The custom of honoring newly christened ships of the U.S. Navy with elaborate silver services began in the late 1880s. This so-called “presentation silver” was not purchased by the Navy, but donated by citizens of the states and cities for which the ships were named. The cruiser USS Birmingham was launched on May 29, 1907. This ornate punch service, engraved with views of the ship and the “Fairfield Steel & Iron Works,” was commissioned by the citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, and presented to the USS Birmingham on Sunday, March 31, 1909, at a ceremony in Mobile.
Mayor George Ward presented the service, remarking, “The people of Birmingham have watched with proud and intense interest the various stages in the career of the cruiser that bears the city’s name…We have thought it singularly appropriate that the cruiser should be so christened, for ship and city alike are new types—one in naval construction, the other in city building. Speed is the pre-eminent quality of each—one unequalled in covering the seas, the other unrivalled in covering the land.” The first USS Birmingham was decommissioned in 1923. A second ship named for the city was launched in 1942 and decommissioned in 1947 after suffering heavy damage during World War II. Because presentation silver was typically removed from ships during times of war, this service may have never been used on that vessel. The Navy returned the USS Birmingham silver to its namesake in 1956.