Library

The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University holds the largest maritime history collection in the Western Hemisphere.  With its rich collections and international scope, the Library is a premier resource for maritime research. 

The Library collections consists of over 1,750,000 items including books, magazines, rare books, manuscripts, maps and charts, vessel plans, newspaper articles, photographs, Chris-Craft archives, and The Mariners’ Museum’s archives. The Herbert H. Bateman Maritime Research Center, located within the Library, provides access to the Library’s online catalog, reference materials in the Reading Room and contains the main book, periodical, and photograph collections.

The purpose of the Library, as envisioned by founder Archer M. Huntington, is to provide a research center for students, writers, scientists, and others pursuing various lines of maritime investigation. In addition, it is to create a repository for reference materials to be used by the staff in connection with the identification, appraisal, maintenance and display of the Museum’s collections, exhibits and programs.

The Mariners' Library blog banner
Enjoy thoughts, stories, and a bit of history from our Library staff, featuring some of the best photos, plans, and drawings from the Library’s vast archives.

 

 

The Mariners’ Library at Christopher Newport University houses the largest maritime history collection in the Western Hemisphere. The Library strives to make its collection equally accessible to students, researchers and lovers of history.

 

LIBRARY HOURS

Monday – Friday 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM

The Library will be closed on the following days:

  • Monday, September 1st

Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

 

LOCATION & DIRECTIONS

The Mariners’ Museum Library is located on the campus of Christopher Newport University in the Paul and Rosemary Trible Library.

Directions are available here:
http://cnu.edu/directions/

 

The Library is open to the public free of charge.

  • Contact us in advance, if you plan to conduct in-depth research or use our special collections including rare books, manuscripts, maps, vessel plans or Chris-Craft material.
  • Search the Library’s online catalog and other finding aides to identify items of interest.
  • Browse our reference books, which include the most comprehensive collection of ship registers in North America.
  • Due to the rare and fragile nature of the Library collection, the book stacks are closed to the public. Staff members are available to assist visitors with their research and will page requested material.
  • Materials are available for use only in the Library and are not available for interlibrary loan.

 

The Special Collections area of The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University collects manuscripts, maps and charts, and log books and journals on the history of humankind’s relationship to the sea and its tributaries. 

POPULAR COLLECTIONS

View two of our most popular collections:

John L. Hacker Collection (PDF)
Robert G. Speltz Collection (PDF)

Begin your search of the Library’s manuscripts, logbooks, and journals.

 

Learn more about our ships’ plans and drawings.

 

Major themes include maritime history, technology, art, commerce, and culture of the sea. Following is a list of our most significant collection topics:

Discover the largest inlet in the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the eastern United States. Find information on the history, settlement, exploration, culture, art, customs, commerce, recreation, navigation and seafaring life of the ports of Hampton Roads, of the Virginia portions of the Bay and of its tributaries. Search for material on Bay boats, as well as selected items on Maryland portions of the Bay, estuaries, marine resources, and the natural environment and stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay.

  • Alexander C. Brown Papers: 1940-1980
    Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal; Dismal Swamp; Juniper Waterway; Lightships; RMS Lusitania; Old Bay Line (Baltimore Steam Packet Company); US Coast Guard; US Navy; Virginia Pilots; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, notes, photographs (MS137)
  • Baltimore Steam Packet Company Collection: 1924-1959
    Chesapeake Bay; Steamship Travel—annual reports, financial statements (MS201)
  • Captain F. W. Hershey Papers: 1921-1932
    Yawls—journals (MS037)
  • E. Runk Kayan Collection: 1890′s
    Chesapeake Bay, Sailing Vessels-photographs (MS272)
  • Menhaden Products Company Papers: 1920′s-1930′s
    Fishing Industry—correspondence (MS027) 
  • Records of the Virginia Pilot Association, 1866-1984
    Chesapeake Bay-pilots and pilotage—correspondence, photographs, ledgers (MS114)

Relive the Battle of Hampton Roads through eye-witness accounts and contemporary interpretations. Examine archaeological discoveries and learn how the event was viewed by the 19th-century press. Delve into all aspects relating to the design, construction, and operation of the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. Review material from the NOAA MonitorNational Marine Sanctuary USS Monitor Collection and related material on Civil War naval history.

Become immersed in the ethnology, anthropology, religion, mythology, traditions, music, literary works, superstitions, and medical practices relating to the sea. Explore traditions and myths surrounding fishing rituals, crossing-the-line ceremonies, the lost city of Atlantis, sea monsters and tattoos. Survey maritime art including paintings, jewelry, printing, textiles, object d’art, scrimshaw, ship models, photographs, drawings, sculpture, rope work, knot work, furniture, figureheads, porcelain, pottery, folk art, woodcarving.

  • Ashley’s Book of Knots Manuscript Collection: 1944
    Knots—drawings, notes (MS166)
  • Carl Everingham Collection: 1960′s
    Figureheads—correspondence, ephemera, notes, photographs, publications (MS160)
  • Chandi Singer Venetian Gondola Collection: 1865–2011
    Gondolas in art; Gondoliers; Venice (Italy) – postcards, photographs, paintings, music, lithographs, ephemera(MS0522)
  • Charles M. Wright Collection: 1850′s-1930′s
    Figureheads; Sailing Vessels—photographs (MS268)
  • Edwin Tappan Adney Papers: 1897-1949
    Birch; Boatbuilding; Canoes and Canoeing; Fur Trade; Indians of North America; Indians of South America; Languages; Migrations; Models—clippings, correspondence, drawings, manuscripts, notes, photographs (MS20)
  • Elwin M. Eldredge Collection: 1800-1964
    Maritime Art; Maritime Commerce; Ship Construction; Steamships; Steamship Companies; Steamship Travel; Tourism; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper and magazine articles, notes, photograph albums, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS091)
  • Henry Bushby’s “Notes on Knots” Manuscript Collection: 1902-1926
    Knots; knot theory; ropework – manuscript notebooks (MS0519)
  • R. S. Brenner Collection: 1970′s
    Boatswain Calls—photographs (MS307)
  • Roux Research Collection: 1950′s
    Maritime Art—newspaper articles, note, photographs (MS297)
  • Sheet Music Collection: 1850′s-1950′s
    Music; Patriotism; Popular Culture; US Navy—sheet music (MS093)
  • Sound Recording Collection: 1930′s-present
    Folk Music; The Mariners’ Museum; Music; Oral Interviews; Popular Music; Steamship Whistles—cassette tapes, compact discs, reel tapes, vinyl discs (MS019)

Search primary and secondary sources on voyages and expeditions that occurred over the past two thousand years. Although the concentration is on the last four hundred years, this topic contains descriptions of all types of voyages: circum-navigational, trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, Indian Ocean, and polar. Accounts contain geographic, navigational, political, economic, cultural, scientific, and natural history information, as well as personal narratives and biographical data.

  • Baldwin-Ziegler Collection: 1901
    SS Frithjof; Polar Exploration—photograph albums (MS271)
  • D. F. Welch Collection: 1910′s
    Antarctic Exploration; Scott Expedition—photographs (MS264)
  • Eclipse Expedition Photo Album: 1889
    Eclipse Expedition; USS Pensacola (1859)—photograph albums (MS321)
  • Edward Peirce Collection, 1848-1852
    Andalusia; California Gold Rush—correspondence, maps, drawing (MS12)
  • Francis L. Galt Papers: undated
    CS Navy; CSS Alabamajournal entries (photocopies) (MS328)
  • George M. Parker Papers: 1843-1856
    Commodore Matthew C. Perry; Expeditions, Japan—correspondence, ships’ papers (MS214)
  • Joseph Judge Papers: 1980′s-1990′s
    Age of Exploration; Christopher Columbus—notes (MS025)
  • Robert B. Pegram Collection: 1830-1864
    CS Navy; Japan Expedition, 1854; Commodore Matthew C. Perry; USS Powhatan; US Navy—certificates, correspondence, ephemera (MS084)
  • Robert G. Skerrett Collection: 1880′s-1940′s
    Aeronautics; Diving; RMS Lusitania; Naval Aviation; Naval Medicine; SS Normandie; Robert Peary; Polar Exploration; Salvage; Ship Launchings; Steamships; Submarines; Torpedoes; US Navy; World War II—newspaper and magazine articles, correspondence, ephemera, government papers, manuscripts, patents, photographs, plans (MS163)
  • Tim Severin Collection: 1992-1993
    The China Voyage: Across the Pacific by Bamboo Raft—newspaper articles, correspondence, notes (MS085)
  • USRC Bear Collection: 1890′s
    Alaska; Arctic Exploration; US Revenue Cutter Service (USCG)—photographs; negatives (MS145)

Examine maps, charts, and atlases dating from the 16th century to the present. Investigate works on cartography, historical geography, global locations, islands, ports, coastal communities, astronomy, geography of the oceans, natural resources, migration, and selected items on oceanography. Gain knowledge of national borders, natural resources, the slave trade, growth of nations, military engagements and sea power.

  • Edward Peirce Collection, 1848-1852
    Andalusia; California Gold Rush—correspondence, maps, drawing (MS12)
  • Stewart B. Nelson Collection: 1960′s-1970′s
    Oceanography—photographs, notes (MS143)
  • William Sanger Collection: 1898-1903
    Lighthouses; US Coast and Geodetic Survey; US Navy—charts, correspondence, journals, maps, photographs, survey books (MS136)

Explore histories, port activities, papers, photographs and images of major seaport cities, harbors, and river and coastal towns. There is a strong focus on North America.

  • Atlantic Deeper Waterways Collection: 1909
    Norfolk, VA—photographs (MS245)
  • Baltimore Port Authority Records: 1797-1805
    Maritime Commerce; Ports—government papers, ships’ papers (MS141)
  • Charles R. Patterson Collection: 1930′s-1940′s
    Ellis Island; New York NY—photographs (MS255)
  • Dennis P. Meyers Stereoview Collection: 1860′s-1910′s
    Ports; Steamships—stereoviews (MS308)
  • John Bowen Collection: 1960′s-1970′s
    Harbors; Lighthouses; Navigation—photographs (MS191)
  • Milton H. Dickey Collection: 1921-1963
    Ports (Asia and Europe); US Navy—booklets, certificates, newspaper articles, photographs (MS244)
  • Records of the Virginia Pilot Association, 1866-1984
    Chesapeake Bay-pilots and pilotage—correspondence, photographs, ledgers (MS114)
  • Virginia Ferry Corporation Papers: 1941
    Del-Mar-Va Peninsula; Virginia Ferry Corporation—correspondence, ephemera, photographs, publications (MS119)
  • Virginia Pilots Association Papers: 1900′s-1980′s
    Maritime Commerce; Virginia Pilots—certificates, financial papers, journals, microfilms, minutes, photographs, publications (MS114)
  • William B. Collier Collection: 1917-1949
    Virginia Pilots—certificates, correspondence, photographs (MS241)

Reconstruct the immigrant’s maritime experience, and in particular, emigration to North America. View selected passenger lists and indexes, as well as books on immigrant ships, early trans-Atlantic migrations, and immigration law. Uncover information on forced migrations, such as the transatlantic and coastal slave trades, and the movement of indentured servants.

Peruse information on canals, inland waterways and watercraft. Review business papers, correspondence and photographs of waterways, including the Great Dismal Swamp.

  • Alexander C. Brown Papers: 1940-1980
    Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal; Dismal Swamp; Juniper Waterway; Lightships; RMS Lusitania; Old Bay Line; US Navy; US Coast Guard; Virginia Pilots; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, notes, photographs, research material (MS137)
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company Papers: 1836-1843
    Canals; Inland Waterways—business papers (MS211)
  • Clinton Havill Papers: 1915
    USS Ohio; Panama Canal—correspondence (MS243)
  • W. W. Old Collection: 1930′s
    Chesapeake-Albemarle Canals—photographs (MS251)

Search lighthouse reports, histories, personal narratives, architectural drawings, and correspondence. Examine photographs of lighthouses, lighthouse keepers, lifeboats and the US Lifesaving Service.

  • Captain H. A. Burns Papers: 1909-1934
    Lighthouses; Mallory Line; Merchant Marine; US Navy; World War I—certificates, correspondence, journals, logbooks, ships’ papers (MS028)
  • John Bowen Collection: 1960′s-1970′s
    Harbors; Lighthouses; Navigation—photographs (MS191)
  • Joseph Francis Papers: 1849-1851
    Lifeboats; Lifesaving—correspondence (MS304)
  • Nancy H. Marshall Lighthouse Photograph Collection, 1950s-2000
    Lighthouses—photographs, postcards, stamps, ephemera (MS340)
  • Ralph Smith Collection: 1930′s
    Lighthouse Keepers; Lighthouses—photographs (MS190)
  • William Sanger Collection: 1898-1903
    Lighthouses; US Coast and Geodetic Survey; US Navy—charts, correspondence, journals, maps, photographs, survey books (MS136)

Learn about the history of The Mariners’ Museum, founded by Archer and Anna Huntington in Newport News, Virginia in 1930.

  • Anna H. Huntington Sculpture Collection: 1930s
    Art; Huntington Family—photographs (MS259)
  • Brookgreen Gardens Collection: 1930s
    Huntington Family—photographs (MS252)
  • Cerinda Evans Papers: 1880′s-1960′s
    Huntington Family; Newport News, VA; Railroads—business papers, certificates, correspondence, ephemera, microfilm, notes (MS004)
  • Frederick F. Hill Collection: 1935-1937
    Maritime Artifacts; Nautical Instruments; Shipbuilding—photographs (MS157)
  • Iconography of Ships Collections: 1932
    Hispanic Society of America; Huntington Family—photographs (MS284)

Study international harbors, port authorities, marine terminals, and major trade routes. Research merchant companies and steamship lines that shaped history. Browse information on fisheries, whaling, the seafood industry, ocean mining, maritime shipping law and the trade of particular goods.

