Admirals of Nebraska

The US state of Nebraska is landlocked; all the states around it are also landlocked; and all the states around them are also landlocked. And yet, the Governor of Nebraska can grant residents the honorary title of Nebraska Admiral.

Nebraska Admiral certificate
National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The largest lake entirely within the US state Nebraska is Lake McConaughy. It’s an artificial reservoir formed by a 1941 dam; the lake is 35km long and 6.4km wide (at its widest). It has not, historically speaking, been a site of major naval manoeuvres. When you think about the naval history of the United States, Nebraska would not be top of the list. It does not border any ocean. All of the states around Nebraska don’t border an ocean either. And all of the states around those states are also ocean-less. Nebraska is triply-landlocked – the only US state with that designation. And yet, it has admirals.

Ten years before the creation of Lake McConaughy, Charles W. Bryan was the governor of Nebraska. Bryan, by the way, was the brother of William Jennings Bryan, who ran for president (unsuccessfully) three times in the early 20th century and went on to be Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. Charles, like his brother, was a Democrat; his lieutenant governor Theodore W. Metcalfe was a Republican. And, apparently, a bit of a prankster.

While Charles Bryan was out of the state in 1931, some of the lieutenant governor’s friends asked him to make them all colonels as a joke. This was not without precedent: Kentucky appoints civilian colonels as a kind of honorific. (Colonel Sanders was that kind of colonel.) But Metcalfe did them one better. He created a new tongue-in-cheek title: Admiral in the Great Navy of Nebraska. And he appointed them all as admirals of the triply-landlocked state.

The title was later simplified to Nebraska Admiral. It carries no rights or responsibilities except boasting rights – and, later, the possibility of joining a non-profit organisation that promotes the state. Metcalfe continued handing out admiralties after he lost his position (as the self-designated “Chief Admiral of Nebraska”). It was later adopted by the governor’s office again, and continues to this day.

Tens of thousands of people can claim this title. Famous Nebraska Admirals include US presidents, sportspeople, astronauts, politicians, actors, comedians, foreign dignitaries, and fictional characters. Bob Hope was a Nebraska Admiral; so was Louis Armstrong. Edmund Hillary, Queen Elizabeth II, and Big Bird were too.

[Thanks to David S.]

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