February 28th, 2017

book cover - tpbol

Explosion aboard the USS Princeton

On this date in 1844, the USS Princeton -- the first screw steam warship in the United States Navy -- was in Alexandria, Virgina, to show off the "Peacemaker", then the world's longest naval gun. There were more than 400 dignitaries aboard the ship, including President John Tyler, his Cabinet, members of Congress, and more.

During a test firing that day, the gun exploded, killing six and injuring twenty people. Among the dead were Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur, Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Gilmer, and David Gardiner (father of President Tyler's fiancee Julia).

Upshur and Gilmer are two of the 22 Cabinet Secretaries who died in office (out of more than 600).

Upshur, the 15th Secretary of State (from July 1843) had previously served as the 13th Secretary of the Navy (October 1841-July 1843). He was 53 years old.

Gilmer, who was 41 years 328 days old, is #3 on the list of Cabinet Secretaries who died youngest. He had become the 15th Secretary of the Navy only nine days earlier (his was the shortest term of any Cabinet Secretary; numbers 2 and 3 on that list are 11 and 12 days, though neither of those short-term Secretaries died in office).