Beginning about December 17, 1929, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington (CV-2) ties up to the Baker Dock and supplies electricity to Tacoma for a month to meet a power crisis.
In the 1920s, Tacoma received most of its electrical energy from dams on the Nisqually and Skokomish Rivers. Supplemental energy came from the Dock Street steam plant (1922). A drought in 1929 severely cut the power from the hydroelectric sources. The shortage became so critical that Superintendent Ira S. Davisson (1860-1951) had to cut power to Cascade Paper Company. Cascade laid off 300 employees. Fort Lewis turned the lights out in the barracks at 4:00 p.m.
Tacoma appealed to President Herbert Hoover, who bumped the matter to the Navy. At first the Secretary of the Navy refused the request, but negotiations resulted in a message to the Lexington’s captain, ,which had been in the shipyard at Bremerton to go to Tacoma to provide power to the city.
USS Lexington (CV-2) entered service in 1928. The ship was ahead of its time. It was fitted with turbo-electric propulsion systems rated at 180,000 SHP. The ships had four steam turbine driven main propulsion generators each rated at 35,200 kW, 5000 VAC. Unlike more modern installations, the plants were not integrated and ship service power was DC supplied by 6 separate generators, each rated at 750 kW, 240 Volts DC. A considerable amount of coordination was required between the city and the ship in order to allow Lexington to provide power. The hookup consisted of twelve cables connected to circuit breakers and a bank of transformers located on the dock with a total rating of 20,000 kVA. The ship then provided a total of 4,520,960 kilowatt hours from one main propulsion generator between 17 December, 1929 until 16 January, 1930, at an average rating of 13,000 kW until melting snow and rain brought the local reservoirs up to a level where normal power could be restored.(see Naval History article Going Ashore Naval Ship to Shore Power for Humanitarian Services)(Detailed Navy Report)
The request for the Lexington was opposed by Puget Sound Power & Light and by Seattle City Light, which claimed that the drought did not affect their operations. After the Lexington left Tacoma in January 1930, Seattle requested that the ship help out there. The Navy declined.
The “Lady Lex” arrived at Tacoma’s Baker Dock in the rain to the sounds of a brass band and the applause of City Light customers. The Lexington’s boilers supplied a quarter of Tacoma’s power for about 30 days, leaving on January 17, 1930. That month, the skies opened and rain filled Tacoma’s reservoirs.
Tacoma enjoyed a special relationship with the carrier until its loss at the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 8, 1942.