The USS Monitor Center Blog

Powerful New Evidence Against Anthracite Coal

USS Monitor‘s engines were powered by steam generated by boiling water. Water was boiled by burning massive quantities of anthracite coal. Tons and tons of anthracite coal. Even when Monitor was under tow by the Rhode Island during her last hours afloat, coal was the driving force behind the movement of both vessels. Here is a picture of a small piece of anthracite coal excavated from the interior of Monitor‘s gun turret in 2002.

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Original letters penned by crew members of Monitor and modern-day books describe loads of coal as fuel. Archaeologists confirmed this information with their discoveries of coal at the wreck site within the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. But have archivists, historians, and archaeologists led us astray?

Most recently, new evidence has come to light that suggests a different form of power for our favorite Union ironclad. And dare I say — the evidence is strong.

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Was USS Monitor a pioneer in the development and use of 87 octane gasoline? Have the experts been wrong for the past 153 years? What do you think? We may need to re-write the history books…

Ask a conservator

Last week a group of 5th graders from a school in Chesapeake came to visit The Mariners’ Museum and took part in the Clash of Armor program. They wanted to know if we are going back to the wreck site of the USS Monitor. 

This is a great question, and as a matter of fact the underwater archaeologists from NOAA are going to be diving on the Monitor site this summer. They will be mapping the site. They are not planning to recover any more of the vessel. Thanks for the question. I hope you enjoyed your visit to the museum!

Looking from forward to aft on the USS Monitor. It will be interesting to see how different the site looks this summer.

Looking from forward to aft on the USS Monitor. It will be interesting to see how different the site looks this summer.

I’m hoping to create more Ask a Conservator posts, answering questions from visitors and school groups. If you have a question you would like to see answered on the blog you can email us at  just put “ask a conservator” in the subject line.


Another part of the story

When we speak of the story of the USS Monitor and the people involved in that story, more often than not we are referencing the crew. There is however, another group of people who played a key role in the history of the Monitor and their stories are not always heard. I am referring to the people who built her; the craftsmen who actually created the parts that were brought together to build the USS Monitor. In the process of conserving artifacts recovered from the wreck site, we do from time to time encounter maker’s marks. Researching the people who created those marks tells a whole other side to the Monitor story.

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Copper alloy valve before treatment.



Tiny block letters spelling out JOHN POWERS NEW YORK


I am treating a copper alloy valve that was removed from the front of the condenser. One of the first steps in treatment was the removal of the concretion still attached to the artifact. The removal of some concretion near the handle revealed a name and a place stamped in tiny block letters: John Powers New York. This is a name we had heard before as it also appears on a manometer. Our curator at the time, Anna Holloway, was able to find a reference to John Powers in an 1875 Goulding’s Business Directory of New York City. This was like finding the Yellow Pages’ ad for his business. John Powers is listed as the proprietor of the Manhattan Brass Foundry located at No. 438 East Tenth Street near Avenue D, New York. The entry states that the company does castings in brass and composition and that “All kinds of Ship and Boat work made to order” and “Repairs to Marchinery, etc punctually attended to.” Now having a name, address and an approximate date it was possible to use city directories and census records to put together the story of the life of John Powers.



The advertisement for John Powers’ business


John Powers was a pattern maker and machinist who lived in Manhattan in the mid nineteenth century. His wife’s name was Louisa. She had come to the United States from England with her family when she was a little girl. John and Louisa married young and had nine children. Five of whom were still living in 1900. The names of six of those nine children were Caroline, Julia, Franklin, Leonder, Alanson, and Jesse. Louisa’s mother, Susan Alexander, lived with the family when the children were young. I sincerely hope that John liked his mother-in-law as she lived with the family for at least five years. Two of the boys, Frank and Jesse, became machinists like their father when they were grown. Julia married a man named George White. He worked for the Board of Education as a clerk and later was the Secretary of the National Wall Paper Company. Julia and George had two daughters, Louisa and Adelle. Louisa became a school teacher.

John seems to have been an enterprising young man who did well for himself and his family. He started his own business before he was thirty five, a brass foundry and machinery. It is because he started this business that parts bearing his name ended up on the USS Monitor. I found two references to the brass foundry operated by John Powers in the 1890s. The first is from the Tenth Annual Report of the Factory Inspectors of the State of New York in 1896. There is an entry for a Brass Foundry and Machinery run by John Powers at 438 East 10th Street. He is listed as having 20 men working for him and having 58 hours of labour by minors. The entry also includes the fact that the business operated for eight hours on Saturday or Sunday. He received one citation from the factory inspectors; he was required to post a law. The second reference is from a publication called The Foundry from 1898. There is an entry that states “The Brass Foundry operated by John Powers at 438 East 10th Street New York City was damaged to the extent of $1000 by a fire June 18.”

The last reference to John and Louisa Powers that I could find was in the 1900 United States census. They were living with their daughter and son-in-law, Julia and George White. John was nearly 80 and said he was a merchant. John and Louisa told the census taker that they had been married for 53 years. They both lived long lives, and I hope they were good lives.

In all likelihood John Powers never set foot on the USS Monitor, but because of the work he did, his life is part of the story. It is a story with many moving parts that we will continue to learn about, but I think it is a story well worth telling.

Bells Across the Land

This is a photo of USS Monitor‘s engine room gong after conservation at The Mariners’ Museum. We briefly rang this gong in 2012 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the sinking of USS Monitor and to remember the lives of her crew lost off Hatteras, NC in 1862.

Engine Room Gong

On Thursday, April 9 at 3:00pm, staff and visitors at The Mariners’ will be joining the National Park Service’s Bells Across the Land initiative to commemorate 150th anniversary of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, which represents the symbolic end of the Civil War. We will host a ceremony aboard the USS Monitor replica outside the USS Monitor Center, hear brief remarks from speakers, observe a moment of silence, and ring the replica’s bronze bell.

Monitor Replica at Museum

This special event is free with paid admission and free to Museum members. Please click on this link for more information. We look forward to commemorating this historic anniversary with you and the rest of the nation. Let bells ring across the land.

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.