  • A. P. Burruss Collection: 1918-1945
    Merchant Marine—postcards, shore passes (MSS248)
  • Agents of Virginia Collection: 1772-1802
    Maritime Commerce; Norfolk, VA—correspondence (MS242)
  • Alan A. Lynn Collection: 1948-1949
    Merchant Marine—certificates, photographs, postcards (MS183)
  • Albert Barnes Collection: 1820-1968
    Fishing; Menhaden; Whaling—correspondence, drawings, ephemera, newspaper and magazine articles, notes, photographs (MS198)
  • Baltimore Steam Packet Company Collection: 1924-1959
    Chesapeake Bay; Steamship Travel—annual reports, financial papers (MS201)
  • Calvin W. Becker Papers: 1870′s-1890′s
    Maritime Commerce; Sailmaking—certificates, correspondence (MS082)
  • Captain H. A. Burns Papers: 1909-1934
    Lighthouses; Mallory Line; Merchant Marine; US Navy; World War I—certificates, correspondence, journals, logbooks, ships’ papers (MS028)
  • Charles P. Leverick Collection: 1850′s-1860′s
    Maritime Commerce; Steamship Companies; United States Mail Steamship Company—correspondence, ships’ papers(MS069)
  • D. F. Barry Collection: 1900′s-1920′s
    Great Lakes Shipping, Whaleback Ships—photographs (MS263)
  • Dudley Woodbridge Papers: 1780′s
    Maritime Commerce—business papers (MS100)
  • Ed Kacyinski Papers: 1940′s-1950′s
    Merchant Marine—certificates, scrapbooks (MS148)
  • Elwin M. Eldredge Collection: 1800-1964
    Maritime Art; Maritime Commerce; Ship Construction; Steamships; Steamship Companies; Steamship Travel; Tourism; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper articles, notes, photograph albums, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS091)
  • Frederick J. Sedgewick Collection: 1890’s-1930’s
    Maritime Commerce; Steamship Travel; Tourism—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper articles, notes, photographs, postcards (MS095)
  • George H. Howland Papers: 1849-1856
    Maritime Commerce—correspondence, ledger books (MS106)
  • H. B. Smith Collection: 1910′s
    Collingwood Shipbuilding Company; Shipyards—photograph albums (MS279)
  • Hendricks Brothers Collection: 1847-1886
    Cargo; Shipping—accounts, bills of lading, receipts (MS210)
  • Henry Eagleton Papers: 1870′s-1920′s
    Maritime Commerce; Merchant Marine; World War I—certificates, correspondence, journals, maps, newspaper articles, photographs, postcards, tables (MS029)
  • Horne Brothers Collection: 1940′s-1950′s
    Hampton Roads, VA; Liberty Ships—financial papers, photographs, plans (MS222)
  • Isaac Harris Papers: 1845-1863
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence, legal papers, newspaper articles, ships’ papers (MS036)
  • J. M. Hood Company Papers: 1849-1860
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence (MS103)
  • Jerry Bielicki Collection: 1970′s-1980′s
    Great Lakes Shipping—photographs (MS173)
  • John Frye Collection: 1920′s-1980′s
    Hampton Roads, VA; Menhaden Fishing; Workboats—photographs (MS199)
  • John P. Reeder Collection: 1880′s-1960′s
    Great Lakes Shipping; Small Craft; Steamships—notes, photographs (MS147)
  • Ken and Jean Haviland Collection: 1900-1986
    Chinese Steamboats, Maritime Commerce, Shipwrecks, Steamship Travel—clippings, photographs, notes, subject files(MS342)
  • Massachusetts Fishing Voyages Collection: 1798-1814
    Fishing Industry—logbooks (MS051)
  • Menhaden Products Company Papers: 1920′s-1930′s
    Fishing Industry—correspondence (MS027)
  • Merchant Marine Collection: 1930′s-1960′s
    Maritime Commerce; Merchant Marine; Port Security; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, legal papers, manuscripts, photographs (MS112)
  • Nathan Long Papers: 1793-1815
    Insurance; Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence (MS101)
  • Newport News US Customs Collection: 1900-1950
    Newport News, VA; Maritime Commerce; US Customs Service—government papers, legal papers, ships’ papers(MS040)
  • Olive S. Southard Papers: 1870′s-1880′s
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence, ships’ papers (MS124)
  • Pennsylvania Railroad Vessels in Hampton Roads: 1930′s 1950′s
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence, photographs (MS128)
  • Phil Meyers Collection: 1940′s-1970′s
    Cargo Vessels; Tankers—photographs (MS 178)
  • Reanie, Neafie & Company Papers: 1844-1861
    Maritime Commerce; Ship Design; Steamships—business papers, correspondence, journals (MS102)
  • Roanes General Store Collection: 1870′s-1890′s
    Hampton Roads, VA; Maritime Commerce; Old Dominion Steamship Company—business papers (MS060)
  • Robert J. Williams: 1944-1946
    Merchant Marine—certificates, identification cards, photographs (MS218)
  • Sail Card Collection: 1840′s-1870′s
    Maritime Commerce; Travel—advertisements, schedules (MS009)
  • Sailing Card Collection, 1850
    Clipper Ships; Advertisements—sail cards (MS9)
  • Samuel H. Harrison Collection: 1950′s-1960′s
    Getty Oil; Oil Exploration; Ship Construction; Tankers—business records, correspondence, ephemera, handbooks, photograph albums, reports (MS126)
  • Securities Collection: 1840′s-present
    Railroads; Shipping Companies—certificates, legal papers (MS053)
  • Seth Low Papers: 1830-1835
    Maritime Commerce—ships’ papers (MS070)
  • Stewart & Nesbitt Papers: 1782-1790
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence (MS001)
  • Swift & Allen Papers: 1839-1863
    Whaling—correspondence (MS257)
  • Thomas Downing Papers: 1950′s-1970′s
    Fisheries; Maritime Commerce; Maritime Legislation; Merchant Marine; US Congress—bills, correspondence, ephemera, notes, photographs, reports (MS138)
  • Thomas McKnight Papers: 1879-1903
    Merchant Marine—certificates, correspondence (MS107)
  • Thomas Reynolds Collection: 1920′s-1930′s
    Merchant Marine—photographs (MS172)
  • Thomas W. Williams Papers: 1850-1880
    Whaling—booklets, correspondence, crew lists, deeds, ships’ papers (MS044)
  • Townsend & Stanton Collection: 1758-1836
    Maritime Commerce—bills of lading (MS109)
  • Whalemen’s Shipping List Collections:
    Whaling— (MS288)
  • William Barthold Lamont Lieste Papers: 1918-1957
    Merchant Marine—certificates, correspondence, ephemera, ships’ papers (MS046)
  • William C. Hoffman Shipping Agents Papers: 1795-1934
    Maritime Commerce—insurance papers, ships’ papers (MS039)
  • William Dennett Papers: 1830′s-1850′s
    Maritime Commerce—business papers (MS026)
  • Moses Taylor Barque Rapid Ship’s Papers
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, ships’ papers (MS115)
  • William Hagey Papers: 1909-1950
    Merchant Marine—certificates, ephemera, notes, plans, postcards (MS087)
  • William Hunt & Company Papers: 1829-1872
    Maritime Commerce—business papers, correspondence, ships’ papers (MS127)
  • Witherle Shipping Collection: 1790′s-1860′s
    Maritime Commerce—ships’ papers (MS061)

Become engaged in the development, growth, technological advances, and use of naval power. This material is international in scope, with an emphasis on North American and European navies and ranges from ancient eras to recent conflicts. Review vessel histories and firsthand, press and photographic accounts of naval campaigns. Analyze naval strategies, ordnance, the rise of the defense industries, and the development of submersible craft, steam powered craft, iron clad ships, air power, and battleships. Study the flags, manuals, prisons, customs, ceremonies, and medicine related to naval life.

  • A. A. Hoehling “Great War at Sea” Collection: 1950′s
    World War I—manuscripts, notes (MS047)
  • A. A. Hoehling Photograph Collection: 1914-1919
    German Navy; U-Boats; World War I—photographs (MS258)
  • Admiral David G. Farragut Collection: 1861-1865
    Battle of Mobile Bay; Civil War; US Navy—correspondence, military papers (MS313)
  • Andrew Calligeris Papers: 1934-1966
    Merchant Marine; US Coast Guard; World War II—certificates, journals, notes (MS113)
  • Arthur K. Thompson Papers: 1917-1939
    Subchasers; US Naval Auxiliary Reserve; World War I—correspondence, manuals, notes, photographs (MS133)
  • Barna Cook Papers: 1863-1865
    Civil War; US Navy—military papers (MS078)
  • Captain H. A. Burns Papers: 1909-1934
    Lighthouses; Mallory Line; Merchant Marine; US Navy; World War I—certificates, correspondence, journals, logbooks, ships’ papers (MS028)
  • Carlton Chapman Collection: 1898-1899
    Spanish-American War; US Navy—scrapbooks (MS042)
  • Chester A. Lozier Papers: 1917-1918
    USS Cumberland; US Navy; World War I—correspondence (MS038)
  • Cigarette Card Collection: 1910′s-1950′s
    Royal Navy; German Navy; Pirates; Steamships; US Navy; World War I; World War II—cards (MS204)
  • Coleman Kent Papers: 1944-1945
    US Navy; World War II—correspondence, photographs (MS043)
  • Don E. Gammon Collection: 1920′s-1980′s
    Steamships; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, photographs, plans, notes (MS168)
  • E. L. Elliot Papers: 1940′s-1980′s
    US Navy; World War II—certificates, ephemera, negatives, photographs, reports (MS088)
  • Elwin M. Eldredge Collection: 1800-1964
    Maritime Art; Maritime Commerce; Ship Construction; Steamships; Steamship Companies; Steamship Travel; Tourism; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper and magazine articles, notes, photograph albums, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS091)
  • English Ordnance Manual: 1843
    Royal Navy; Gunnery—drawings; manuscripts (MS265)
  • Erastus W. Smith Papers: 1840-1880
    Ship Construction; Steamships; US Navy—correspondence, government papers, plans, ships’ papers (MS067)
  • Ernest W. Stirling Collection: 1923
    USS Mississippi; US Navy—photograph albums (MS231)
  • Ernest Peterkin Collection: 1914-1919
    Royal Navy; German Navy; U-155; U-Boat; World War I—photographs (MS181)
  • Henry X. Wright Papers: 1849-1924
    CS Navy—certificates, military papers, regulations (MS0072)
  • Henry W. Phillips Papers: 1863-1868
    Armored Vessels; US Navy—correspondence, military papers (MS074)
  • Fred Archer Collection Papers: 1940′s-1970′s
    Merchant Marine; US Navy; World War II—certificates, ephemera, newspaper articles, notes (MS086)
  • Frigate Virginia Research Collection: 1778-1780
    American Revolution; British Navy; HMS Blonde; HMS Virginia—logbooks, manuscripts, notes (MS130)
  • George S. Geer Family Papers, 1862-1995
    Battle of Hampton Roads; USS Monitor—correspondence (MS0010)
  • George F. Pushan Collection: 1917-1919, 1992
    USS Henderson; US Navy; USS Virginia; World War I—photographs (MS174)
  • George Masters, Jr. Collection: 1944-1946
    Seabees; US Navy—accounts, newsletters, photographs, postcards (MS182)
  • George S. Geer Papers: 1862-1866
    Battle of Hampton Roads; USS Monitor—correspondence (MS010)
  • George Warming Collection: 1915-1917
    German Commerce Raiders; German POWs; German Village, Newport News, VA; World War I—ephemera, photographs, postcards (MS189)
  • H.A. Richardson Letter: 1862 March 27
    Peninsular Campaign, USS Monitor — correspondence (MS0317)
  • Harold Sniffen Collection: 1942-1945
    Japan Campaign; Landing Ships; US Navy; World War II—certificates, correspondence, military papers, photographs, plans (MS057)
  • Harry S. Taylor Papers: 1910′s-1920′s
    US Navy; World War I—certificates, correspondence, notes, photographs, scrapbooks (MS059)
  • Henry D. Wilson Collection: 1880′s-1910′s
    Great White Fleet; Spanish-American War; US Navy—scrapbooks (MS161)
  • Henry M. Wright Papers: 1861-1917
    CS Navy—certificates, military papers, regulations (MS072) 
  • Henry W. Phillips Papers: 1863-1868
    Armored Vessels; US Navy—correspondence, military papers (MS074)
  • Isaac Newton Papers: 1840-1935
    Armored Vessels; John Ericsson; USS Monitor; Peninsula Campaign; CSS Virginiacertificates, correspondence, ephemera, military papers, notes, photographs, publications, reports (MS013)
  • J. G. Dugdale Collection: 1914-1916
    Royal Navy; Gallipoli Campaign; HMS Prince of Wales; World War I—photograph album (MS196)
  • Jacob Nicklis Papers: 1862-1863
    Civil War; USS Monitor; US Navy—correspondence (MS363)
  • Jay Warren Collection: 1920′s-1930′s
    Destroyers; US Navy—photographs (MS170)
  • John Ericsson Letter:  1864
    USS Monitor, John Ericsson—letter (MS0312)
  • John B. Huhn Collection: 1920′s-1940′s
    Aviation; US Navy—ephemera, photographs (MS171)
  • John C. Beaumont Journal, 1862-1863
    Civil War, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, USS Sebago, USS Nantucket, Siege of Charleston, Fort Wagner—journal(MS409)
  • John Ericsson Letter: 1864
    USS Monitorcorrespondence (MS312)
  • John L. Worden Papers:1844-1896
    USS Monitorcertificates, correspondence, ephemera, photographs, reports (MS016)
  • John O. Sands Papers: 1960′s-1970′s
    American Revolution; Underwater Archaeology; “Yorktown’s Captive Fleet”—correspondence, manuscript, notes, photographs (MS144)
  • Joseph D. Legere Papers: 1944-1946
    USS Gherardi; World War II—correspondence (MS066)
  • Lester Beardslee Collections: 1890′s-1900′s
    Asia; Expeditions, Japan, Commodore Matthew C. Perry; South America; US Navy—invitations, newspaper articles, photographs, programs (MS260)
  • Lily McCarthy Collection: 1780′s-1950′s
    Royal Navy; Horatio Nelson—maps, photographs, plans, stamps (MS285)
  • Lorraine M. Bartlett Papers: 1943-1945
    US Navy WAVES; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, military papers, newspaper articles, photographs(MS041)
  • Mclwane Naval Career Collection: 1920′s
    Naval Training Station, Newport, RI; Seaplanes; US Navy—scrapbooks (MS150)
  • Milton H. Dickey Collection: 1921-1963
    Ports (Asia and Europe); US Navy—booklets, certificates, newspaper articles, photographs (MS244)
  • P. Shepard/Stephen Donelly Papers: 1885-1891
    USS Juanita; US Navy—journal (MS291)
  • Postal Stamp and Cover Collection: 1840-present
    Foreign Navies; Ports; Steamships; US Navy—envelopes, stamps (MS002)
  • Rezin H. Gist Letters: 1813
    War of 1812; USS Chippewa; Dudley’s Defeat –correspondence (MS0292)
  • Robert G. Skerrett Collection: 1880′s-1940′s
    Aeronautics; Diving; RMS Lusitania; Naval Aviation; Naval Medicine; SS Normandie; Robert Peary; Polar Exploration; Salvage; Ship Launchings; Steamships; Submarines; Torpedoes; US Navy; World War II—articles, correspondence, ephemera, government reports, manuscripts, newspaper articles, patents, photographs, plans (MS163)
  • Robert Loder Papers: 1917-1918
    US Navy; World War I—correspondence, photographs (MS065)
  • T. B. DeNegre, Jr. Papers: 1898
    Monitor Type Vessels; Spanish-American War; US Navy—photographs, scrapbooks (MS151)
  • Thomas F. Rowland Collection: 1862-1910
    Continental Iron Works; USS Kaatskill; USS Monitorcontracts, notes, patents, photograph albums, plans (MS376)
  • Thomas H. Stevens Papers: 1862
    USS Monitor; Charles Wilkes—correspondence, military papers (MS358)
  • USS Bon Homme Richard Collection: 1940′s-1960′s
    Aviation; US Navy—photographs (MS177)
  • USS Constellation: 1910′s-1920′s
    USS Constellation; US Navy Vessels—newspaper articles, photographs (MS253)
  • USS Hampton Collection: 1993-present
    Submarines; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, minutes, photographs, plans (MS035)
  • USS Java Outfitting Papers: 1815
    Commodore Oliver H. Perry; US Navy—ships’ papers (MS215)
  • USS Monitor Design and Construction Collection: 1861-1862
    Cornelius Bushnell; CS Navy; CSS Alabama; John A. Griswold; US Navy; USS Monitor—correspondence, receipts, telegraphs (MS335)
  • Virgil N. Respess Papers: 1942-1955
    US Coast Guard; World War II—certificates (MS301)
  • Virginia Ferguson Papers: 1910-1914
    Aviation; Eugene Ely; Underwater Photography; Wreck Sites—newspaper articles, photographs (MS235)
  • W. R. Akers Papers: 1912
    USS Texasnotes (MS186)
  • William Culver: 1941-1945
    US Navy; World War II—correspondence, manuscripts, notes (MS129)
  • William Moneghan Papers: 1861-1862
    Peninsula Campaign; USS Monitor; CSS Virginia—correspondence (MS014)
  • William Pinkney Papers: 1807-1808
    Chesapeake-Leopard Affair—correspondence (MS097)
  • William S. Wheeler Papers: 1856
    US Navy—notes (MS185)
  • World War II US Navy Ship History Collection: 1930′s-1950′s
    US Navy; World War II—ephemera, manuscripts, notes, photographs (MS200)

Explore information on coastal, inland and ocean navigation. Study material on seamanship, including skills necessary to operate vessels, such as celestial navigation and the use of navigational instruments, including horological instruments. Seek out works on navigational aids, such as buoys, nautical tables, pilot’s guides and sailing directories. Find selected items on maritime weather and safety at sea.

