Joseph M. Reeves

Joseph Mason "Bull" Reeves (November 20, 1872 – March 25, 1948) was an admiral in the United States Navy and an early and important supporter of U.S. Naval Aviation. Though a battleship officer during his early career, he became known as the "Father of Carrier Aviation" for his role in integrating aircraft carriers into the Fleet as a major part of the Navy's attack capabilities.

Joseph M. Reeves
Admiral Arthur Japy Hepburn, left, assuming command of United States Fleet from Admiral Joseph M. Reeves, June 24, 1936
Birth nameJoseph Mason Reeves
Born(1872-11-20)November 20, 1872
Tampico, Illinois
DiedMarch 25, 1948(1948-03-25) (aged 75)
Bethesda, Maryland
Place of burial
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1894–1936
Rank Admiral
Commands heldUnited States Fleet
Battles/warsSpanish–American War
World War I
World War II
AwardsNavy Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Joe Reeves
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
Head coaching record

Reeves retired in the mid-1930s but was recalled to active duty during World War II to serve in high-level staff positions within the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. He retired again in December 1946 with the rank of full admiral.

Early life and career

Joseph Mason Reeves was born on November 20, 1872 in the village of Tampico, Illinois.

He received an appointment in 1890 to attend the Naval Academy, where he became a football hero. In addition to his on-field heroics, he is credited with the invention of the modern football helmet, which he had a shoemaker create for him after being told by a Navy doctor that another kick to his head could result in "instant insanity" or death.[1] Reeves graduated from the Academy in 1894.

Upon graduation, Reeves was assigned to the cruiser USS San Francisco. He served on the battleship USS Oregon during the Spanish–American War, taking part in the action against Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete's fleet at Santiago de Cuba in June and July 1898.

Start of the 20th century Through World War I

After the start of the 20th century, Reeves served in San Francisco and on the battleships USS Wisconsin and USS Ohio in addition to tours ashore at Newport and Annapolis, where he was an instructor in the Naval Academy's Department of Physics and Chemistry, 1906–08. He served as the Academy's head football coach in 1907, guiding the team to a 9–2–1 record and a 6–0 victory over Army.

Following duties as ordnance officer on board the battleship USS New Hampshire, Reeves served as ordnance officer in the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. He followed this with assignment to the Board of Inspection and Survey and a tour as Commanding Officer, Naval Coal Depot, Tiburon, California.

In April 1913, Commander Reeves assumed command of the collier USS Jupiter (AC-3), the Navy's first electrically propelled vessel. The ship was rebuilt and recommissioned in 1922 as USS Langley (CV-1), the Navy's first aircraft carrier.

Detached from Jupiter in April 1914, he commanded the cruiser USS St. Louis and various other ships until assigned to the battleship USS Oregon in June 1915 as Commanding Officer.

Detached for shore duty at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California in June 1916, he then commanded the battleship USS Maine during World War I, earning the Navy Cross for "exceptionally meritorious service" during that tour.

Post–World War I Assignments

After the war he served as Naval Attaché at Rome and in April 1921 assumed command of the cruiser USS Pittsburgh. Captain of the Mare Island Navy Yard at the end of that year, he afterwards commanded the battleship USS North Dakota in 1922–23, then attended the Naval War College at Newport. After completing his coursework, he spent a year as a member of the staff.

Entering Naval Aviation

Upon completing his tour at the War College, Captain Reeves decided to enter the new world of naval aviation. In order to hold a command post, however, he needed to receive aviation training. Like other older officers—notably, RADM William A. Moffett, Chief of the Navy's new Bureau of Aeronautics—Reeves qualified as a "Naval Aviation Observer" rather than as a "Naval Aviator" (i.e., a pilot). He received his qualification in 1925 and assumed the post of Commander, Aircraft Squadron, Battle Fleet. Though a captain by rank, his position as squadron commander permitted him to fly a commodore's pennant. His flagship was the experimental carrier USS Langley—his old ship, Jupiter, modified for aviation operations. The wooden flight-deck was installed over the Langley's existing deck structures, giving the vessel the nickname of "Covered Wagon."

While in this command, Reeves worked hard to develop carrier aviation tactics, seeking to increase sortie rates and the use of dive-bombing. He proved these concepts by the success of his pilots and aircrew during the Navy's annual fleet exercises (known as "Fleet Problems").

