The USS Monitor Center Blog

Remembering USS Monitor, Her Designer, and Their Arch Rival

In October of 1862, USS Monitor was at the Washington Navy Yard for some maintenance and repairs. A commemorative inscription was stamped onto the breech of both of Monitor‘s XI-Inch Dahlgren shell guns at this time to celebrate the Battle of Hampton Roads by recognizing the important men and vessels that participated in the conflict.

The port Dahlgren was inscribed: “WORDEN. MONITOR & MERRIMAC.”

John Worden commanded Monitor during the 4-hour battle against the Confederate ironclad, was temporarily blinded by an exploding shell, and was forever beloved by his crew. His name stamped in the cast iron Dahlgren forever marks his place in ironclad history.

It is also interesting to note that the Union shipbuilders included the commonly mis-spelled name Merrimac rather than Virginia. USS Monitor never battled against the Merrimack, a Union wooden frigate that was later converted into the CSS Virginia by Confederate shipbuilders. Nonetheless, the addition of the vessels’ names was a significant way to recognize the importance of the battle and its participants and perhaps was an intentional snub of the famed Virginia.

What about the starboard Dahlgren’s inscription, you ask? Check this out:

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The mighty Swedish engineer John Ericsson designed USS Monitor. His name embellishes the starboard breech in close proximity to his ironclad and MERRIMAC. Also note that the weight of the Dahlgren (15,617 lbs.) appears clearly to the left side of the engraving.

Senior Conservator Will Hoffman took this incredibly detailed photo of the badly graphitized cast iron surface of Monitor‘s starboard Dahlgren shell gun. The inscription rests on the outboard side (facing away from the center of the turret) of the gun roughly midway between the right trunnion and cascabel. We are extremely fortunate that this beautiful inscription survives to this day because the surfaces of both guns corroded severely during 140 years of exposure to the warm, salty, and oxygenated waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream.

We will share a photo of the port Dahlgren inscription at a later date. In the meantime, please enjoy this decorative historical footnote from USS Monitor.

Help Identify a Mystery Artifact

Over the past 13 years, NOAA archaeologists and Mariners’ Museum conservators have discovered hundreds of amazing artifacts within USS Monitor‘s revolving gun turret. Some artifacts, like the Dahlgren guns, gun carriages, and gun tools, are undergoing conservation as I type this blog entry. Others have already been fully conserved and are now on display within the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum or have been loaned to other institutions around the country to help share Monitor‘s fascinating stories.

However, there are handful of artifacts that continue to mystify us in the lab, particularly those that have been fully conserved but not properly identified. It may sound strange or surprising that in the last 13 years we have not successfully identified every single artifact from the turret. But this is often the case when many materials are excavated from an archaeological setting.

Please examine the following pictures of a mystery artifact:


Picture2Picture3What do we know about this artifact? It was excavated from USS Monitor‘s gun turret, thoroughly embedded in layers of thick concreted sediment. It was not attached to anything. It is made of a copper alloy, likely bronze or brass. It is the shape of a 5-point star with rounded edges. Each point has a small dimple. The artifact is approximately 3/4″ tall x 3/4″ wide. Threads have been cut into the artifacts indicating that it was likely screwed onto the end of another object. It appears decorative but could also be utilitarian. It could have been attached to a component of the turret, or it could have been part of another object that was carried into the turret the night Monitor sank off Hatteras, NC.

What is this artifact? What purpose did it serve? How was it used? Why was this found in archaeological sediment inside the gun turret? We don’t have any of these answers and we need your help to solve this historical mystery. Please help us identify this Mystery Artifact.

Foul Weather and Ironclads Don’t Mix Well

I’m sad to say that our 2014 Civil War Lecture Series is winding down.


Our good buddy and ironclad guru, Jay Moore, PhD, will be sending us off in style. Please join us this Saturday, December 13, at 2:30pm in the Explorers Theater at The Mariners’ Museum as Jay presents “The Gale that Sank the Monitor“.

This isn’t your average presentation about the loss of USS Monitor. No sir, nothing average about it. Jay seamlessly combines history, geography, meteorology, the ocean, and our favorite ironclad in a tumultuous mix. I promise you this is not your great-great-great-grandfather’s type of history (even though it actually is).

Additionally, our 2015 Civil War Lecture Series kicks off January 17 at 2:30pm. Start the New Year with Conservator Kate Sullivan as she explores lesser-known Global Current Events in the 1860s and how they influenced the American Civil War. And vice versa.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Dr. Anna Holloway, our former Vice President of Museum Collections & Programs and Curator of the USS Monitor Center started her new job at the National Park Service this week. While she is missed here at the Monitor Center, we wish her well and hope that she is having a fantastic first week. Good luck Anna. We have no doubt you will be brilliant.

Silverware, Kitchen Mixers, and Guy Fieri. Oh My!

Guy Fieri? What does he have to do with USS Monitor?

Sometimes a random thing will send you down a research path you least expect.

I was sorting through some older files recently, and thinking about where I needed to file them. Exciting, I know. In doing so, I came across a folder that a former volunteer had put together. It contains his thoughts and sketches concerning a wood cabinet that was excavated from the turret in 2002. As I was perusing his drawings about what an intact version of the cabinet may have looked like, I decided to do a quick search on Civil War era silverware cabinets. Which got me thinking about the silverware pieces in the collection, and in particular, a spoon that may have been used for mustard and/or salt by the crew.

I pulled up the record for the spoon in our database and took another look at it. The maker’s mark on the back says “Rogers Bros A1”. We have four pieces of silverware that have their stamp. But, we had no further information in our artifact files. So I wondered, is some form of this company is still in existence now?