  • Addington D. Frye Papers: 1865-1868
    Compass Adjustment—correspondence (MS208)
  • Charles H. B. Caldwell Collection: 1865
    Signal Codes—correspondence, drawings (MS238)
  • Edward J. Willis Collection: 1920′s-1930′s
    Aerial Navigation; Altitude; Navigation; US Navy—charts, correspondence, newspaper articles, manuscripts, reports(MS162)
  • Edward J. Willis Collection: 1932-1936
    Navigational Instruments—patents (MS108)
  • English Ordnance Manual: 1843
    Royal Navy; Gunnery—drawings; manuscripts (MS265)
  • John Bowen Collection: 1960′s-1970′s
    Harbors; Lighthouses; Navigation—photographs (MS191)
  • R. S. Brenner Collection: 1970′s
    Boatswain Calls—photographs (MS307)
  • Werner Caskel: 1930′s
    Astrolabes; Navigational Instruments—manuscripts, notes (MS295)

Follow your recreational interests into boating, sailing, cruising, water sports, races and the history of Chris-Craft industries and antique classic boats. Trace histories of the Gold Cup Races, water skiing, surfboarding, wakeboarding, swimming, beaches, boat shows, yacht clubs, recreational fishing, diving, rafting, rowing, tubing and other water sports.

  • Arthur Piver Collection: 1950′s-1960′s
    Construction; Design; Multi-Hulls; Recreational Boating; Small Craft; Tri-Marans—correspondence, drawings, notes, photographs, plans, publications (MS232)
  • Barney M. Kerstine Collection: 1942-1947
    Dodge Boat & Plane Company—newspaper articles, photographs (MS184)
  • Basnight Boat Works Collection: 1947-1968
    Small Craft—certificates, newspaper articles, notes, photographs, lists (MS142)
  • Chris-Craft Boat Company Collection: 1922-1980
  • Glenville S. Tremaine Collection: 1930′s-1940′s
    Electric Boat Company (Elco) Boats; Small Craft—catalogs, photographs, plans (MS278)
  • Hampton-One Design Papers: 1950′s-1970′s
    Sailing; Yachts—correspondence, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs (MS022)
  • Horace E. Dodge Boat Company Collection: 1930′s-1940′s
    Dodge Boats; Recreational Boating; Small Craft— (MS282)
  • John L. Hacker Collection: 1935-1961
    Recreational Boating; Small Craft; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, photographs, plans (MS310)
  • Lewis R. Gardner Collection: 1903-1959
    Yacht Atlantic—ephemera, invoices, logbooks, newspaper articles, photographs
  • P. J. Grant Collection: 1870′s-1880′s
    Yachts—photograph albums (MS267)
  • R. R. Moore Collection: 1880′s-1960′s
    Yachts—photographs, plans (MS205)
  • Richard Mitchell Collection: 1930′s-1980′s
    Small Craft; Steam Launches; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts photographs, postcards (MS139)
  • Robert Speltz Small Craft Collection: 1910′s-1990′s
    Recreational Boating; Small Craft—advertisements, catalogs, ephemera, newspaper and magazine articles (MS146)
  • T. T. Holder Papers: 1910′s
    Yacht Wachusett—photographs (MS221)
  • Yacht Nourmahl Collection: 1910-1914
    Vincent Astor; Sailing; Yachts—correspondence, plans, boat specifications (MS052)

Discover sailing vessel design, construction and activities from around the world. Analyze historical treatments, commercial and recreational perspectives, using correspondence, plans, and photographs. Strengths include yachting, especially The America’s Cup, along with selected coverage of noteworthy sailing vessels.

  • Adrian C. Nuzzo Collection: 1856-1860
    Sailing Ships—ships’ papers (MS296)
  • Bottomry Case Collection: 1806-1814
    Schooner Aurora—correspondence, legal papers, ships’ papers (MS049)
  • C. C. Carts Papers: 1920′s-1930′s
    Sailing Vessels; Ship Models—correspondence, drawings, newspaper articles, notes (MS058)
  • Charles M. Wright Collection: 1850′s-1930′s
    Figureheads; Sailing Vessels—photographs (MS268)
  • Charles W. DeVoe Papers: 1902-1903
    Cabin Sloops—manuscripts, photographs (MS116)
  • Edward Peirce Collection, 1848-1852
    Andalusia; California Gold Rush—correspondence, maps, drawing (MS12)
  • James Newton Collection: 1930′s
    Mississippi River Vessels—photographs (MS227)
  • Joe Evangelista Collection: 1980-1889
    SS United States—photographs (MS236)
  • M. Brewington Papers: 1920′s-1940′s
    Sailing; Tuckups—correspondence, newspaper articles, photographs, notes (MS063)
  • Martin C. Malone Collection: 1920′s
    Square Rigged Ships—photographs (MS149)
  • Noah Scovill Papers: 1785-1786
    Brig Dolphin—ships’ papers (MS110)
  • Sailing Card Collection, 1850
    Clipper Ships; Advertisements—sail cards (MS9)
  • Scharpenburg Papers: 1860′s-1870′s
    Barque Scharpenburg; Shipping—bills of lading, ships’ papers (MS230)

Examine an extensive collection on shipbuilding, naval architecture, marine engineering, shipyards, navy yards, and boatbuilding, especially Northrop Grumman Newport News, formerly Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Study materials on marine machinery, marine engines, ship and boatbuilding materials, hydraulic engineering, hydraulic structures, ship model making, ship decoration including figureheads, and shipbuilding apprentice schools. Learn how to conduct maintenance and repair on ships, yachts and boats.

  • Abbott H. Thayer Papers: 1910′s
    Ship Camouflage; World War I-correspondence (MS050)
  • Baker Manufacturing Company Papers: 1955-1967
    Monitor Hydrofoil—ephemera, film, newspaper articles, photographs, publications, reports (MS021)
  • Battery Associates Records on Monitor Design and Construction: 1862-1862, 1890
    Cornelius Bushnell; CS Navy; CSS Alabama; John A. Griswold; US Navy; USS Monitor—correspondence, receipts, telegraphs (MS335)
  • C. C. Carts Papers: 1920′s-1930′s
    Sailing Vessels; Ship Models—correspondence, drawings, newspaper articles, notes (MS058)
  • Charles Bailey Collection: 1903-1905
    Newport News, VA; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company—photographs (MS270)
  • Charles E. Emery Papers: 1890
    Pusey & Jones Company; Shipbuilding—correspondence (MS266)
  • Donnell Brass Foundry Papers: 1860′s-1890′s
    Ship Construction—business papers, correspondence, journals (MS089)
  • Edwin S. Cramp Papers: 1900′s-1910′s
    Shipbuilding; Shipyards—correspondence, financial papers (MS226)
  • Edwin Tappan Adney Papers: 1897-1949
    Birch; Boatbuilding; Canoes and Canoeing; Fur Trade; Indians of North America; Indians of South America; Languages; Migrations; Models—clippings, correspondence, drawings, manuscripts, notes, photographs (MS20)
  • Elwin M. Eldredge Collection: 1800-1964
    Maritime Art; Maritime Commerce; Ship Construction; Steamships; Steamship Companies; Steamship Travel; Tourism; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper and magazine articles, notes, photograph albums, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS091)
  • Erastus W. Smith Papers: 1840-1880
    Ship Construction; Steamships; US Navy—correspondence, government papers, plans, ships’ papers (MS067)
  • Floating Dry Dock Camouflage Design Sheets: 1941-1945
    Ship Camouflage; World War II—diagrams, plans (MS056)
  • G. Guy Via Collection: 1930′s-1940′s
    Apprentice School; Naval Architecture; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company—correspondence, handbooks (MS269)
  • Henry A. Leigh Papers: 1880′s-1940′s
    New York Navy Yard; Ship Construction—ephemera, journals, notes, photographs (MS030)
  • Henry A. Swanton Collection: 1895-1903
    Bath Iron Works; Crescent Shipyards; Harlan and Hollingsworth Company; Maryland Steel Company—photograph albums (MS197)
  • Herbert L. Broadbelt Collection: 1920′s
    Cargo; Propellers; Shipyards—photographs (MS249)
  • Homer Ferguson Notebook Collection: 1890′s
    Naval Architecture—notes (MS280)
  • Isaac Newton Papers: 1840-1935
    Armored Vessels; John Ericsson; USS Monitor; Peninsula Campaign; CSS Virginiacertificates, correspondence, ephemera, notes, orders, photographs, publications, reports (MS013)
  • J. V. Patterson Papers: 1904-1928
    Electric Boat Company; Seattle Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Submarines; World War I—business papers, correspondence, drawings, photographs, plans (MS152)
  • James Rumsey Papers: 1789
    Steam Propulsion of Ships—correspondence (MS048)
  • John Ericsson Letter, 1859
    Steam engines; engine design—correspondence (MS349)
  • John Morrison Papers: 1904-1911
    Armored Vessels; USS Monitor; New York Shipyards; CSS Virginiacorrespondence, notes, reports (MS006)
  • John Oxford Collection: 1730
    Treatise on Shipbuilding—manuscripts (MS302)
  • Marcus F. Ritger, Jr. Collection: 1940′s-1950′s
    SS America; USS Forrestal; The Mariners’ Museum; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Norfolk, VA; USS Ranger; Skipjacks; US Navy—photographs (MS192)
  • NARA USS Monitor Collection: 1861-1862
    Cornelius Bushnell; Construction; CSS Virginia; John Dahlgren; Gustavus Fox; John Griswold; USS Monitor; Gideon Welles; John Winslow—contracts, correspondence, drawings, reports, specifications (photocopies) (MS341)
  • Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company Launching Collection: 1931-1946
    SS America; Newport News, VA; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company History; Ship Construction; World War II—photographs (MS155)
  • Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company Record Prints Collection: 1882-1938
    Newport News, VA; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company History; Ship Construction—photographs(MS153)
  • Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company Ship Repair Collection: 1943-1962
    Newport News, VA; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company History; Ship Construction; World War II—photographs (MS154)
  • Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company Views and Apartments Collection: 1917-1919
    Newport News, VA; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company History—photographs (MS156)
  • North Carolina Shipping Papers: 1941-1946
    Liberty Ships; Shipbuilding; World War II—charts, correspondence, photographs, plans, publications, reports (MS032)
  • Samuel H. Harrison Collection: 1950′s-1960′s
    Getty Oil; Oil Exploration; Ship Construction; Tankers—business records, correspondence, ephemera, handbooks, photograph albums, reports (MS126)
  • Sea Legs Collection: 1950′s-1960′s
    Hydrofoils—photographs, notes, publications, reports (MS090)
  • SS United States Construction Photos: 1951-1952
    Shipbuilding; SS United States—photographs (MS240)
  • Sydney L. Wood Collection: 1930′s-1950′s
    Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Ship Construction—booklets, manuals (MS309)
  • Thomas F. Rowland Collection: 1862-1910
    Continental Iron Works; USS Kaatskill; USS Monitorcontracts, notes,
    patents, photograph albums, plans
     (MS376)
  • W. M. A. Fletcher Papers: 1880′s-1930′s
    New York, NY; Shipbuilding; Shipyards—business papers, correspondence (MS123)
  • William Angas Papers: 1936-1940
    Screw Propulsion; Steamships—correspondence, notes, photographs, plans (MS134)
  • William C. Hoffman Shipping Agents Papers: 1795-1934
    Maritime Commerce—insurance papers, ships’ papers (MS039)
  • William F. Gibbs Collection: 1910′s-1960′s
    SS America; Fire Engines; Fireboats; Gibbs & Cox; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Ship Construction; Steamship Travel; SS United States; World War I—business records, correspondence, ephemera, journals, manuscripts, notes, patents, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS179)

Immerse yourself in the study of underwater archaeology, marine salvage, shipwrecks, treasure and wreck sites, especially the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Examine materials on salvage standards and practices, excavations, legal issues, and deep diving.

  • Barque Kobenhaven Collection: 1938-1944
    Shipwrecks—correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, newspaper articles, notes, photography (MS121)
  • Captain J. Johnson Papers: 1900-1928
    Marine Salvage; Merritt, Chapman, and Scott—business papers, correspondence, legal papers (MS111)
  • Cowley Diving Serving Collection: 1930′s-1940′s
    Chicago Harbor; Diving; Salvage—photographs (MS194)
  • Elliot Snow Papers: 1930′s-1950′s
    Ship Launchings; Steamships; US Navy Construction—correspondence, ephemera, invitations, manuscripts, notes(MS023)
  • Frank Aks Collection: 1912-1980′s
    RMS Titanic—correspondence, ephemera, legal papers, newspaper articles, photographs (MS140)
  • George E. Ashby Papers: 1856-1883
    SS George Law; SS Indian Empire; US Navy; Shipwrecks—certificates, correspondence, manuscripts, military papers, newspaper articles, notes (MS122)
  • Grant S. Taylor Collection: 1880′s-1950′s
    Shipwrecks; Steamship Companies; US Navy—drawings, ephemera, notes, photographs (MS064)
  • Helen R. Ostby Letter: 1912
    Titanic; Carpathia; shipwrecks—correspondence (MS0475)
  • John E. Williamson Collection: 1913-1914
    Diving; Barge Jules Verne; Salvage—photographs (MS175)
  • Ken and Jean Haviland Collection: 1900-1986
    Chinese Steamboats, Maritime Commerce, Shipwrecks, Steamship Travel—clippings, photographs, notes, subject files(MS342)
  • Mary Lines Letter, 1912
    Titanic; Carpathia; shipwrecks—correspondence (MS435)
  • Northrop Grumman Newport News USS Monitor Photograph Collection: 2001-2002
    The Mariners’ Museum; USS Monitor; NOAA; Salvage—photographs
    (color)
     (MS336)
  • R. W. Orrell Papers: 1914-1974
    USS Cyclopscertificates, correspondence, newspaper articles, reports (MS068)
  • RMS Lusitania Collection: 1915-1957
    Ship Sinkings; World War I—correspondence, manuscripts, newspaper articles (MS045)
  • Robert G. Skerrett Collection: 1880′s-1940′s
    Aeronautics; Diving; RMS Lusitania; Naval Aviation; Naval Medicine; SS Normandie; Robert Peary; Polar Exploration; Salvage; Ship Launchings; Steamships; Submarines; Torpedoes; US Navy; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, government papers, manuscripts, newspaper articles, patents, photographs, plans (MS163)
  • Samuel W. Stanton Collection: 1870′s-1910′s
    Hudson River: Steamship Travel; RMS Titanic; Tourism—correspondence, drawings, ephemera, journals, notes, photographs (MS094)
  • Virginia Ferguson Papers: 1910-1914
    Aviation; Eugene Ely; Underwater Photography; Wreck Sites—newspaper articles, photographs (MS235)

Explore all aspects of the design, construction, and history of steam, nuclear and diesel powered ships. Trace the history of steamships from transportation to a means of recreation. Browse through photographic images, steamship line histories, scrapbooks, newspaper articles and business correspondence.

