National Hispanic Heritage Month: Commodore Robert F. Lopez, US Navy

Robert Files Lopez was born in the city of Davenport, Iowa, on March 31, 1857. He was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1874 and made history in 1879 as the first Hispanic American to graduate from that institution.

Lopez’s subsequent naval career included serving as an ensign aboard the USS Thetis when that wooden-hulled steam whaler sailed in and near Alaskan waters during the late 1880s to conduct survey work. Thetis was the first vessel to travel along and map out the entire coastline of Alaska. Charles H. Stockton was the ship’s commander and, during the voyage, he named a section of Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean) after Lopez. This section, which is known as Lopez Point, can be found on the island’s southern coast.

During the Spanish-American War about a decade later, Lopez took part in one of the most decisive naval engagements in U.S. history when he served under Admiral George Dewey in the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines. Lopez’s other assignments included commanding the Bainbridge-class destroyer USS Preble from 1904 to 1906 and serving as the senior member of a naval board responsible for a survey of vessels on the Pacific coast.

Lopez retired from the Navy with the rank of commodore (equivalent to a one-star admiral rank) in 1911, but was recalled to duty a few years later following the U.S. entry in World War I. During the war, Lopez served as commandant of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in northern California. He was also in charge of shipbuilding operations for the Navy at Union Iron Works in San Francisco.

Lopez went back into retirement not long after the war ended, having served most of the previous four decades in the Navy. He died in the city of Alameda, California, on September 20, 1936, at the age of 79.

Photo Credit: Oakland Tribune (30 September 1936)

For more information on Commodore Robert F. Lopez and other high-ranking Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Navy, please check out

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