Here is the spoon. The pattern is called “Olive”.

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View of the maker’s mark

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We have had some success in finding a few companies that have a Monitor legacy well into the 21st century. It may not be a direct one, but they are out there. For instance, H. R. Worthington was the manufacturer of Monitor’s bilge pumps. Worthington, as a company, has gone through several evolutions and has a modern connection with Curtiss-Wright. We approached them about our efforts to reproduce one of the pumps, and their contributions have been a huge support! You can read about that particular project on the blog here

Excavating the history of a company on the internet can be quite a process, but I ended up quite successful in a fairly short period of time. I am still compiling data on all the company changes. But I did find it! Hooray!

Rogers Bros. was founded in 1847 in Connecticut by brothers Asa and Simeon Rogers. The company eventually banded with a group of silver and silverplating producers to form the International Silver Company in 1898. In the period since, International Silver was a very stable entity on its own until the 1950s. The company began to diversify and branch out into other markets. By the mid 1980s the International Silver brand was sold off as a subsidiary by what had become its parent company. It has gone through a couple companies and is now under Lifetime Brands.  Who sells brands you are quite familiar with today! Their products might be sitting in your kitchen right now. You might even have silverware with the “IS Rogers Bros.” maker’s mark on them in a drawer. Which means “International Silver Rogers Bros.”, and sometimes other marks were stamped in as well to refer to the quality of silver or silverplate.

Who is Lifetime Brands? Well, if you have any Mikasa, Farberware, KitchenAid, or even Guy Fieri products… then you have something from Lifetime!  You can investigate their product lines at,default,pg.html

I’ll be researching some more on our other silverware soon, so stayed tuned for further information. There are six other makers to investigate! I’m learning quite a bit about the history of American silverware and silver plating industries along the way, and really enjoying it. It’s right up there with all the interesting things I know about Papua New Guinea…but that’s a story for another time.

So, we think Guy Fieri should come and do a show here. Don’t you?

He could be an…IRONCLAD CHEF!


A Coat, Colleague, and Call for Preservation

Matthew Eng, our good friend and colleague from the Naval Historical Foundation in Washington, D.C., recently visited the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum. He was in town for the 10th Maritime Heritage Conference’s reception and we sneaked him inside the lab for an advanced viewing of one our most cherished artifacts.

As always, Matt’s writing encapsulates the heart and soul of what happens in the USS Monitor conservation lab and clearly demonstrates why preserving our collective maritime heritage is so important to the nation. Check out his story and pictures here:

Thanks again, Matt! And keep up the good work.

Doc Holloway Does Ironclads Differently

Think you know everything there is to know about your favorite Civil War ironclads and the Battle of Hampton Roads? Well, can you sing me a tune about the Monitor? Or how about recite some poetry about the Virginia?


Have I stumped you yet?


If so, join us this Saturday (September 6 @ 2:30pm) in The Mariners’ Museum’s Explorers Theater to hear a fun and creative presentation titled “Musical Monitors and Melodius Merrimacs: The Battle of Hampton Roads in Music and Poetry“.


Dr. Anna Holloway, Curator of the USS Monitor Center, will drop some new knowledge on us while she dazzles our ears and minds with a unique interpretation of the Battle of Hampton Roads. Get ready for an entertaining event.


This special presentation is free for Museum Members or with paid admission. See you there!

Thank you

We would like to say thank you to the members of the Chiefs Select Program from the USS Eisenhower and the USS Maryland. They came out to the museum last week and cleaned up the USS Monitor replica. This is a great group that volunteers annually at The Mariners’ Museum. We really appreciate all of the assistance they provide. Thanks so much.




Power washing the replica. It looks fantastic, all clean and shiny.

Power washing the replica. It looks fantastic, all clean and shiny.


Scrapping up dirt and debris from under the replica.

Scraping up dirt and debris from under the replica.

A good week

There were two exciting events for the Monitor conservation team this week. The first is that we finished the last of the work that needed to be done in the Tank Farm. It was very satisfying to see the end result of four months of outdoor labor. The six tanks out in the Tank Farm had their contents reorganized, new anodes installed and new solutions prepared. The final step for each tank was to cover it with a tarp.

Our second event came as an opportunity to drive down and visit the conservation laboratory of the Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project. The conservators gave us a great tour of their lab where they are treating  the artifacts excavated from what is believed to be the wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. For those unfamiliar with the Queen Anne’s Revenge, it sank in 1718 and was the flagship of Edward Teach, who was also known as Blackbeard. If you want to learn more about the Queen Anne’s Revenge, you should check out the project’s website, located here.

Work completed in all of the tanks.

A tidy Tank Farm with all work complete.


A line of tarp covered tanks.

A line of tarp covered tanks.


Have a great weekend. Check back to the blog soon for more updates on lab activities.

12 Years Ago Today

​On August 5, 2002, experts from NOAA, the United States Navy, and The Mariners’ Museum achieved something many people thought was impossible — the recovery of USS Monitor‘s 120-ton revolving gun turret from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

Image Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Image Courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Although 12 years isn’t a milestone anniversary, the recovery is still an epic achievement that should be noted and celebrated. Even the History Channel joined us today in recognizing this major feat of underwater archaeology:
Here are a few additional images of this wrought iron beauty:
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Image Courtesy of Epic Scan.

Image Courtesy of Epic Scan.

Happy Turret 12th to The Mariners’ Museum, NOAA, U.S. Navy, and everybody involved with the recovery!