Civil War Lecture this Saturday on Technology in the 1800s

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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!

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The port Dahlgren gun carriage is fully disassembled!         

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Details of the bottom plates, friction plates and friction rollers. View from below and transverse section. Peterkin, 1985.

Last week Will was able to escape his desk for a few days and help take apart the last elements of the port gun carriage.

The complete braking mechanism was still in place, but by separating all of the parts  we are able to maximize the amount of salts extracted from the artifact down the road (aka: a conservator’s dream!). After studying the historic blue prints (see historic plan below), we knew that one piece was the key to this puzzle. We also knew that we would need access to both the upper- and under-side of the carriage. In order to gain access to both, Will custom welded a rig allowing the artifact to stand vertically during treatment.

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Discovery in the lab!

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I believe it has been said before on this blog and I have no doubt that it will be said again. Conservation is not a career for those who desire instant gratification in the work place. Treatment times tend to be long, especially for marine archaeological material where desalination is perhaps the most important process. That being said, every now and then there are days where discovery and success happen in an instant. Last week I was lucky enough to have one of those days.

I’m currently working on a copper alloy bicock valve that was removed from the front of the condenser.

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Quick Lab Update

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Last week, dry ice cleaning was performed on the port gun carriage’s wrought iron frame. This is the second time that this object has been cleaned with this technique. The first time was last spring and the carriage has been under electrolytic reduction since April. Speaking of electrolytic reduction (AKA “ER”), we often mention it but rarely explain the method. This is a stabilization technique that is used every day in this lab (and broadly in the field of conservation) and we can forget that it is not a simple matter… Our website has a great animation to illustrate the process, check it out here!

Last Wednesday was quite an exciting day for the team as we had fellow East Coast archaeological conservators visiting for the entire day! Nichole Doub from the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, Johanna Rivera from the Clemson University Restoration Institute (working on  the H.L. Hunley in Charleston, SC) as well as Emily Williams from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation were introduced to the joy that is dry ice blasting. Our project manager, Will, worked to establish the ideal parameters to clean wrought iron artifacts from the USS Monitor collection with dry ice over the last few years. During our colleagues’ visit, he shared the process that has been developed here and advised them on the procedure to follow, should they decide to invest in such a cleaning tool in the future. The day resulted in many nerdy conservation discussions regarding the original surface of artifacts, active corrosion processes and other pH related questions. Thrilling!!

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