Squadron after recruiting a small faculty that included Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan. Luce engaged in a diplomatic dispute relating to the Canadian-American fisheries controversy and served as president of the U.S. Naval Institute before retiring from active duty in 1889.
In the final two decades of his productive career, Luce carried out several diplomatic assignments and returned to Newport to teach at the college that he founded. He retired from the War College faculty in 1910 and died in Newport on July 27, 1917.