  • Airfoto Collection: 1970’s
    Steamships—photographs (MS165)
  • Alexander C. Brown Papers: 1940-1980
    Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal; Dismal Swamp; Juniper Waterway; Lightships; RMS Lusitania; Old Bay Line (Baltimore Steam Packet Company); US Navy; US Coast Guard; Virginia Pilots; World War II—correspondence, ephemera, manuscripts, notes, photographs, research material (MS137)
  • Baltimore Steam Packet Company and Chesapeake Steamship Company Merger Records: 1939-1940
    Baltimore Steam Packet Company; Chesapeake Steamship Company; Steamship Travel—business papers; legal papers; reports (MS132)
  • Baltimore Steam Packet Company Collection: 1924-1959
    Chesapeake Bay; Steamship Travel—annual reports, financial papers (MS201)
  • C. R. Suter Collection: 1870′s-1910′s
    River Steamboats; Steam Launches—photographs (MS180)
  • Captain H. A. Burns Papers: 1909-1934
    Lighthouses; Mallory Line; Merchant Marine; US Navy; World War I—certificates, correspondence, journals, logbooks, ships’ papers (MS028)
  • Cecil Spanton Ashdown Collection: 1940-1981
    Alcoa Company; Shipping Lines—newspaper articles, photographs, scrapbooks (MS234)
  • Cecil Spanton Ashdown Papers: 1950′s-1980′s
    Alcoa Steamships; Motor Vessels; Tourism—booklets, calculations, correspondence, ephemera, plans (MS220)
  • Charles Krcilek Papers: 1931-1932
    Steamship Travel; Tourism; Tourism, United States Lines—correspondence (MS117)
  • Christian Bjornson Papers: 1936-1940
    Steamship Travel; Tourism—correspondence, ephemera, notes (MS118)
  • Cigarette Card Collection: 1910′s-1950′s
    Royal Navy; German Navy; Pirates; Steamships; US Navy; World War I; World War II—cards (MS204)
  • Denys P. Meyers Stereoview Collection: 1860′s-1910′s
    Ports; Steamboats—photographs (MS308)
  • E. J. Timmons Collection: 1939
    SS Cimaron; Launchings; SS Seakay; Steamships—photographs (MS158)
  • Elliot Snow Papers: 1930′s-1950′s
    Ship Launchings; Steamships; US Navy Construction—correspondence, ephemera, invitations, manuscripts, notes(MS023)
  • Elwin M. Eldredge Collection: 1800-1964
    Maritime Art; Maritime Commerce; Ship Construction; Steamships; Steamship Companies; Steamship Travel; Tourism; US Navy—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper and magazine articles, notes, photograph albums, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS091)
  • Erastus W. Smith Papers: 1840-1880
    Ship Construction; Steamships; US Navy—correspondence, government papers, plans, ships’ papers (MS067)
  • Ernest A. Maier Collection: 1930-1983
    SS Laieta; Tankers—photographs (MS206)
  • Frederick J. Sedgewick Collection: 1890’s-1930’s
    Maritime Commerce; Steamship Travel; Tourism—correspondence, ephemera, maps, newspaper articles, notes, photographs, postcards (MS095)
  • Frederick Parker Collection: 1910′s-1930′s
    Riverboats-photograph albums (MS195)
  • Grant S. Taylor Collection: 1880′s-1950′s
    Shipwrecks; Steamship Companies; US Navy—drawings, ephemera, notes, photographs (MS064)
  • Harry C. Armstrong Collection: 1960′s
    Cargo Vessels; Ferries; Steamships; Tugs—photographs (MS193)
  • Ken and Jean Haviland Collection: 1900-1986
    Chinese Steamboats, Maritime Commerce, Shipwrecks, Steamship Travel—clippings, photographs, notes, subject files(MS342)
  • Kowalchie Collection: 1968-1969
    Steamship Travel; Tourism; SS United States—ephemera, maps, plans (MS239)
  • Leo E. Ullman Jr. Collection: 1937-1967
    Steamship Travel; Tourism—newspaper articles, menus, passenger, postcards, tickets (MS256)
  • Marcus F. Ritger, Jr. Collection: 1940′s-1950′s
    SS America; USS Forrestal; The Mariners’ Museum; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Norfolk, VA; USS Ranger; Skipjacks; US Navy—photographs (MS192)
  • Mary Lines Letter, 1912
    Titanic; Carpathia; shipwrecks—correspondence (MS435)
  • Nieuw Amsterdam Menus, 1953-1954
    Holland America Line; Nieuw Amsterdam—menus (MS417)
  • Phil Meyers Collection: 1940′s-1970′s
    Cargo Vessels, Tankers—photographs
  • Postal Stamp and Cover Collection: 1840-present
    Foreign Navies; Ports; Steamships; US Navy—envelopes, stamps (MS002)
  • Rolf Bjornson Papers: 1980′s-1990′s
    Cruises; Steamship Travel; Tourism—ephemera, newsletters (MS017)
  • Samuel W. Stanton Collection: 1870′s-1910′s
    Hudson River: Steamship Travel; RMS Titanic; Tourism—correspondence, drawings, ephemera, journals, notes, photographs (MS094)
  • SS Ephemera Box List
    Guide to the Steamship Ephemera Collection Box List (MS0015)
  • SS Ephemera Folder Listing: 1840’s-present
    Cruises; Immigration; Maritime Commerce; Steamship Travel; Tourism—ephemera (MS015)
  • SS United States Construction Photos: 1951-1952
    Shipbuilding; SS United States—photographs (MS240)
  • SS United States Scrapbook: 1951-1960
    William F. Gibbs; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; SS United States—correspondence, ephemera, newspaper and magazine articles, photographs (MS096)
  • Thomas L. Rowlands Letter: 1864 January 6
    USS Roanoke; USS Minnesota; Naval operations; Newport News (Va.) – correspondence
  • William F. Gibbs Collection: 1910′s-1960′s
    SS America; Fire Engines; Fireboats; Gibbs & Cox; Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company; Ship Construction; Steamship Travel; SS United States; World War I—business records, correspondence, ephemera, journals, manuscripts, notes, patents, photographs, plans, scrapbooks (MS179)
  • William Monegan Letters: 1861-1885
    Peninsula Campaign; USS Monitor; CSS Virginia—correspondence (MS0014)
  • William Tippitt Collection: 1865-1888
    Cairo, IL; Steamboats—manuscripts, newspaper articles, photographs (MS120)

 

Are you searching for information on Immigrant Ships?

Many genealogists are interested in knowing how their ancestors came to America. They search for passenger lists to find the name of the vessel and date of arrival and are often seeking an image of the vessel that brought their ancestors to this foreign land.

For those whose ancestors came in the mid to late 1800s to the mid 1900s, an image of the exact vessel may be available from a maritime museum, an archival collection, or from various printed and online immigrant ship resources. After the 1880s, the majority of passenger vessels carrying immigrants were steamships. One difficulty with this research is that there are many vessels of the same name in service on any given date. The port of arrival, date of arrival, and/or Captain’s name may help to identify the correct vessel. If you cannot find an image of the exact vessel, it is possible to find the image of a “sister” ship, one which was constructed using the same design drawings as your ancestor’s ship.

The search is harder for those whose ancestors came on sailing ships before the age of readily available photography and before the age of rapid communication across the sea. Both of these technological advances (widely available photography and the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable) occurred in the mid 1800s. Some of the more wealthy ship owners commissioned paintings of their vessels. Some ships’ logbooks contain elaborate drawings of vessels at sea or in various ports. Some ships’ portraits were sketched for newspapers, especially during war years and during end of the slave trade. Reproductions of these images can be obtained from museums, publications, and occasionally on the web. However, the chance of finding an image of the exact vessel that brought a person’s ancestors in these early years is usually very slim. Often the best that can be hoped for is to find an image of a similar type of vessel.

Vessels used for exploration during the 1500s usually had small chunky hulls and two or three masts, each with one or two large sails. Through the years the hulls became more streamlined, much larger, and the sails on the masts became more varied. Sailing vessels were categorized by the number of masts and types of sails used on the boat. Some early vessels were called galleons, caravels, and, generically, ships.

By the 1700s, the word “ship” often took on a more precise definition – a vessel of at least three masts and “square rigged” on all three masts. The term “square rigged” refers to rectangular sails, one above the other (often three or more per mast). A “bark” or “barque” had three masts, like a ship, but was “square rigged” on the first two masts and had a triangular sail or two on the third mast. A “barkentine” was “square rigged” on the front mast only and had more triangular sails on the second and third mast. Typical “Brigs” and “Snows” had two masts with square sails on both masts. The “snow” had one additional small triangular sail. “Brigantines” had two masts, one “square rigged” and the other with more triangular sails. A typical “Schooner” had two masts and no square sails. Brigantines and schooners tended to be smaller vessels, had less carrying capacity, and were used less frequently in trans-Atlantic commerce. However, these smaller vessels traveled at faster speeds, had shallow drafts, and were frequently used in the slave trade and coastal transportation.

Various sources can be consulted to determine the type of sailing vessel that transported one’s ancestor. These include ships’ registers, newspaper arrival notices and passenger manifests. Once you have determined the type of vessel upon which your ancestor traveled, you can search for an image of a similar vessel.

Staff from The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University has culled its collections of paintings, drawings, books, newspapers, logbooks and photographs and compiled a list of over sixty sailing vessels of various types from the mid-1700s and 1800s, at about ten to twenty year intervals. Many of these are colored images from our paintings collection. In addition, the staff has identified a number of images of “ships” from the 1500s and 1600s. It is now easier to obtain a reproduction of an image of the type of ship upon which your ancestor traveled. For personal image and research assistance visit the Museum’s research assistance web page.

The Library and Photographic Services staff is also offering custom prints of images of your ancestor’s ship or a similar type of ship for the time period. If you provide the name of the vessel, the type of vessel, complete name of the ancestor, the port and date of departure, port and date of arrival, this information will be printed below the image of the ship. For further information about this new service, contact the Library at (757) 591-7782 or library@marinersmuseum.org.

 

Library staff provide assistance to researchers visiting the facility. Prior to your visit, we recommend you search the Library Catalog to identify items of interest and review our Special Collections.

If you are unable to visit the Library, you can browse some frequently asked questions or ask for research assistance. Before requesting assistance, please review the following guidelines.

  • Fees for services vary. Prepayment is required.
  • Requests are handled on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Staff will conduct a maximum of six hours of research per request.

 

As a general rule, the more information you provide, the better the final research product.

Essential

  • A detailed description of the information you are seeking
  • For vessel requests, the complete name of the vessel or name of boat model and length
  • For Chris-Craft, the hull number is required. Model and length are desired.
  • For other recreational craft, the model and length of boat are needed.

Highly Desirable

  • Year the vessel was built or years of activity
  • There are many vessels with the same name operating during a particular time period, therefore the year built is almost essential. If you do not have this information, the research will require additional time.

Desirable

  • Vessel builder or designer
  • Name of shipbuilder or shipyard
  • For recreational craft, the complete company name
  • Type of propulsion
  • Identify if the vessel is powered by sail, steam, diesel, or other
  • Type of rigging, hull structure or function of vessel

For sailing vessels, rigging such as Bark, Brig, Brigantine, Schooner, Ship, Sloop, Snow, etc.
Hull structure or function of vessel such as Bugeye, Buy Boat, Canoe, Deadrise, Dory, Ferry, Hydrofoil, Liberty Ship, Skiff, Skipjack, Tanker, Tugboat, etc.

When searching for your immigrant ancestor’s vessel

  • Port and date of departure
  • Port and date of arrival
  • Ship Captain’s name

Note: our collection focuses primarily on vessels rather than on individuals although we have a limited number of passenger lists from the late 19th century.

For Licensing information (commercial use, public display, licensing agreements) contact:

Claudia Jew
(757) 591-7767
cjew@MarinersMuseum.org

For image reproductions contact:

Photography Department
(757) 591-7769
photography@MarinersMuseum.org
http://images.marinersmuseum.org/

For information on Chris-Craft, or for Chris-Craft research requests contact:

Chris-Craft Research
1(800) 565-6846
(757) 591-7785

For the Library or general research requests contact:

Library
(757) 591-7782
library@MarinersMuseum.org

  • Prices vary, depending upon the service requested, the amount of information you provide, and the depth of research you are seeking.
  • For Chris-Craft research, $40 per research package. There are additional fees for copies of plans and other materials.

 

For research of Library collections, except Chris-Craft

If you would like us to search all of our collections

  • There is a prepaid non-refundable research fee of $30 for the first hour, and $15 for each additional half hour. Museum member rate is $25 for the first hour and $12.50 for each additional half hour.
  • For prepayment of search fees, mail a check or money order from a U.S. bank or supply us with a credit card number (Visa, MasterCard or American Express) and expiration date. Please provide the appropriate information on the Library Research Request Form.
  • Most research requests seeking information from all of our collections, including manuscripts and special collections, take 1 – 2 hours.
  • Tell us the maximum amount of time you would like us to spend on the research in advance.
  • The research package includes up to 25 photocopies and shipping and handling, if mailed in the U.S.
  • There is an additional $10 charge for overseas shipping.
  • If your search results in more than 25 pages of material, additional fees may be assessed.

If you are requesting only an image or plan from our collections for personal use

  • There is a $15 prepaid search fee for Library staff to locate images or plans of a specific vessel and to provide pricing and ordering information. The Museum member fee is $10 per vessel.
  • If you are searching for up to three U.S. Navy or WWII era vessels, the search fee for locating a specific image or plan will be waived.
  • If you are searching for more than one vessel, contact us at library@MarinersMuseum.org for search fees.
  • There are additional fees to order a digital or print reproduction of the image or plan.

  • Response times will vary depending upon the number of requests received, the complexity of your request and the number of staff available to conduct research.
  • Normal response time for a research package is 4 – 6 weeks following receipt of payment or providing credit card information.
  • Normal response time for vessel or plan image research is 1-2 weeks following receipt of payment.
  • For rush processing, response is less than 1 week. Rush research fees are $60/ hour.

  • Fax a copy of the Library Research Request Form to (757) 591-7310
  • Call (757) 591-7782
  • Submit a Research Request online
  • Mail a written request including a check, money order or credit card information to:

The Mariners’ Museum Library
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606

To facilitate the research process, we prefer electronic or written research requests containing detailed information.

Fields marked with a * are required.

Research will be conducted for a fee of $30 per hour; you will be contacted by a Library staff member to obtain your payment information. Requests are answered in the order received. Although our staff will do their best to answer your questions, please understand that we cannot guarantee a positive result.

