In the years after its triumph in the Spanish-American War, the United States quickly grew in power and prestige on the world stage. A newly established imperial power with possessions that included Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, it was felt that the United States needed to substantially increase its naval power to retain its new global status. Led by the energy of President Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy built eleven new battleships between 1904 and 1907. This expansion of naval strength was fortuitous as Japan, recently victorious in the Russo-Japanese War, presented a growing threat in the Pacific.
Relations with Japan were further stressed in 1906, by a series of laws which discriminated against Japanese immigrants in California. Touching off anti-American riots in Japan, these laws were ultimately repealed at Roosevelt's insistence. While this aided in calming the situation, relations remained strained and Roosevelt became concerned about the US Navy's lack of strength in the Pacific. To impress upon the Japanese that the United States could shift its main battle fleet to the Pacific with ease, he began devising a world cruise of the nation's battleships.
In addition to sending a message to the Japanese, Roosevelt wished to provide the American public with a clear message that the nation was prepared for a war at sea and secure support for the construction of additional warships. From an operational standpoint, Roosevelt and naval leaders were eager to learn about the endurance of American battleships and how they would stand up during long voyages. Initially announcing that the fleet would be moving to the West Coast for training exercises, the battleships gathered at Hampton Roads in late 1907 to take part in the Jamestown Exposition.