A lot has changed in the 100 years since the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) in San Diego was commissioned on December 1, 1921. Marines have fought and died in one world war, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and they fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for the better part of the last 20 years.

The Marine Corps has changed significantly during that time as well. While, for the first 99 years of its existence, MCRD San Diego exclusively trained all males west of the Mississippi River, this year — year-100 of its existence — MCRD San Diego graduated its first platoon of female Marines.

While the name of the base changed a handful of times between 1921 and 1948, on 1 January 1948, Marine Corps Base, San Diego was officially renamed Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. That name remains to the present day.

Marines San Diego
1st Battalion Marines, San Diego, unknown year. (Marine Corps)

The Beginnings

Located on 388 prime Southern California acres, MCRD San Diego was first considered as a good candidate for a Marine Corps base by then-Colonel Joseph Pendleton, due to its proximity to Latin America, the Panama Canal, the Hawaiian Islands, and Asia. According to a historical piece compiled by the MCRD Museum Foundation, Col. Pendleton also recognized that San Diego’s weather would allow for the Marines to train outdoors year-round.

Spreckels Theatre San Diego
Spreckels Theatre San Diego, circa 1915. It is shocking to see the changes that have happened in San Diego over the past 100 years. (San Diego Reader)

Not all Marine leaders agreed with Colonel Pendleton, though. The Marine Corps Commandant at the time, Major General George Barnett, said the only thing San Diego had in its favor was its good weather. He argued against stationing Marines there permanently. Over time, though, Maj. Gen. Barnett’s position in opposition to San Diego eased. It is said that following a visit to San Diego in the summer of 1915, Maj. Gen. Barnett reported to Congress that San Diego was indeed a good place to build a new Marine Corps base.

MCRD San Diego
View of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot under construction – circa 1921. (San Diego History Center)

Following that meeting with Congress, construction soon began and in 1921 MCRD San Diego (then named Marine Advanced Expeditionary Base, San Diego) officially became a Marine Corps training base.

When the new base was founded, the town of San Diego was but a small border town with quick access to both the beach and to the border city of Tijuana, Mexico. Once the 1920s rolled around, though, multiple U.S. military branches started to consider San Diego as a quality location to house both traditional bases and recruit training facilities. In 1920, there were no official U.S. military bases located in San Diego. By 1923 there were three: MCRD San Diego; Naval Base San Diego (a destroyer base); and a third base housing Navy boot camp. That Navy boot camp would continue to hold recruit training until the mid-1990s when it was eventually closed as the Navy chose to consolidate bases.

As the 1920s progressed, the United States began to see the increasing possibility of a naval conflict with Japan, and in turn moved three aircraft carriers — the Langley, the Lexington, and the Saratoga — to San Diego.