Reeves served on the Navy's General Board, June 1929–June 1930. Fifteen months later he became Senior Member of the Board of Inspection and Survey, Pacific Coast Section. Another tour at Mare Island followed and in June 1933 he became Commander, Battleships, Battle Force, with the rank of vice admiral. In July, he was assigned as Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet, with the rank of admiral.

On February 26, 1934, Admiral Reeves was designated Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet. He held this command until June 1936, when he was ordered to Washington, D.C., to serve on the General Board. He held the Board position until November 23, 1936, and retired seven days later.

Recall during World War II

The admiral's retirement was short-lived, as his nation again needed his services to fight another World War. Reeves was recalled to active duty on May 13, 1940, advanced to vice admiral on the retired list, and was attached to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy. Reeves served simultaneously as Lend-Lease Liaison Officer from March 1941 to December 1945, Senior Military Member of the Munitions Assignments Board and Chairman of the Munitions Assignment Committee (Navy) from 13 February 1942 to 8 November 1945, and Chairman of the Joint Munitions Allocation Committee from 11 January 1944 to 2 September 1945.[2]

In diplomatic relations with the senior military representatives of the United Nations, Admiral Reeves displayed unusual qualities of leadership and rendered invaluable service in carrying out his duties. His skill and initiative in bringing about the harmonious distribution of finished materials to meet the demands of all United Nations Services, were essential to the integration of the Allied military organization, and his brilliant analyses of the overall situation were substantial factors in executing logistic plans in accordance with strategic requirements.[3][4]

Reeves retired from the Navy as Admiral in June 1947 and received Distinguished Service Medal and Legion of Merit for his service. He spent his last years living in Maryland and died at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 25, 1948.[5]

Together with his wife Eleanor Watkins Reeves (1873–1947), Reeves had three children: Joseph M. Reeves Jr. (1898–1973), William C. Reeves (1908–1934) and Ruth D. Reeves.[6]

Reeves's legacy

A warship and two airfields have been named in honor of Admiral Reeves.

  • The guided missile frigate USS Reeves (DLG/CG-24) was commissioned 15 May 1964 and won three battle stars for Vietnam service. The Reeves was reclassified on 30 June 1975 as a guided missile cruiser (CG-24). Reeves was decommissioned and stricken from the Navy Register on 12 November 1993 at Pearl Harbor. She was sunk at sea 31 May 2001 off the coast of Australia.
  • Joseph Mason Reeves Field ("Reeves Field") at NAS Lemoore, California, was dedicated November 20, 1961.
  • NAS Reeves Field San Pedro in California (later NAS Terminal Island), was dedicated during the 1930s. This airfield is no longer active.

"Bull" Reeves was featured in a macro image depicting the admiral gazing across Waikiki with the bottom text "I should buy more ETH," in reference to the Ethereum network's cryptocurrency, on the premier Ethereum subreddit, EthFreed.[7]

Awards and decorations

Reeves earned the following awards and decorations:

Naval Aviation Observer Badge
1st Row Navy Cross Navy Distinguished Service Medal
2nd Row Legion of Merit Sampson Medal Navy Spanish Campaign Medal
3rd Row World War I Victory Medal with Atlantic Fleet clasp American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal
4th Row World War II Victory Medal Commander of the Order of the Crown of Italy Commander of the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus

Head coaching record

Year Team Overall ConferenceStanding Bowl/playoffs
Navy Midshipmen (Independent) (1907)
1907 Navy 9–2–1
Navy: 9–2–1


  1. "History of the Football Helmet" from Past Time Sports. Accessed Jan 1,2010
  2. "All Hands - The Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin; June 1947" (PDF). United States Navy Websites. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  3. "All Hands - The Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin; November 1946" (PDF). United States Navy Websites. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  4. "All Hands - The Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin; June 1946" (PDF). United States Navy Websites. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  5. "Valor awards for Joseph Mason Reeves". Militarytimes Websites. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  6. "Find a Grave Memorial - Admiral Joseph M. Reeves". Find a Grave Memorial Websites. Retrieved 11 February 2017.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
  • Grossnick, Roy et al. United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995. Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, Dept. of the Navy, 1997.
  • Wildenberg, Thomas. All the Factors of Victory: Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Airpower. Washington, D.C.:
Military offices
Preceded by
David F. Sellers
Commander in Chief, United States Fleet
26 February 1934 – June 1936
Succeeded by
Arthur J. Hepburn
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