To date, six U.S. ships have been named USS Princeton, after the Battle of Princeton, which unfolded, in part, on Princeton's campus in 1777.
The first USS Princeton — the most advanced warship of its day — was commissioned in 1843 and decommissioned in 1849. It was the scene of a disastrous accident. On February 28, 1844, one of its cannons exploded as it was being demonstrated to President John Tyler and visiting dignitaries; the explosion killed 10 people, including the secretary of state and two senators.
The second USS Princeton, an armed transport and training ship, was commissioned in 1852 and remained in service until 1866.
The third USS Princeton, a composite gunboat (made of both wood and steel), was commissioned in 1898, served in the Far East and Nicaragua and in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and was decommissioned in 1919.
The fourth USS Princeton was an Independence-class light aircraft carrier active in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. It was launched in 1942, sponsored by Margaret Dodds (the wife of Princeton University President Harold Dodds), and commissioned in 1943. In October 1944 it sank in a fierce battle off the Surigao Strait; it was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Ribbon with nine battle stars and the Republic of the Philippines Presidential Unit Citation.
The fifth USS Princeton, an Essex-class carrier, was commissioned in 1945 and decommissioned in 1970. It was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, eight battle stars during the Korean War, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation for support of the Marines during the Vietnam War. It later served as the primary recovery ship for the Apollo 10 lunar mission.
The sixth and current USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser, was commissioned in 1989 and damaged in a mine attack in 1991. It won two consecutive Battle Efficiency Awards in 1992–93 and was deployed to the Arabian Gulf for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Star Trek devotees will note a seventh, future USS Princeton — a Federation starship launched in the year 2366 (Episode 1, Season 4 of "Star Trek: The New Generation," September 1990).