Naval Ship Christening‏

Have you ever wondered why a boat is launched by smashing a champagne bottle against the bow? The tradition of christening a new ship for good luck goes back to ancient times. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all called on their gods to protect sailors, often by offering up sacrificial beverages when launching the ship.

In Great Britain, the tradition evolved into a ceremony involving drinking from a special cup made of precious metals, pouring the leftover liquid onto the deck, and tossing the cup overboard. Eventually, this was replaced by the more economical version of breaking a wine bottle across the bow.

Throughout the 1800s, the ritual remained, though the fluid itself varied from whiskey to wine to water. USS Maine, the Navy’s first steel battleship, was christened with champagne in 1890, sparking a shift to this sparkling wine. When Prohibition went into effect in the U.S., ships were launched with water, juice, or apple cider. Champagne came back after Prohibition and has stuck around ever since.

This champagne bottle with a ceremonial silver cover was prepared for the launching of USS Missouri (BB-63) in 1944. Photo courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command