Her keel was laid down on 1 December 1896 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by the William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company. She was launched on 18 May 1898 sponsored by Miss Mary Morgan, daughter of the Honorable John T. Morgan, United States Senator from Georgia and commissioned on 16 October 1900, Capt. Willard H. Brownson in command.
Though assigned to the North Atlantic Station, Alabama did not begin operations with that unit until early the following year. The warship remained at Philadelphia until 13 December when she got underway for the brief trip to New York City. She stayed at New York through the New Year and until the latter part of January 1901. Finally, on 27 January, the battleship headed south for winter exercises with the Fleet at the drill grounds in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Florida. Alabama's Navy career began in earnest with her arrival in the gulf early in February. With a single exception in 1904, each year from 1901 to 1907 she conducted Fleet exercises and gunnery drills in the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies in the wintertime before returning north for repairs and operations off the northeastern coast during the summer and autumn. The exception came in the spring of 1904 after the conclusion of winter maneuvers when she departed Pensacola in company with Kearsarge (BB-5), Maine (BB-10), Iowa (BB-4), Olympia (Cruiser No. 6), Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3), and Cleveland (Cruiser No. 19) on a voyage to Portugal and the Mediterranean. After a ceremonial visit to Lisbon honoring the entrance of the Infante into the Portuguese naval school, Alabama and the other three battleships cruised the Mediterranean until mid-August. Returning by way of the Azores, she and her traveling companions arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, on 29 August. Late in September, the warship entered the League Island Navy Yard for repairs. Early in December, Alabama left the yard and resumed cruising with the North Atlantic Fleet.
Near the end of 1907, the battleship set out upon a special mission. On 16 December 1907, she stood out of Hampton Roads in company with what became known as the Great White Fleet. Alabama accompanied the Fleet on its voyage around the South American continent as far as San Francisco. On 18 May 1908 when the bulk of the Fleet headed north to visit the Pacific Northwest, she remained at San Francisco for repair at the Mare Island Navy Yard. As a consequence, the warship did not participate in the celebrated visit to Japan. Instead, Alabama and Maine departed San Francisco on 8 June to complete their own, more direct, circumnavigation of the globe. Steaming by way of Honolulu and Guam, the two battleships arrived at Manila in the Philippines on 20 July. In August, they visited Singapore and Colombo on the island of Ceylon. From Colombo, the two battleships made their way, via Aden on the Arabian Peninsula, to the Suez Canal. Through the canal early in September, Alabama and Maine made an expeditious transit of the Mediterranean Sea, pausing only at Naples at mid-month. Following a port call at Gibraltar, they embarked upon the Atlantic passage on 4 October. They made one stop, in the Azores, on their way across the Atlantic. On 19 October as they neared the end of their long voyage, the two battleships parted company. Maine headed for Portsmouth, New Hampshire; and Alabama steered for New York. Both reached their destinations on the 20th.
Alabama was placed in reserve at New York on 3 November 1908. Though she remained inactive at New York, the battleship was not decommissioned until 17 August 1909. The warship underwent an extensive overhaul that lasted until the early part of 1912. On 17 April 1912, she was placed in commission, second reserve, at New York, Commander Charles F. Preston in command. At that point, she became an element of the newly established Atlantic Reserve Fleet. According to that concept, the Navy organized a unit that comprised nine of the older battleships as well as Brooklyn (Armored Cruiser No. 3), Columbia (Cruiser No. 12), and Minneapolis (Cruiser No. 13) for the purpose of keeping those ships constantly read for active service using the fiscal expedient of severely reduced complements that could be filled out rapidly by naval militiamen and volunteers in an emergency. The unit as a whole possessed enough officers and men to take two or three of the ships to sea on a rotating basis to test their material readiness and to exercise the sailors at drill.
Alabama was placed in full commission on 25 July 1912 and operated with the Atlantic Fleet off the New England coast through the summer. She was returned to reserve status-in commission, first reserve-at New York on 10 September 1912. Late in the spring of 1913, the Navy added a new dimension to the concept of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet by having the warships of that unit embark detachments of the various state naval militias for training afloat in a manner similar in many respects to the contemporary Navy's selected reserve program. During the summer of 1913, Alabama cruised along the east coast and made two round-trip voyages to Bermuda to train naval militiamen from Maryland, the District of Columbia, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, North Carolina, and Indiana. She ended her last training cruise of the year at Philadelphia on 2 September. The battleship was placed in ordinary on 31 October 1913 and in reserve on 1 July 1914.
Though still in commission, she passed the next 30 months in relative inactivity with the Reserve Force, Atlantic Fleet, at Philadelphia. America's shift toward belligerency in World War I, however, brought Alabama out of the doldrums of the peace-time reserve at the beginning of 1917. On 22 January, she became receiving ship at Philadelphia, embarking drafts of recruits for training. In mid-March, the battleship moved south to the lower reaches of the Chesapeake Bay and began transforming landsmen into sailors. She took a brief respite from her rigorous training schedule on 6 April 1917 for the announcement of the United States declaration of war on the Central Powers. Two days later, Alabama became flagship of Division 1, Atlantic Fleet. For the remainder of World War 1, the warship conducted recruit training missions in the lower Chesapeake Bay and in the coastal waters of the Atlantic seaboard, though she made one visit to the Gulf of Mexico in late June and early July of 1918.
After the armistice on 11 November 1918, her recruit training duties continued but began to diminish somewhat in intensity. During February and March of 1919, the battleship steamed south to the West Indies for winter maneuvers. She returned to Philadelphia in mid-April for routine repairs before heading for Annapolis to embark United States Naval Academy midshipmen for their summer training cruise. On 28 and 29 May, Alabama made the short trip from Philadelphia to Annapolis. She left Annapolis on 9 June with 184 midshipmen embarked. During the first part of the cruise, Alabama visited the West Indies and made a trip through the Panama Canal and back. In mid-July, she voyaged to New York and the New England coast. August saw her return south or maneuvers at the drill grounds. Alabama disembarked the midshipmen at Annapolis at the end of August and returned to Philadelphia.
After more than nine months at Philadelphia lingering in a sort of naval purgatory, the battleship was finally decommissioned on 7 May 1920. On 15 September 1921, Alabama was transferred to the War Department to be used as a target, and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. Subjected to aerial bombing tests in Chesapeake Bay by planes of the Army Air Service, the former warship sank in shallow water on 27 September 1921. On 19 March 1924, her sunken hulk was sold for scrap.
(An unusual feature of this ship was its "side-by-side" stacks.)