Born in Ink – the Plans for the SS United States

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These four volumes used to be one book.

Hello again, gentle readers. Welcome back to the Library blog – today, I would like to tell you about a unique volume from the Library’s Rare Book collection that has piqued my interest. I refer to the double-volume schematics and design specifications for the SS United States, a work that is only available at The Mariners’ Museum Library. The first volume of the plan is split into four smaller volumes, because the original work was so incredibly thick that using it was very unwieldy.

All four sub-sections of the first volume deal with the plans, schematics, projected costs, and potential profits of the SS United States. The vessel, often referred to by the number 12201, is compared heavily to the 1930s Cunarder RMS Queen Elizabeth in design, operating costs and potential speed. There is a lot of focus in the plans on the comparative speeds of the ships. In fact, it is often repeated that one of the primary goals in building the SS United States is so that she will claim the record for Fastest Atlantic Crossing several times in a row. How would she do that, you may ask? Well, the plan was to slightly underpower the United States in order to beat the Queen Elizabeth’s speed by a small amount. That way, if the British ever reclaimed the record, the United States could then repeatedly take it back and earn a healthy dose of prestige for her parent company, the United States Lines.   Read more

Sketching History

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The bow of the ship takes form behind a thin veil of scaffolding. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library blog! I have a special treat for you today: a glimpse at the birth of the fastest ocean liner ever built, the SS United States! Launched in 1952, the United States was at that time the largest passenger ship ever constructed in the United States.  She served in a place of honor as her namesake nation’s crown jewel for 17 years. Although retired in 1969 and currently in a state of disrepair, the United States deserves recognition for not just the people it ferried across the Atlantic, but for the engineering prowess and detailed specialization with which it fulfilled its role.

In a series of black and white pencil sketches, the artist C. E. Parkhurst captures the construction process of the United States as each piece of her frame – funnel, keel, stern, bow and propeller shaft – slowly comes into being. The pieces are shown individually at first, as each sketch focuses on a different aspect of the ship’s construction. By just looking at the sketch out of context, the individual pieces seem rather commonplace. It’s when one gets to the last of his sketches that one can see the pieces assembled into the whole, with the now-recognizable ship standing ready to sail into history.   Read more

Sailing Into History

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The USCG Eagle, used for training at the Coast Guard Academy. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello again readers, and welcome back to the library’s blog. As I write this post, OpSail 2012 is drawing to a close in Norfolk, Virginia. This past weekend was a celebration of the maritime heritage and culture that is shared by so many nations of the world. The United States had proud representatives in the form of naval vessels like the USCG Eagle, but so too did the United Kingdom, Canada, Indonesia, and many others. Ships like Germany’s FGS Hessen opened their decks to curious guests, while their crews took turns answering questions and exploring the other vessels for themselves.

And yet, it was not just maritime heritage that we celebrated – it was also a commemoration of the War of 1812, whose bicentennial will soon be upon us. This occasion made OpSail 2012 a patriotic celebration as well as an international one, as military re-enactors and historic wooden ships like the Godspeed – a replica of one of the vessels that carried the Jamestown settlers to Virginia –  joined modern military vessels in saluting the War of 1812.   Read more

A New Exhibit Washes Ashore!

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This life vest is representative of the first ever commercial version, and is now on display in the exhibit. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello again readers, and welcome back to the library blog! I have some exciting news for you today – there’s a brand new exhibit in The Mariners’ Museum Library, and it’s FREE to come look at!

The new exhibit is called “Illustrating the News: Shipwrecks in the Popular Press.” It follows the history of shipwreck imagery in newspapers and periodicals from the 1830s through 1912, a time before the widespread use of photography. Before this period, most publications didn’t have much imagery to accompany their stories. This exhibit covers the era when publications began using illustrated images to showcase the shipwrecks of the time, and didn’t always stay true to the reality of the situation. One can see dramatic illustrations of shipwrecks, rescue attempts and survivors, and the display includes panel text describing the artistic techniques the artists used to convey their message. There’s even a display with old lifejackets from the time period, one of which is made of cork!   Read more

A Long Way to Home

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Here, a religious service is held under one of the USS Iowa's gun batteries. From the Photograph Collection.

Hello, readers! My name is Brian Whitenton, and I’m now writing for The Mariners’ Museum Library blog as well The Mariners’ Museum Connections blog! Yaay!

So as we speak, one of the last remaining World War II battleships – the USS Iowa – is being towed to Los Angeles. Once it arrives, it will be a floating museum similar to the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia.   Fitting, since the USS Iowa and USS Wisconsin are both the same class of battleship (the Iowa class). This class was designed while WW II was raging, but what about the battleships that were already in existence? What about the ones at Pearl Harbor, for example?   Read more