Originally the unnamed "hull no. 680", the ship was laid down at Hog Island, Pennsylvania by the American International Shipbuilding Corporation under a United States Shipping Board contract. Named Wright on 20 April 1920, the ship was launched on 28 April. A little over two months later, the Navy signed a contract with the Tietjen and Lang Dry Dock Company of Hoboken, New Jersey to convert the ship to a unique type of auxiliary vessel, a "lighter-than-air aircraft tender." On 17 July 1920, the ship received that classification and was designated AZ-1. Wright was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 16 December 1921. Her first commanding officer was Captain (later Admiral) Alfred W. Johnson, who also discharged the collateral duties of Commander, Air Squadrons, Atlantic Fleet. Johnson was the first of a long line of commanding officers for the ship, some of whom later distinguished themselves; men such as John Rodgers, Ernest J. King, Aubrey W. Fitch, Patrick N. L. Bellinger, and Marc A. Mitscher.