 

The Chris-Craft name is synonymous with speed and craftsmanship.  For more than sixty years, this world-wide boating empire, founded by Christopher Columbus Smith, was a leader in producing powered pleasure boats. 

The archives of Chris-Craft Industries were acquired by the Museum in 1986.  Comprising more than 350 linear feet of records, this collection is considered one of the most complete histories of a boatbuilding company.  The collection covers all models produced by Chris-Craft from 1922 through 1980 and consists of the major components listed below.

The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University is proud to have the responsibility of maintaining the legacy of Christopher Smith, the “dean” of American standardized boatbuilding.

 

A Chris-Craft Hull Card

A Chris-Craft Hull Card

Boat Equipment Records

Popularly termed “hull cards,” these are primary sources of information. Approximately 119,000 of these documents were created by Chris-Craft as a permanent record for the original standard and optional features of each hull produced. Details such as hull number, model, engine type, paint color, upholstery, place of construction, original dealer, and other hardware features are contained on these cards.

Constructing a runabout

Constructing a runabout

Photographs

More than 25,000 black and white photographs in the collection depict early boat construction, dealer showrooms, marine engine productions, and celebrity Chris-Craft owners, as well as the many models of runabouts and cruisers produced by the company.

Boat plans of a Chris-Craft

Boat plans of a Chris-Craft

Boat Plans

More than 55,000 original design plans document virtually every model built. Some of the more popular models represented include the Cadet, Riviera, Cobra, Continental, Holiday, Sportsman, and Racing Runabout, in addition to a full range of cruisers. These plans illustrate the beauty and strength of the Chris-Craft boats.

Chris-Craft Instruction Manuals

Chris-Craft Instruction Manuals

Sales Catalogs, Price Lists, & Boat and Engine Manuals

A nearly complete collection of sales and boat literature provides accurate data on boat styling, pricing, and general specifications.

 

HISTORY OF CHRIS-CRAFT RUNABOUTS

Learn more about the history of Chris-Craft Runabouts, by reading an article written by Tom Crew, former archivist of The Mariners’ Museum, who has a national reputation as an expert on the history of Chris-Craft boats.

By Tom Crew, former Archivist, The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VirginiaChris C. Smith, Boat & Engine Co.

The Chris-Craft name is synonymous with both speed and craftsmanship. For more than sixty years, this worldwide boat building empire, founded by Christopher Columbus Smith, was a leader in producing standardized powered pleasure boats. Thousands have enjoyed the cooling spray while boating on a warm summer afternoon in a classic Chris-Craft. Many antique boat enthusiasts easily recognize the design features and rakish style of these varnished mahogany beauties. Yet most people know little about the early Chris Smith runabouts or their features. Documentation is sparse and photographs are rare, but through careful research and interviews with some owners of these rare boats, the specifications begin to emerge.

It is commonly accepted that Chris Smith’s runabout business did not begin until the establishment of Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company in February 1922. In fact, as early as 1915, Smith advertised his custom boat building services in Power Boating Magazine, urging readers to “Let Me Build You A Smith Boat.”

This promotional piece featured designs for “pleasure launches, fast runabouts, express cruisers and passenger carrying hydroplanes.” It also clearly showed Smith’s interest in and capabilities for building pleasure boats long before he began the runabout business in 1922. An increasingly successful racing career probably encouraged him to expand his business. Competitive speedboat racing was a method by which boat builders and hull designers tested the quality of their ideas and gained recognition among their peers, Many were propelled into the ring as popular heros. The lust for speed was fueled by such designers as John L. Hacker, George Crouch, and Christopher Columbus Smith, but financed by gamblers, industrialists, and syndicates.

By 1915, Smith’s proven winners, Baby Speed Demon and Baby Reliance, were awarded the American Power Boat Association’s coveted Gold Cup. His dreams for a successful pleasure boat business began to take shape. Smith’s racing career continued to flourish during the next several years. An admiring media extolled the string of victories achieved by the Miss Detroit series and it’s championship designer the “wizard 2 of Algonac.” Despite all his racing success, Smith apparently did not wish to remain a one-dimensional boat builder. Although most of his energies seemed to concentrate on racing hulls, he continued to solicit pleasure boat contracts. Stunning documentation of Chris Smith’s ability and virtuosity as a hull designer and boat builder is published in Lloyd’s Register of American Yachts. This premier compilation of data regarding American and Canadian-owned yachts offers indisputable evidence of what was perhaps Smith’s most ambitious project, an 80-foot cruiser. The record indicated a wooden-hulled vessel named Hourless measuring 80ft.x16ft.x6ft., weighing 42 gross tons, and powered by twin, six- cylinder Murray and Tregurtha gasoline engines, designed and constructed by C. C. Smith Boat Company, Algonac, Michigan, in 1919 for Walter E. Flanders of Detroit, Michigan. The cruiser enjoyed a long career, continuing to appear in the registers as the Hourless until 1947. Subsequent name changes and final disposition of the vessel are not indicated. It is, however, an astonishing historical fact that Chris Smith, undoubtedly with the assistance of his talented sons, produced this 80- foot marvel. Their accomplishment is all the more remarkable when you consider that their giant boat building empire never produced a standard cruiser greater than 72 feet in length.

Article on the Chris-Craft 26' RunaboutBy 1921, Smith was marketing a standardized 26-foot express runabout through a boat broker, the Central Marine Service Corporation, Detroit, Michigan. A remarkably informative advertisement about this design appeared in the August 1921 issue of Power Boating. The boat was powered with a Hall-Scott four- cylinder 100 horsepower engine and equipped with electric starting and lighting, standard reverse gear, and water-cooled exhaust. It sold for $3,950 and was available in two models, a standard painted finish with mahogany trim or a full mahogany hull for $500 extra.

Chris Smith and sonsBoth models were built with Smith’s trademark double- planked bottom. The ad also featured a rare photograph of this runabout showing a large rear cockpit design aft of the engine rather than the more familiar forward steering. This is clear evidence of a design transition. Smith’s design reflected the work of his contemporaries, who typically built runabouts which resembled automobiles with steering controls behind the engine. Within two years, however, Smith redesigned his runabouts with the more popular forward steering. This will be discussed in more detail later. There are no existing records to indicate how many of these boats were built, but here again is clear evidence that Chris Smith was anticipating a move into pleasure boat production before the storied dissolution of his racing partnership with Gar Wood. The following year, Chris Smith and his four sons, Jay W., Bernard, Owen, and Hamilton, established the new Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company.

What was perhaps the company’s first advertisement appeared in the April 1922 issue of Motor Boat magazine. Many of us have conformed to the popular notion that the standard 26-foot runabout was the only boat model initially offered by Chris Smith and Sons. This ad contradicts that misconception by listing four different models available. First, there was a 24-foot, 18-mile-per-hour runabout which sold f or $2,200. There were also two different 26′ models, a forward drive double cockpit and a rear drive single cockpit. They sold for $3,000 and $2,800, respectively. These two models reflected the Smiths’ transition from the traditional rear cockpit design to the modern forward cockpit steering. It also indicated their awareness of what was in demand by the popular market. The fourth model offered, a 33-foot Baby Gar, may be a complete surprise to many.

Chris-Craft advertisementThis boat achieved advertised high performance speeds from 50 to 60 miles per hour and sold for $7,500. It is true, the first 33-foot Baby Gar runabouts were built by Chris Smith for Gar Wood. The original table of offsets is found in the Chris-Craft Collection. Incidentally, this same advertisement may be the first published use of the nickname “Chris Smith Craft.” This was soon shortened to the better-known Chris-Craft.

So what were the first Chris- Crafts? Research into the early accounting and purchase ledgers reveal that the first hull built by the Smiths’ new company was not a runabout, but rather a racer, the Packard-Chris Craft. It was contracted by Colonel Jesse G. Vincent, founder of the Packard Motor Car Company, and delivered to him in August 1922 just in time to participate in the Gold Cup races to be held the following month in Detroit.

 

This powerful new entry onto the racing scene measured 26ft. x 6ft. x 2ft. and was equipped with a six-cylinder Packard 200 Hp. engine which could achieve speeds up to 45.6 miles per hour. The racer had a white painted hull with the words Packard and Chris Craft written in distinctive script on the sides. Colonel Vincent drove Packard-Chris Craft to victory, defeating GarWood, who had won the race the previous five years. Wood’s boat, Baby Gar. Jr., was also a Chris Smith design. A third Smith-built boat known as Chris Craft II also participated in that Gold Cup race. This boat was driven by Gar Wood’s brother George, no doubt in friendly competition, It differed greatly in appearance from its Packard counterpart because it was designed as a standard 26- foot runabout with a single cockpit and steering controls forward of the engine. It was powered by a 180 horsepower Hall-Scott model A7-A aviation engine which proved to be too small for competitive racing. Nevertheless, its importance lay in the fact that this was the second hull built by the Smiths. A previously unidentified photograph found in the Chris-Craft Collection provided a rare glimpse of this early runabout. Through persistent research, the boat’s Gold Cup racing number, G-31, seen in the photograph, was verified to be the Chris Craft II.

The Chris-Craft runabout PackardThis photograph proved an excellent source of documentation for many features found on the carly Smith runabouts. Several notable details appear: a single cockpit forward of the engine, no windshield, no lifting rings, pleated upholstery, a raised engine hatch, four large engine compartment vents installed on the covering boards, a large open rear cockpit with wicker chairs, and dark seam compound instead of white deck stripes. Another photograph of a 1922 model boat identified as hull number four, named the All Star, reveals many of the identical features. One notable exception is that the engine hatch was no longer raised, but was redesigned and widened to give a smoother appearance. This boat was originally owned by Dr. W. E. Sanborn.

Chris-Craft, the Greatest Bargain Ever OfferedSo did the Smiths follow any standards in building these carly runabouts? In addition to photographic resources, the original hand-written specifications for the 1922 model “Standard 26′ Chris Craft” are carefully preserved in The Mariners’ Museum Research Library and Archives. This seven-page equipment and materials list unquestionably confirms the original features, both seen and hidden, found on these boats. The hull’s overall dimensions were 26ft.x6ft.6in.x24in. The boat was powered by an eight- cylinder Curtiss OX-5 aviation engine, converted for marine use, which generated 90 horsepower at 1400 rpm.

It turned an 18×24 Hyde propeller, with a left-hand rotation to achieve a maximum speed of 32 miles per hour. A single forward cockpit provided seating for three people including the driver, while the larger aft cockpit could comfortably carry five on a bench seat and two wicker chairs. The standard double-planked mahogany hull bottom was designed the same as the 26-foot Gold Cup model with canvas coated in white lead laid between the layers and the sides of batten seam construction. The interior featured pleated blue upholstery and gray linoleum flooring. Surprisingly, all the deck hardware consisted of polished brass instead of nickel. This included all the following: cutwater, chocks, cleats, vents, hatch handles, piano hinges, fuel filler plate and cap, bow light, stern flagpole socket, exhaust flanges, self- bailer, and some additional items. All the instruments, however, were nickel-plated, If you purchased a Smith boat it was also equipped with some accessories: mahogany paddle, mahogany pike, canvas fenders, life preservers, 25-pound anchor and line, mooring lines, and tools. It is interesting to note that although the boat was constructed primarily with Philippine mahogany, it also included significant amounts of white oak, butternut, spruce, and ash. Construction costs for this sturdy and well-appointed runabout were calculated to be $997.50 plus motor, installation, and overhead. The boat, therefore, retailed for $3,200.00 plus tax. The Smiths were very pleased with the performance and design of the Chris- Craft, which was described by A. W. Mackerer as a “splendid boat; handles easily — dry, fast and turns.”

By 1924 very few changes were evident. A slightly larger 100 horsepower Curtiss OX-5 engine was offered and the runabout’s beam was widened two inches to 6ft.8in., but the addition of a windshield as standard equipment was perhaps the most significant improvement. This attractive curved bottom tilt windshield was eventually offered in two sizes. On the smaller one-piece model the glass was mounted in a metal frame on fifteen-inch stanchions; on the larger two-piece model the glass was divided by a frame molding and mounted on seventeen-inch stanchions. Interestingly, the larger windshield secured on fifteen-inch stanchions, is found on the Miss Belle Isle in The Mariners’ Museum. After only two years in business, the Smiths runabout was beginning to make an impact on the marketplace. Rapid sales growth of the Chris-Craft in the spring of 1924 resulted in the company’s increased production to four boats per week. By May, forty-one new boats were completed for delivery.

Chris-Craft Motor Boat Flyer, March 25, 1925This new growth prompted a media campaign in 1925 to expand the public awareness of the Chris-Craft. A redesigned runabout with a new forward double cockpit illustrated full-page advertisements promoting the ability of Chris Smith and Sons to maintain lower prices as a result of their application of “motor car standardization and volume production methods” for their boats. The Smiths were probably the first boat builders to apply these techniques. In an effort to stay ahead of their competition, they cleverly offered the first time payment plan ever presented for selling boats. A potential buyer only needed a down payment of $1,340 to secure his Chris-Craft, with the balance due within twelve months. Another sales incentive fully guaranteed the quality of each boat against construction defects for one year. The literature declared, “It is so nearly trouble-proof that this guarantee has cost an average of only $6 a boat.”

The Smiths also tried to avert any possible consumer fears of unscrupulous dealers who would not honor the company’s guarantee with the statement, “When you purchase a Chris Craft, you deal directly with the builders, who are fully responsible for service.” Several more years passed before a dealer network was established.

Encouraged by their early success and eager to reach a national market, the Smiths registered their first boat display at the 1926 National Motor Boat Show held in New York City. Here was a wonderful opportunity for the boating public to comparison shop. Fortunately, the Smiths received a great boost from the show’s advanced publicity found in Yachting Magazine. Its editor awarded Chris Smith and Sons Boat evolved and built what are today recognized by many as the world’s fastest boats. This new model assures the Chris-Craft owner a complete unit, economical to operate, fully guaranteed, and setting an envious pace for safety, comfort, speed and smartness.” what a recommendation! The 1926 model did offer two new features, a larger 150 horsepower Kermath engine and a reinforced tilt windshield. This redesigned and strengthened windshield had a solid wood base. It replaced the stanchion- mounted model, which lacked rigidity. Despite only four years in business, the young Chris Smith and Sons Boat Company had achieved a reputation for excellence. Their standard 26-foot runabout known as the Chris-Craft was speedy, strong, safe, and stylish.

Chris-Craft New Record articleContinuing improvements, along with an expanding product line, attracted an increasing share of the boating market. The ambitious Smiths made a calculated risk in starting a pleasure boat company, but their love of boats and history of success carried over from racers to runabouts. A boating dynasty was begun.

Tom Crew was The Mariners’ Museum Archivist for 14 years, from 1982-1996, and responsible for arrangement, preservation, and administration of the manuscript and photographic collections of The Mariners’ Museum, and has acquired a national reputation as an expert on the history of Chris-Craft boats.

 

RESEARCH ASSISTANCE

Chris-Craft staff search the company archives to prepare research packages tailored to a specific Chris-Craft boat. The research is based upon the Chris-Craft hull identification number and/or the original engine serial number. If you would like to order a Chris-Craft Research package, you must provide the hull number. Failure to do this will necessitate additional correspondence and delay your research, since the Chris-Craft Corporation filed the permanent record of each boat, by this number.

