Commercial introduction of the Whitehead self‐propelled torpedo in 1875 triggered rapid development of coastal and seagoing torpedo boats in Europe. “Jeune Ecole” enthusiasts in France hailed growing squadrons of torpilleurs as effective counters to British naval superiority; yet by 1890, Britain, Germany, and Japan had acquired comparable flotillas.
In 1880, Secretary of the Navy Thompson ordered engineer John Tobin to Great Britain to obtain information and procure plans and specifications of the most modern warships. His report Improvements in Naval Engineering in Great Britain was considered so important that Congress authorized it to be published in 1883.
Kotaka, commissioned in 1888, was the largest torpedo boat of her day, large enough to qualify as the first torpedo boat destroyer. Designed by Japanese marine architects and built at Yarrow in Britain for assembly in Japan, she was 165 feet LOA, displaced 203 tons and could make 19 knots using coal-fired triple expansion reciprocating steam engine. She mounted four 37mm quick fire guns and six 14-inch torpedo tubes.