This post is taking a break from the ever-excellent conservation efforts to talk about another important facet of the Monitor Center’s job. Don’t get me wrong; we love the artifacts. Not only are they super cool, but they also connect us to the people who served on board the ship. When we recover a spoon, or a button, or even engine components; we are the first people handling and caring for these artifacts since 1862. We are stewards of the crewmember’s stories.
In honor of African American History Month, I want share the stories of the African Americans who served onboard Monitor.
This week I thought it might be fun to look at one of our more unusual types of artifacts that I’ve been treating. We have tons (literally) of iron and copper artifacts in the lab, but for every two pipe flanges bolted together, there is also one gasket keeping things tight. The humble gasket can be found throughout the Monitor’s engine room, sandwiched between the copper piping and iron machinery parts. Its job was to keep the fittings air tight and prevent leaks. Most gaskets are made from layers of rubber and textile pressed together, but we do have gaskets made entirely of rubber and a few that are actually leather.
In addition to the gaskets, rubberized fabric, buttons, and combs have also been recovered. Despite the evidence of wide use aboard the Monitor, modern rubber was a relatively new material in 1862. Natural rubber was used before the 1800’s, but due to its unstable nature, it wasn’t suitable for many applications. Thanks to a number of people experimenting with additives and curing processes, more stable forms of rubber became commercially available. For instance, Charles Goodyear (who’s patent is stamped on the Monitor buttons) is credited with patenting vulcanized rubber which is much harder and durable than natural rubber.
Last weekend I finally went to see the new Star Wars movie, I know it’s been out since December I don’t always go to see movies when they’re brand new… Anyways, it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. But when I came back to work on Tuesday and started cleaning one of the gate valves from one of the Worthington pumps all I can think is how, if you turn it a certain way, it looks like a TIE fighter! It’s a very nice copper alloy valve and it’s going to look great when it’s finished. I’m not the only one making this parallel, you can see for yourself:
Join us this Saturday, January 14, for our monthly Civil War Lecture series!
This month we’re looking at the technological revolution of the 1800’s which gave birth to that marvelous ship the USS Monitor. But the Civil War “Battle of the Ironclads” is only a small part of the fascinating journey from sail to steam and wood to iron. From a revolving turret to rubber buttons, life aboard the Monitor was a reflection of changes occurring globally thanks to the civilian Industrial Revolution and the modernization of the world’s navies. We’ll examine the inventions in the decades leading up to the American Civil War and the evolution of technology as a result of that fateful day at Hampton Roads!