 

A prepaid non-refundable fee of $40 is required. The Museum member rate is $25 per research package. For prepayment of research fees, mail a check or money order from a U.S. Bank or supply us with a credit card number (Visa, MasterCard, or American Express) and the expiration date.

You can order a research package using any of the following methods:

  • Fax your request to (757) 591-7310, Attention: Chris-Craft Research, or
  • Submit a Chris-Craft Research Request online by filling out the form below, or
  • Call 1-(800) 565-6846 or (757) 591-7785, Monday-Friday, 12 PM to 5 PM, or
  • Mail a written request to:

Chris-Craft Research
The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University
100 Museum Drive
Newport News, VA 23606

Please include check, money order or credit card information.

The research package contains instructions on how to order reproductions of technical drawings, black and white production photographs, color reproductions of sales literature, and copies of engine manuals, along with pricing information. To view images online for purchase visit our online image collection. 

 

Plans Prices vary and are based upon the size of the original drawings
Photographs B&W 8×10′s are $20 each / B&W 11×14′s are $25 each
Hull Card only $10
Manuals Prices vary depending upon the number of pages
Color Reproductions of Sales Literature Prices vary

 

How do I find the Chris-Craft Hull Number?

The locations of the hull numbers are as follows:

  • On a metal plate attached to the underside of the engine hatch cover or engine box on single engine models, and on a metal plate attached to the underside of the starboard engine hatch cover or engine box on twin engine models.
  • Stamped into the aft surface of the forward header of the engine hatch on single engine models, and stamped into the aft surface of the forward header of the port engine hatch on twin engine models.
  • Stamped into the top edge of the engine stringer starboard adjacent to engine coupling on single engine models, and stamped into the top edge of the inboard stringer, port engine, adjacent to engine coupling on twin engine models.
  • Either on top of wood towing bitt, aft face of bow block, extreme forward inboard surface of port toe rail, or aft face of stem midway between chine and sheer.
  • SPORT BOATS AND RUNABOUTS – Stamped into the forward surface of aft deck beam if seat back is removable.

  • On the exterior surface of the port bow, just aft of the stem and slightly below and parallel to the sheer.
  • Stamped into the engine mounting pad, in the case of outboard powered boats, and into a transom frame or suitable wood member in this area. Where no wood surface is readily available, the number will be glassed into the transom on the inboard side.

  • On the interior surface of the port hull side, forward of the foremost bulkhead. Numbers are glassed over with glass cloth impregnated with clear resin.
  • Outboard powered models of the sailboat division will also have the number stamped into the engine mounting pad.

 

How do I request Chris-Craft Research Assistance?

Fill out the form below and we will get back with you as soon as possible.

Chris-Craft Research Request

Fields marked with a * are required.

Research on your Chris-Craft will be conducted for a fee of $40 per research package ($25 for Museum Members). You will be contacted by a staff member from the Chris-Craft Archives to obtain your payment information.

 

LINKS TO SELECTED CHRIS-CRAFT RESOURCES

 

FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Flotsam and jetsam is wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the sea or washed ashore. We hope you will find the following mixture of questions that have found their way to The Mariners’ Museum Library at Christopher Newport University and their answers to be enlightening. Questions are organized by major collection topics.

 

Exploration, Voyages of Discovery & Travel

The names of Christopher Columbus’ (1451-1506) three ships are quite well known. But how they got these names is not. The Santa Maria, Columbus’ flagship on his first voyage to the New World, translates to “Saint Mary,” and refers to the Virgin Mary, one of the patron saints of Spain. The smallest ship Niña, was officially named the Santa Clara, after the patron saint of Moguer, the Spanish town where she was built. The name Niña most likely comes from a feminine nickname for her owner, Juan Niño. The Pinta was Columbus’ fastest ship, but the origin of her name remains something of a mystery.

Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976), an eminent maritime historian and author of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, theorizes that the name Pinta is derived from the maiden name of owner Christobal Quintero’s wife. She was part of the Pinto family of the city of Palos, and the name Pinta may derive from a family nickname.

Sources: Bedini, Silvio. The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1992.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Admiral of the Ocean Sea. 2 vols. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942.

While Ferdinand Magellan (c.1480-1521) is commonly credited with being the first person to have sailed around the world, it must be remembered that he died in the Philippines before completing the historic voyage. Magellan, a veteran explorer of the East Indies, was tapped by Spanish king Charles I (1500-1558) in 1517 to sail west in order to reach the Indies, thereby accomplishing what Christopher Columbus had set out to do in 1492.

After two mutinies, a treacherous passage through South America (through the straights later named for Magellan) and a scurvy-filled voyage across the vast Pacific Ocean (which Magellan named) the fleet eventually arrived in the Philippines. Relations between the Europeans and the locals quickly soured and Magellan was killed in battle. Command of the expedition eventually fell to a Basque mariner named Juan Sebastian de Elcano (c.1474-1526), who set sail with roughly 50 members of the original 250 man crew in the only slightly seaworthy carrack Victoria.

The fleet’s other remaining vessel, the Trinidad, stayed in the Indies and was unable to return to Europe. Elcano’s voyage took roughly a year to sail across the Indian Ocean, past Africa and back to Spain. Within the Victoria’s rotting hull was a fortune in spices and the seventeen survivors of the expedition. While Magellan was posthumously praised for leading the expedition, Elcano was rewarded with a lifetime pension and a coat of arms from the Spanish crown.

Source:Bohlander, Richard, ed. World Explorers and Discoverers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was credited with discovering the New World for many years. Then why were two continents named after a relatively little-known bibliophile and cosmographer from Florence, Italy? Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512) was in Seville, Spain in 1496 when he first met explorer Christopher Columbus. The two became friends, and Vespucci used his position as a ship broker in Seville to get attached to an expedition heading for the New World.

German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller (c.1475-c.1522) read of Vespucci’s voyage and drew a map based on the most up-to-date information available in which he labeled the New World “America” in honor of Vespucci. The Spanish, however, continued to refer to South America as “Columbia” into the 18th century, but finally succumbed to the principal of common usage and began calling the continent America.

Source: Hendrickson, Robert. Salty Words. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1984.

Christopher Newport (1560-1617) was an eminent Elizabethan mariner who spent the better part of his career treading the thin line that separated merchant adventurer and out-and-out pirate. While no records exist to prove it, Newport most likely went to sea at a young age. By 1581, he was part of an English expedition illegally trying to trade with Portuguese settlers in Brazil. After partaking in some looting with famed privateer Francis Drake (1540-1596), Newport was given command of his own privateering vessel. Newport turned out to be very adept at this vocation. Even after losing his right arm in a battle with the Spanish near Cuba, Newport continued to raid Spanish shipping throughout the Caribbean for more than ten years.

When, in 1606, the Virginia Company was ready to send a group of settlers to the New World, Christopher Newport was an obvious choice to lead the expedition. In 1607, Newport set sail with three ships, the Godspeed, Discovery and the Susan Constant with the men who would found Jamestown, England’s first permanent colony in America. Newport’s sound judgment, along with his impeccable timing, would serve the Virginia Company well for six years. By 1612, Newport was employed by the East India Company and began making trading expeditions to the Indies. He died at Bantam (in present day Indonesia) in 1617.

Sources: Andrews, K.R. 1954. Christopher Newport of Limehouse, Mariner. William and Mary Quarterly 11:28-41.

When looking at a modern-day map of the world, sailing around the southern tip of Africa appears to be a relatively easy thing to do. But to the 15th century Portuguese explorers who hoped to trade in the East Indies, it was a daunting proposition. In 1487, Bartholomeu Dias (c.1450-1500) set sail on the orders of Portuguese king John II (1455-1495) to explore the African coastline and determine if Africa could be sailed past. At this time, there were some Europeans who believed that Africa and India might be connected, or that the southern coast of Africa was entirely impassable. Dias and his men sailed south and determined that Africa and India were not connected, and that the Indies could be reached by sea from Europe. But sailors are a superstitious lot, and Dias’ terrified crew insisted that he return to Portugal.

King John was pleased that Portugal now had access to the riches of the Orient. All he needed was for someone to actually sail there. That someone would be Vasco da Gama (c.1460-1524). In 1497, da Gama, an experienced mariner, set off for the Indies, intending to push past Africa. After an arduous journey past the Cape of Good Hope (discovered and named by his predecessor Dias) and up the eastern coast of Africa, da Gama and his fleet of three ships (a fourth had been destroyed on the voyage), found themselves in India, where they traded for spices and jewels. They also engaged in some skirmishes with the locals.

The voyage was a commercial success, and the Africans, Arabs and Indians alike learned to both fear and respect the Portuguese explorers.

Source: Bohlander, Richard, ed. World Explorers and Discoverers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.

Strictly speaking, the American continents had already been “discovered” by the time the Europeans showed up. But to the Europeans who came upon these lands, they seemed to be new discoveries. The Vikings, a dynamic group of sea rovers from Scandinavia, were the first Europeans to “discover” America. Around 985, Bjarni Herjolfsson (fl. c.985), a Viking merchant from Iceland, was sailing for Greenland, by then a Viking colony. He missed Greenland, but eventually found himself off a densely forested coastline. Bjarni knew he wasn’t in Greenland because Greenland had no dense forests. But Bjarni wasn’t too curious about the land he’d found; he was more eager to get to Greenland and start farming.

About fifteen years later, around the year 1000, a more adventurous soul than Bjarni Herjolfsson set sail and wound up off a new world. Leifr Eiriksson (c.985-c.1020), a Greenlander with a yen for travel, wanted to find out more about the land that Bjarni had been criticized for not exploring. The first place Leifr found himself in was a rocky shore he called “Helluland” which translates to the unromantic term “slab land.” Further south, Eiriksson dubbed the area “Markland”, meaning “forest land.” Historians believe that these sites are modern day Baffin Island and Labrador, respectively. Leifr’s final destination in the New World was a place he called “Vinland”, named for the numerous vines the Greenlanders found there.

The actual location of Vinland remains a mystery, but many place it somewhere in Newfoundland, Canada. The Vikings failed to establish anything permanent in Vinland, and a subsequent attempt to settle there was abandoned due to the inability of the Vikings to peacefully coexist with the indigenous native population.

Source: Haywood, John. Encyclopedia of the Viking Age. New York City: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

 

Culture of the Sea

The telescope was invented in 1608 by Dutch spectacle maker Jan Lippershey and later refined by famed scientist Galileo (1564-1647). Its military use was readily apparent, and by the mid-17th century they were being used aboard ships. The telescope (a term supposedly devised by Galileo) went by many names at sea. The English referred to it as the “Dutch trunk” and the “trunke spectacle” as well as the more familiar term “spyglass.”

Sources: Bell, Louis. The Telescope. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1922. Kemp, Peter, ed.

The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

During the days of the big sailing ships, it was inevitable that crewmen would die while at sea. Bad food, dangerous duties and the ever-present threat of disease in cramped living conditions made life at sea a perilous career choice. When a man died at sea, there usually was not a coffin available for the body. Instead, the ship’s sailmaker would wrap the remains in extra sail canvas and sew it shut. It is said that final stitch was often passed through the dead man’s nose. All crewmen who were not on duty were expected to attend the funeral, with the dead man’s friends and mates often receiving time off to attend. The ship’s chaplain or captain would say a few words from a prayer book or the Bible, and then the canvas-wrapped body would be tipped overboard into the ocean.

Source: Lovette, Leland P. Naval Customs, Traditions and Usage. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1934.

The legend of the Flying Dutchman, and its many variations, is one of the best known superstitions of the sea. The story goes that a Dutch sea captain (his name is sometimes given as Vandedecker) in the 17th century made such fast voyages between Batavia in the Dutch East Indies and Europe that his sailors believed that he was in league with the Devil. On one trip, his ship (sometimes called the Braave; often no ship name is given) was having trouble passing the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa.

Vandedecker was so enraged that he mocked God and was sentenced to wander the seas forever, never reaching Amsterdam. As time wore on, the legend expanded so that Vandedecker (and, by extension, his ship) were considered ghostly bad omens to other sailors. Anyone who sights the Flying Dutchman is said to be marked for a fast death.

The story is a legend based on other, more terrestrial, legends about unlucky people who are punished for their impertinence by being forced to wander the earth aimlessly. Seeing these spectral nomads normally indicates bad luck is on the horizon.

Sources: Beck, Horace. Folklore and the Sea. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 1999. Rabl, S.S. 1948.

The Legend of the Flying Dutchman. The Chesapeake Skipper. Vol. 2, No.5: 9, 33.

There are few beverages in the world so uniquely maritime as grog. Little more than watered-down rum, grog seems an inseparable part of life at sea in the Age of Sail. In 1739, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757) of the Royal Navy issued a decree that the crew’s normal ration of rum (plentiful in the Caribbean, where Vernon and his fleet were stationed) would be diluted with water. The new drink would consist of a half-pint of rum and a quart of water. Though they were drinking something less potent than straight rum (which, in the Caribbean, tended to be very strong), the seamen of the Royal Navy did not put up too much of a fuss. Vernon was a capable and much respected leader, and his men dubbed the concoction “grog” in his honor. While pacing the deck of his ship, Vice Admiral Vernon was rarely seen without his old grogram coat, leading to the nickname of “Old Grog.”

One of Edward Vernon’s subordinates was a Virginian named Lawrence Washington (1718-1753). The two became such good friends during a naval campaign in the Caribbean, that Lawrence Washington would later name his Virginia estate after his old comrade. After Lawrence Washington died, ownership of the Mount Vernon plantation eventually passed to his brother George.

Source: Lathrop, Constance. 1935. Grog: Its Origin and Use in the United States Navy. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. Vol.61, No.385: 377-80. 

Some would argue it is never a good time to eat oysters, but that is a separate matter entirely. The old maxim goes that oysters should never be eaten in May, June, July or August because these months do not have an R in their names. This is not due to the oysters being in any way dangerous to eat, rather it is because these months tend to be when the oyster breeds. The ban on eating oysters during their breeding period goes back hundreds of years. To protect precious oyster beds, England’s King Edward III (1312-1377) decreed in 1375 that it was against the law to catch or possess oysters between the months of May and September.

Many modern seafood connoisseurs still pay lip-service to this old custom; perhaps the idea of King Edward’s displeasure keeps them honest.

Source: Cowan, Frank. A Dictionary of the Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases of the English Language Relating to the Sea.Greensburgh, PA: Oliver Publishing House, 1894.

During the days of sailing vessels, the boatswain (contracted, in typical sailor fashion, to “bo’sun”) was responsible for ensuring that the work done on deck (and up in the rigging) was done correctly. No sailor wanted to face the unpleasant wrath of an upset bo’sun. So that his orders could be heard, the bo’sun was normally equipped with a whistle. Specific tunes (or “calls”) would correspond to specific orders. The unique whistle (which resembles an oddly-shaped tobacco pipe) became the badge of the bo’sun throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Legend has it that England’s Lord High Admiral Sir Edward Howard (c.1477-1513) wore a similar whistle to commemorate a crushing naval victory over Scottish captain Andrew Barton (d. 1511). Howard’s pipe was no doubt a very ornamental affair; the ones later adopted by bo’suns were modeled after Sir Edward’s, but were much more modest.

Although modern public address systems have taken the place of the bo’sun’s whistle, it is still used on special occasions to announce the arrival of a VIP onboard a ship.

Sources: Kemp, Peter, ed. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Stephen, Leslie, ed. The Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder and Company, 1885.

