A new initiative on the part of the United States Navy (USN) produced the "ABCD" group of warships - USS Atlanta, USS Boston, USS Chicago, and USS Dolphin (it eventually grew to include USS Yorktown and USS Bennington). The first three were laid down as protected cruisers, categorized as such due to their use of armored decks to protect their most vital parts - namely guns and machinery - from overhead damage caused by exploding shells. Steel was used throughout their construction as the USN followed the path of other naval powers of the world - steel vessels overtaking the once-proud fleets of wooden "ships-of-the-line". By this action, USS Atlanta became the first steel warship of the USN's "New Navy" movement.
USS Atlanta was laid down on November 8th, 1883 and launched on October 9th, 1884. She was formally commissioned on July 19th, 1886, carrying the namesake of Atlanta, Georgia.
The ship's construction originally fell to John Roach & Sons shipyard of Chester, Pennsylvania but bankruptcy of this concern forced USS Atlanta to be completed at the New York Navy Yard. As built, USS Atlanta displaced 3,250 tons and held a length of 283 feet, a beam of 42 feet and a draught of 17 feet. Her crew complement numbered 284 personnel. Propulsion power was from 8 x coal-fired cylindrical boiler units coupled to a horizontal compound engine generating 3,500 horsepower to a single shaft. This allowed her to make headway at just over 16 knots. Like other ships of this transitory period of naval history, USS Atlanta was completed with full rigging where the sails acted as auxiliary power to the engine fit. Range was 3,900 miles under mechanical power and, essentially, unlimited under sailing power (assuming a good stock of food and coal present).
Her profile showcased the typical tapered bow and stern. Near midships were two smoke funnels and these were bookended by the sailing masts. A primary turret was held forward and another facing stern. The single shaft turned a multi-bladed propeller unit under stern, the propeller situated ahead of a large rudder for steering. As a protected cruiser, USS Atlanta was given armor to protect her vital components from enemy fire. This led to 2" of armor protection found at the barbettes, up to 1.5" on the deck and 2" at the conning tower.
Her primary armament fit were 2 x 8" (203mm) /30 caliber main guns arranged in trainable turrets - one forward and one aft. This was supported by 6 x 6" (152mm) /30 caliber guns and 2 x 6-pounder (57mm) cannons. Close-in work was managed by 2 x 3-pounder (47mm) Hotchkiss revolving cannons, 2 x 1-pounder (37mm) guns, and 2 x 0.45 caliber Gatling gun systems. Well-armed and well-armored, USS Atlanta presented a strong opponent on the high seas.
USS Atlanta's career began in 1887 when she made her way to Atlantic waters as part of the North Atlantic Squadron. She made her home along the American East Coast for some time until 1889 when she was sent to Europe. After a stop in Brazil on the journey home, she ended her travel in New York waters before continuing service along the coast. She then partook in some exercises, training and reviews before seeing her first decommissioning (of several) on July 18th, 1893. She was recommissioned for service as soon as April 2nd, 1894 and operated along the American coast once more. By September of 1895 she was once again decommissioned and spent the next five years in New York waters.
During 1897 into 1899, USS Atlanta underwent a period of refitting which granted her rapid-firing 6" guns (the powder bag approach was done away with in favor of brass case ammunition) and a triple-expansion engine generating 4,030 horsepower to help modernized and improve her performance. This allowed her to be brought back into service on September 15th, 1900 and joined the South Atlantic Squadron near Brazil for October. In late-1902, she was in Caribbean waters and took part in pro-American operations at the Dominican Republic and Panama. After another European tour she returned to home waters for October 1904. She ended this stint in reserve at Annapolis, Maryland for January 1905.
Some months later, she returned to service as part of the Coast Squadron and served as trainer. From the period spanning 1905 to 1912 she took up a post as barracks ship, first at Norfolk and then at Charleston which brought an end to her USN days. On March 23rd, 1912, she was removed from service and her name struck from the Navy Register on April 24th of that year. She was stripped of her useful components and her hulk sold for scrapping in June.