Few things appear as uniquely nautical as the figurehead. Often a carved representation of the vessel’s name, or a personification of a vessel with an abstract name, the figurehead’s origins are as old as organized sea travel. Early on, a ship’s figurehead might invoke a protector spirit or deity to help ensure a safe and prosperous voyage. Ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians were the first to mount small, carved figures at the beakhead at the front of their ships, usually a bird or horse. Vikings continued this tradition into the Middle Ages with carvings depicting fearsome serpents or dragons incorporated into the design of their ships. By the 16th century, the design of ships had changed to allow figureheads (which, by now, were becoming more and more ornate) to move to their familiar position on the ship, just under the bowsprit.

The British, with their large navy, had dozens of names and subjects, both mythological and zoological, to choose from. The Spanish tended to use lions for figureheads, while the French focused on mythological subjects. What had started as a talisman of sympathetic magic, had transformed, by the age of sail, into a true work of art. The clipper ship era (in the mid-nineteenth century) ushered in a new wave of figurehead carving, in which women were the most popular subjects.

With the advent of steam, ships lost their bowsprit, and figureheads lost their home. By the twentieth century, figureheads joined the ranks of other aspects of the romantic age of sail that were remembered only by the old salts.

Sources: Kemp, Peter, ed. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Moby Dick instantly comes to mind as one of the most recognizable cetaceans in history. But this frightening sea monster was not merely a figment of author Herman Melville’s (1819-1891) imagination. The real sperm whale who inspired Melville, and terrified a generation of whalemen, was a huge, seventy-foot long bull dubbed “Mocha Dick.” Dick was first encountered near the Chilean island of Mocha in the early 1800s, where he aggressively defended his turf against whalers and was known to smash whaleboats to pieces. Legends about Mocha Dick grew over a thirty year period, as Dick continued to attack whaleboats and even the occasional ship. Like the fictional Moby Dick, Mocha Dick was said to have numerous harpoons permanently stuck into his hide from many a fiercely fought battle against whalers.

It was not uncommon for whalers to name particularly ornery whales. The anthropomorphizing of their prey may have led to more involved stories featuring other named (and violent) whales, such as Timor Jack, Don Miguel, New Zealand Tom and Morquan, King of Japan. All of these whale celebrities are mentioned by Ishmael in Moby Dick.

Sources: Melville, Herman. Moby Dick, or the Whale. New York City: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967.

Whipple, A.B.C. The Whalers. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1979.

The sea shanty (also called a sea chanty) often invokes romantic images of the old clipper ships and the heyday of sailing vessels. But shanties were not created merely to add atmosphere to the arduous life of a shellback. Sailors spent an amazing amount of time pulling on ropes (“lines” to your average mid-19th century sailor), and only by an entire team of men pulling in time could the sails or capstans be handled correctly. A shanty gave the men a rhythm to pull to, and something to keep their minds off the tedious work.

Most songs were set to popular tunes of the day, and often reflected the topics foremost in a sailor’s mind: shore leave, women and drink. Shanties, a corruption of the French word chanter (“to sing”), largely died out by the 20th century, when steamships replaced sailing vessels. With no lines to pull, sailors had little incentive to dream up new shanties. The old songs live on, however, and offer an interesting view into the bygone world of the men who worked the old sailing ships.

Sources: Brown, Rosalina. 1999. Sea, Sailing and Song. Sea Breezes. 73: 290.

Swensen, P.R. 1987. The Origin of the Sea Shanty in Nautical History. The Dog Watch. 44:78-79.

For centuries, sailors have personified death as Davy Jones, a ghoulish sea-demon who would pull the unlucky down to their deaths into the inky black sea. The origin of the name is unclear, but there are a few theories. One suggests that it comes from the name of a tavern-keeper mentioned in an old drinking song, who kept his beer and ale in a seaman’s chest. The more commonly agreed upon theory is that “Jones” refers to Jonah, the Biblical prophet who was swallowed by a whale.

Over time, sailors may have attached more menacing qualities to the character of Jonah than the Bible ascribes to him and turned him into something of a monster. Saint David was the patron of Wales, and Welsh sailors often turned to him in their time of need. How the pernicious Jonah and the redemptive Welsh saint were combined into one sinister character is unclear.

Most seamen carried their few belongings in chests or lockers. Davy Jones was no different, and his “locker” has come to represent the depths of the dark, ominous ocean.

Source: Hendrickson, Robert. Salty Words. New York: Hearst Marine Books, 1984.

This word came to us via Spanish interaction with the Tainos in the early 16th century. The Tainos were the “Indians” Christopher Columbus found when he landed in the New World. Their word for the large cyclonic storms (as well as a destructive creator god) which plague the Atlantic was written by early Spanish settlers as “huracan.” After some mistranslations and evolution, the word became “hurricane” in English by mid-17th century.

The word “typhoon” is an Anglicization of the Chinese word t’ai-fun, which means “great wind.”

Sources: Lovette, Leland P. Naval Customs Traditions and Usage. Annapolis: United States Naval Institute, 1934.

Rouse, Irving. The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

 

Harbors & Ports

The simple answer is that no one really knows where the name “Newport News” came from. But there is certainly no shortage of explanations. The most commonly held belief is that somewhere along the span of Newport News’ riverfront was a watering spot for ships on their way to the English settlement at Jamestown. According to legend, this is where Christopher Newport (1560-1617) landed and gave the homesick English “news” about what was going on in England. It has also been said that the English christened the point of land now known as Newport News Point “Newport’s Ness,” “ness” being an old-fashioned word for a spit of land. The city was called “Newport’s News” by some until the early 20th century.

But Captain Christopher Newport is not the only one given credit for the city’s name. Some say that a pair of early English settlers, the Newce brothers, are responsible for the name. New Port Newce was eventually corrupted over the years to Newport News. To further complicate matters, the Thomas and his brother William Newce were from Newcetown, Ireland. Still others contend that the name derives from the hometown of settler Daniel Gookin, who was from Newport, Ireland.

Source: Evans, Cerinda. 1947. Newport News: Origin of the Name. The Virginia Historical Magazine 55:31-44.

 

Immigration & Slave Trade

Spain’s newly conquered American empire required a huge workforce to tend the fields and toil in the mines. Local native were utilized first, but European diseases and unspeakably bad working conditions quickly took their toll on the population. In 1518, King Charles of Spain (1500-1558) allowed for some 4,000 Africans to be brought over to Spanish colonies to work the land. North America (specifically the present day United States) received its first influx of African slaves in 1526 with the arrival of Spaniard Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon (c.1475-1526) in present day North or South Carolina. Along with the 500 Spanish colonists of the expedition came some 100 African slaves meant to work the land. Less than a year later, malaria, mutiny and an unseasonably cold winter killed off the majority of the Spanish, including Ayllon himself.

Source: Quattlebaum, Paul. The Land Called Chicora. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1956.

 

The Mariners’ Museum

By 1929, Archer Huntington (1870-1955), heir to a fortune of his father Collis Huntington (1821-1900), decided he wanted to build a spectacular maritime museum. It was decided that Newport News, Virginia, home to the shipyard his father had constructed, would be the perfect location. In 1930, Huntington began buying up land along the James River to house his museum and the Commonwealth of Virginia granted him a charter which created The Mariners’ Museum.

The local Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company (at this time, still controlled by the Huntingtons) provided much engineering and building skills, and by 1933, the Museum was ready to open to the public. There was no fanfare on October 29, 1933 when the first guests (who happened to be anyone visiting the already popular Mariners’ Museum Park) were admitted in to see the rudimentary display of nautical artifacts.

Source: Brown, Alexander Crosby. The Mariners’ Museum, 1930-1950: A History and Guide. Newport News: The Mariners’ Museum, 1950.

Like many Americans, Collis Potter Huntington (1821-1900) headed west during the California gold rush in 1849. But he was not out to sit in a stream, panning for gold. Rather, he was content to play the role of merchant, selling goods and merchandise to the miners and prospectors. A shrewd businessman with an almost innate ability to turn a profit, Huntington soon established himself as one of the West’s most prosperous businessmen.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Huntington joined a group of three other like-minded California entrepreneurs during the American Civil War (1861-1865) to petition the United States government to build a trans-continental railroad. Huntington was Central Pacific’s main cheerleader in Washington DC during the early days of the war, and in 1862, he was rewarded with a contract to construct the railroad. Huntington then turned his sights south and formed the Southern Pacific to construct a railroad through the American Southwest. After absorbing and/or buying up numerous smaller railroad companies and even a few shipping firms, Huntington purchased the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) railroad. He now owned a second trans-continental line, that ran from Virginia in the east, south to New Orleans and from there, west to California.

By the 1880s, Huntington was running coal from his mines in Appalachia to Newport News, the terminus of his C&O line. It was in Newport News that he founded the Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company in 1886 to add shipbuilding to his impressive industrial resume. The company later became the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, a leader in the construction of civilian passenger liners and military aircraft carriers.

Source: Miles, George E. Collis P. Huntington. (n.p., 1899).

The Lions’ Bridge (which is technically a dam rather than a bridge) separates The Mariners’ Museum’s Lake Maury from the James River. It is so named for the four lifelike lion statues that adorn each of its corners. The lions were designed by renown sculptress Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), wife of the Museum’s founder, Archer Huntington (1870-1955).

By the early 1930s, when the lions were delivered to the Museum, most of the actual carving of Mrs. Huntington’s designs was being done by skilled craftsman Robert A. Baillie (b.1880). Baillie, a native of Scotland who came from a revered family of stone carvers, created the four lions out of limestone at his studio in Closter, New Jersey. He oversaw their placement on the bridge by riggers from the nearby Huntington-owned Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1932.

Sources: Brown, Alexander Crosby. The Mariners’ Museum, 1930-1950: A History and Guide. Newport News: The Mariners’ Museum, 1950.

Proske, Beatrice Gilman. Robert A. Baillie: Carver of Stone. Brookgreen, South Carolina: Brookgreen Gardens Trustees,1946.

When The Mariners’ Museum was conceived in the late 1920s, the plan called for the inclusion of a large lake on the property. Local Waters Creek, named for early Virginia settler Lieutenant Edward Waters (b.1584), would prove to be the nucleus of the new lake. The creek was dammed up by engineers (the dam is now known as the Lions’ Bridge on account of the four lion statues decorating its corners), and water let in from the James River, along with two artesian wells, created Lake Maury.

Sources: Brown, Alexander Crosby. The Mariners’ Museum, 1930-1950: A History and Guide. Newport News: The Mariners’ Museum, 1950.

Cones, Harold N. The Mariners’ Museum Park: The Making of an Urban Oasis. Newport News: The Mariners’ Museum, 2001.

Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) is often called the “Pathfinder of the Seas” for his pioneering work in the field of oceanography. Maury’s active career at sea ended in 1839 when an injury prevented him from serving aboard Navy ships. He was transferred to the Navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments, where an interest in ocean currents and weather turned into an exhaustive study of oceanographic and meteorological data collected by United States warships cruising the world’s oceans. The subsequent charts he produced became the standard aboard American and foreign ships, both naval and merchant.

When Maury’s native Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, he went with it and was commissioned into the Virginia State Navy. A few weeks later, the state’s navy was merged into the larger Confederate States Navy, where Maury was instrumental in designing torpedoes (devices that are now referred to as mines) and purchasing ships abroad to serve as commerce raiders. After the Civil War (1861-1865), Maury obtained a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute.

Source: Bohlander, Richard, ed. World Explorers and Discoverers. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.

Current, Richard N., ed. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. 4 vols. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Maritime Commerce, Merchant Marine & Work Boats.

Why a barrel was called a hogshead is anyone’s guess. As early as the 14th century, large barrels were being dubbed “hogsheads” or “oxheads.” But in colonial Virginia, the hogshead was so important to the economy, that for a time it became a de facto unit of currency. In the early days of the colony, a hogshead barrel might contain between 400 and 800 pounds of valuable tobacco. By the eighteenth century, laws had been passed in both Virginia and Maryland to regulate the size of hogsheads at 48 inches tall and 32 wide. An average hogshead could hold 900 to 1400 pounds of tobacco!

Why did tobacco planters attempt to cram so much tobacco into a barrel? Taxes and shipping costs depended on the number of hogsheads shipped, rather than the weight. The act of packing a barrel was called “prizing.” Tobacco would be slowly added to the hogshead while a worker would tamp it down with his feet, or with a tool. By packing the leaves so tight, a planter saved on shipping costs because he was shipping fewer hogsheads.

Sources: Goodman, Jordan. Tobacco in History: The Cultures of Dependence. New York City: Routledge Inc., 1993.

Middleton, Arthur Pierce. Tobacco Coast: A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era. Newport News, VA: The Mariners’ Museum, 1953.

Throughout the nineteenth century, when whaling was at its peak, a dead whale had a dozen uses. Whale oil, rendered from the copious amount of blubber found on a typical whale, was used in stoves for heat, lamps for light and as a lubricant on machinery. The oil was also useful in making soap and varnish. Before the rise of the modern petroleum industry, whale oil was the only oil available in any quantity, and whaling became an extremely profitable business.

But there was more to a whale than just his blubber. Sperm whales also provided whalers with ambergris, a waxy substance that was (and still is, when available) used in the manufacture of fine perfumes. Ambergris is produced in a sperm whale’s intestines, but the purpose it serves to the whale is still unclear. Spermaceti, the substance found in the sperm whale’s blocky head, was also valuable for use in medicines and high quality candles.

A whale’s teeth were useful as well. Scrimshaw, the art of carving designs onto sperm whale teeth, kept many a whaleman busy during the maddeningly inactive days while hunting their quarry. Baleen, the long strips of keratinous material used by non-toothed whales to strain food from seawater, was used to make corset stays and riding crops.

Interestingly enough, whale meat was often considered not worth eating, and was left for the sharks smart enough to gather around the whaleships.

Sources: Ellis, Richard. Men & Whales. New York City: The Lyons Press, 1991.

Starbuck, Alexander. History of the American Whale Fishery, vols. 1-2. New York City: Argosy-Antiquarian, Ltd., 1964.

By the middle of the Second World War (1939-1945), mass-produced Liberty Ships were proving their worth. They were cheap and quick to construct, hauled a lot of cargo, and could even take a beating from Axis adversaries, if necessary. But there were some in the maritime trade who saw room for improvements. These improvements gave birth to the Victory Ship program. The Victories (so named because victory was in the Allies’ grasp) were designed with sharper lines, as opposed to the more blocky, utilitarian design of the Liberties. They were designated VC1, 2, or 3 (depending on the ship’s length), which stood for “Victory-Cargo” ships.

They were also quite a bit faster than their predecessors, averaging up to 5 or 6 knots of speed over the Liberties. After some haggling among engineers and war-planners over the engine type (a standard turbine engine was chosen), the first Victory named United Victory was completed in early 1944. Standard Victories were roughly 400-500 feet long, with armament of one 3 inch gun, one 5 inch gun and up to eight 20 mm guns for anti-aircraft defense. Unlike Liberties, which were normally named for distinguished Americans, Victories took their names from towns, colleges and countries, and would then have the word “victory” attached at the end. The Victories hauled cargo and troops through to the end of the war, and many remained in service afterwards.

Sources: Sawyer, L.A. and W.H. Mitchell. Victory Ships and Tankers. Devon, England: David & Charles, 1974.

After the Second World War (1939-1945) had broken out, it was determined that Great Britain required an enormous amount of cargo tonnage. The Nazi U-boat campaign was taking a tremendous toll on Britain’s shipping, and British shipyards could not meet the demand for new ships. The British turned to American shipyards to construct mass-produced, efficient cargo vessels at a reasonable price. From this program evolved the ship type that came to be called “Liberty ships.” Liberty ships, designated EC1, 2 or 3 for “Emergency-Cargo” ship, were named for eminent Americans.

They neither particularly luxurious nor attractive, from a naval engineering standpoint; President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) observed that the Liberty was a “real ugly duckling.” But they were capable of hauling war materiel, troops and weapons to distant shores, all while putting up with abuse from Axis warships and planes (it took three torpedoes and more than an hour to sink the Liberty Cornelia P. Spencer). The average Liberty was 441 feet long, with more than 500,000 cubic feet of cargo capacity. A simple triple expansion steam engine powered the ship, while a pair of five inch guns offered protection from enemy submarines and commerce raiders.

The efforts of the Liberties and their valiant crews helped assure Allied victory in World War Two.

Sources: Sawyer, L.A. and W.H. Mitchell. The Liberty Ships. London: Lloyd’s of London Press, Ltd., 1985.

Stewart, Ian. Liberty Ships in Peacetime. Rockingham Beach, Australia: Ian Stewart Marine Publications, 1992.

 

Naval History & Naval Vessels

The dreaded kamikaze attacks in the closing days of the Second World War (1939-1945) undoubtedly fueled many a nightmare for Allied sailors serving in the Pacific. As the noose tightened around their ever-shrinking empire, Japanese war-planners turned to a desperate tactic they dubbed “kamikaze.” The term means “divine wind” and refers to an attempt by Mongol emperor Kublai Khan (1216-1294) to invade the Japanese islands in 1281. Soon after landing an enormous fleet of ships and tens of thousands of men, the Mongol invasion force was ravaged by an unexpected typhoon. The Japanese, never ones to take heavenly intervention for granted, called the storm “divine wind.”

And in 1944, when an invasion of the Japanese islands again appeared imminent, the Japanese military called on some man-made divine wind to rescue them. Kamikaze pilots would willingly crash their aircraft into American warships, in hopes of sinking them. Eighty-three vessels were sunk by kamikaze raids, while over three hundred were damaged, many severely.

Ultimately, the attacks had no effect on American war plans, but simply provided a bizarre and tragic footnote to a hard won American victory.

Sources: Dunnigan, James and Albert Nofi. The Pacific War Encyclopedia. Two volumes. New York City: Facts on File, Inc., 1998.

Inoguchi, Rikihei, Tadashi Nakajima and Roger Pineau. The Divine Wind. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute Press, 1958.

In the days of the great sailing fleets, it was not unusual to find boys no older than twelve or thirteen serving aboard men-of-war. Those from families with more substantial means might find themselves acting as errand boys for the officers; these forerunners of midshipmen were gaining a valuable education in how to run a ship. Boys with slightly lower aspirations might offer their services to ship’s gunner. These were the so-called “powder monkeys.” It was their job to lug gunpowder (often in pre-measured sacks) from the ship’s magazine up to the gun deck. This freed up the ship’s gun crew to focus on firing at the opposing warship.

Powder monkeys were phased out of service after the American Civil War (1861-1865) as navies became more professional and gun crews modernized. Several powder monkeys (normally referred to as “powder boys” in official sources) in the Union navy were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in battle.

Sources: Kemp, Peter, ed. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, United States Senate. Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863-1973. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1973. 

In the early 19th century, Navy brass had a hard time accepting the theory that upstart young steam engines would ever take the place of sails when it came to powering warships. However, the practical naval applications of steam pioneer Robert Fulton’s (1765-1815) engines could not be ignored. So in 1814, Congress approved the funding for a steam-driven warship already under construction in New York. This ship, alternately called the Demologos (Fulton’s name for the vessel) or the Fulton (named in honor of the designer, after he died during construction) became the first steam-powered warship in the world. She was not finished until 1816, after the conclusion of the War of 1812 (1812-1815), and was thus considered a bit of a white elephant by the Navy.

The Fulton was pierced to accommodate thirty guns, but it is unlikely she ever received her complete battery. Peacetime inactivity forced the unique Fulton into the role of receiving ship at Brooklyn Navy Yard, where she stayed until 1829, when an accidental fire ignited her gunpowder magazine and she exploded.

Sources: Gurley, Ralph. 1935. The U.S.S. Fulton the First. United States Naval Institute Proceedings. 61: 322-328.

Naval History Division, United States Navy. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1977.

Military minds were long fascinated by the idea of a warship that could travel underwater and silently strike at an opponent. Putting that concept into practice, however, was a dangerous proposition up until the twentieth century. Englishman William Bourne (1535-1582), a self-taught mathematician, drew up plans for an oar-powered submarine constructed of wood and leather in the 1570s. Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel (1572-1633) modified Bourne’s, and did his English predecessor one better by actually building a submarine sometime in the 1620s. Drebbel’s creation could not remained submerged for long (it reportedly reached depths of fifteen feet), and the constant leaking most likely terrified its operator.

A number of subsequent attempts throughout the seventeenth century produced similar unspectacular results and more than a few soaked submarine pilots. Credit is largely given to American patriot David Bushnell (1742-1824) for building and operating the first true submarine vessel. His Turtle, a barrel shaped vehicle with hand-powered screw propellers (another first), attempted to sink the HMS Eagle in New York harbor in 1776. A second sortie with the Turtle also failed to sink the HMS Cerberus. Steamboat pioneer Robert Fulton (1765-1815) tried to sell a sail-driven submarine warship named Nautilus to Napoleon (1769-1821) with no success. The Nautilus was not forgotten, however; both Jules Verne (1828-1905) and the United States recycled this name for submarines.

The Confederates during the American Civil War (1861-1865) advanced submarine technology with lethal results, as inventor Horace L. Hunley (1823-1863) and his increasingly deadly series of three submarines (Pioneer, American Diver and H.L. Hunley) sank the USS Housatonic in 1863. Hunley and six crewmembers of the H.L. Hunley died after the submarine filled with water. These early attempts cleared the way for the development of the modern submarine in the early 1900s.

Sources: Escott, Paul D., ed. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. Volume 2. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Hutchinson, Robert. Submarines: War Beneath the Waves from 1776 to the Present Day. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001.

Shortly after the Marine Corps was founded by the Continental Congress in 1775, a standard uniform for the Marines was also drawn up. It included a rather high leather collar that fastened in the back, and was intended to protect the Marine from sword blows. The undoubtedly uncomfortable collar kept the Marines’ throats safe in close quarters combat, and remained part of the uniform until it was phased out in 1875. Even though the collar was gone, the nickname “leatherneck” remained.

Sources: Gailey, Harry. Historical Dictionary of the United States Marine Corps. Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press, 1998.

Rankin, Robert H. Uniforms of the Marines. New York City: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1970.

The concept of throwing dynamite at an opponent might at first sound unprofessional, even cartoonish, but the United States Navy gave it a try in the late 19th century. When the dynamite gun cruiser Vesuvius was commissioned into the US fleet in 1890, some hailed her as an innovative ship of the future. But her career as a dynamite cruiser was rather short-lived. She was a fast ship, capable of a very speedy 21 knots, with little armor and only a trio of 15-inch guns. But her main offensive battery were three pneumatic tubes visible on her bow, which were capable of launching seven-foot-long shells filled with explosive nitrogelatin up to a mile. Compressed air was used as a propellant (rather than gunpowder), so as not to disturb the volatile payload. The breeches of the pneumatic guns were sunk below decks, and therefore, they could not be turned.

The Vesuvius had the unpleasant restriction of having to face whatever direction the guns needed to be fired; this was a liability in modern, turret-driven naval warfare. Seeing action during the Spanish-American War (1898), the Vesuvius‘ dynamite guns proved to have great psychological effect, as they made no report when fired. After the war, she was decommissioned and sat in ordinary at the Boston Navy Yard until being refitted for torpedo testing in 1905. The use of dynamite gun technology, while not limited only to the Vesuvius, never gained widespread acceptance and was all but forgotten by the time the Vesuvius was scrapped in 1922.

Sources: Mooney, James L., ed. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Volume VIII. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1981.

Stuntz, Stephen. 1941. The Vesuvius: Black Sheep of the White Squadron. United States Naval Institute Proceedings 67: 36-38.

It is often surprising how quickly all the military aspects of the aircraft were apparently realized. Barely a decade after the Wright Brothers’ famous 1903 flight at Kitty Hawk, planes were being used for reconnaissance, bombing, ground attack and interception duty during the First World War (1914-1918). Combining the fledgling air service with traditional naval vessels proved to be a much more difficult proposition. In 1910, aviator Eugene Ely took off from the modified deck of the cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-2) in an early Curtiss airplane. When Ely landed on a nearby beach after a four minute, two-and-a-half mile flight, he proved that taking off from a warship was not a problem; landing on the warship was another matter entirely.

Beginning in 1913, Britain’s Royal Navy began modifying existing ship hulls to allow the take-off of aircraft, resulting in the carriers HMS Hermes, HMS Furious (both originally cruisers) and HMS Ark Royal (a former collier). The first vessel built specifically as an aircraft carrier from keel up was also named Hermes by the Royal Navy. She was laid down in 1918, and commissioned five years later in 1923.

The United States also joined in race to construct aircraft carriers, and produced the USS Langley (CV-1) from the converted hull of the collier Jupiter in 1922. The first two ships in the American fleet built specifically as carriers were the USS Lexington (CV-2) and the USS Saratoga (CV-3). While some regarded aircraft carriers as mere oddities or as ships useful only for reconnaissance, the Second World War (1939-1945) proved that they were just as potent as their cousins, the battleships.

Sources: Chesneau, Roger. Aircraft Carriers of the World, 1914 to the Present. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1992.

Dittmar, F.J. and J.J. Colledge. British Warships, 1914-1919. London: Ian Allan, Ltd., 1972.

The Second World War (1939-1945) saw dozens of strategically important sea battles that involved an incredible amount of men and materiel. But none were as large as the climactic Battle of Leyte Gulf (October, 1944) where American and Japanese forces faced off in the Philippines. Incidentally, October, 1944, also marked General Douglas MacArthur’s (1880-1964) promised return to the Philippine Islands.

The battle involved roughly 230 surface ships, 1800 aircraft (the majority American) and some 183,000 men. Strategically, Leyte was the most important battle the United States fought in the Pacific; the Japanese defeat at Leyte so crippled both Japanese air power and naval forces, that the war was all but over. With their navy no longer able to defend the home islands, Japan was open to invasion by American forces. The dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945 cancelled any plans by the United States to invade Japan, a prospect war planners did not relish.

Sources: Pemsel, Helmut. Atlas of Naval Warfare. London: Arms and Armour Press, 1977.

Sanderson, Michael. Sea Battles: A Reference Guide. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1975.

 

Navigation & Seamanship

The telescope was invented in 1608 by Dutch spectacle maker Jan Lippershey and later refined by famed scientist Galileo (1564-1647). Its military use was readily apparent, and by the mid-17th century they were being used aboard ships. The telescope (a term supposedly devised by Galileo) went by many names at sea. The English referred to it as the “Dutch trunk” and the “trunke spectacle” as well as the more familiar term “spyglass.”

Sources: Bell, Louis. The Telescope. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1922.

Kemp, Peter, ed. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

The quadrant had been in use on land by Arab astrologers since the 10th century, but it was not until the mid-15th century that Portuguese navigators adapted them for use while at sea. When Portuguese merchants and explorers began voyaging to Africa, they would use the quadrant to measure the altitude of the star Polaris and calculate their position south of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.

The principle of the quadrant was refined over the years and resulted in the invention of the backstaff (also called the “Davis quadrant” after its creator) in the 16th century, which allowed mariners to calculate the altitude of the sun without actually looking at the sun, and the sextant in the 18th century.

Sources: Ifland, Peter. Taking the Stars: Celestial Navigation from Argonauts to Astronauts. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 1998; distributed by The Mariners’ Museum.

Kemp, Peter, ed. The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

To some of us, it would seem that a sailor’s entire life revolved around knots. If he wasn’t tying them, he was measuring them. A knot equals one nautical mile per hour, and one nautical mile equals 1.15 statute mile. In the days of sail, a ship captain would measure the speed of his vessel by using a device called the log. The log consisted of a length of rope with knots tied into it roughly every 50 feet (ten fathoms). After heaving the log line overboard, the crew would count out the number of knots that passed in thirty second’s time. That number would indicate the vessel’s speed, which came to be recorded as “knots.”

Source: Bathe, Basil and Alan J. Villiers. The Visual Encyclopedia of Nautical Terms Under Sail. New York City: Crown Publishers Inc., 1978.

It is supposed by many that the International Morse Code signal for distress stands for “Save Our Souls” or “Save Our Ship.” Unfortunately, this is just a myth and the truth is a tad more complex. When radio telegraphy became commonplace aboard ships in the early part of the twentieth century, maritime nations decided that a standard distress signal was needed for ships in danger to use.

In 1903, a conference was held in Berlin, but delegates never got around to choosing a universal signal. The leader in wireless (radio) telegraphy at the time, the Britain-based Marconi Company took it upon itself to create a signal and settled on the Morse Code letters CQD in 1904. The signal CQ was a common way for telegraph operators on both land and sea to preface an urgent message. The addition of the D stood for “distress.” This signal was recognized for a few years until Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) convened another conference to address problems within the radio telegraphy industry.

When the issue of distress signals was again raised, Germany’s delegates suggested that ships use the Morse Code signal SOE (which was normally tapped out on the telegraph to indicate a general inquiry) when in trouble. Because E was a single dot on the Morse system, it was agreed that it should be changed to something longer, to overcome any loss of transmission over the airwaves. The second S in SOS is meaningless; it was chosen on account of a longer signal (three dots, as opposed to one) to transmit. In 1908, SOS was made official by international agreement. CQD would remain in use among the British for a few more years (the wireless operator on the Titanic tapped out both SOS and CQD), but eventually gave way to SOS.

Sources: Baarslag, Karl. SOS to the Rescue. New York City: Oxford University Press, 1935.

In the days of the old Spanish Empire (16th-17th centuries), it could take large, unwieldy ships like galleons more than two months to reach their destination. The average length for a voyage from Spain to the New World ports of Havana or Cartagena was about nine weeks. Contrary winds or sailing for destinations beyond the Spanish Main might considerably add to sailing times.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the English had no better luck sailing to their American colonies. The average voyage from England to Virginia took seven or eight weeks. Wind and the storms that form along the eastern seaboard often added another week or two to the trip.

The 19th century saw the advent of the true ocean liners, when companies of similar ships plied the waters between Europe and America. The packet ships running between New York and European ports boasted sailing times of three or four weeks. Westbound passages (those going to New York from Europe) tended to be a week to ten days longer.

The coming of steam revolutionized the trans-Atlantic carrier trade. By the mid-19th century, it took only a week or two for a steamship to sail from Europe to America. No longer were ships forced to rely upon sometimes adverse winds or blown seriously off-course by violent storms. Rivalries developed between competing companies, or sometimes even between captains employed by the same company, as to who could cross the Atlantic faster.

Sources: Albion, Robert Greenhalgh. Square-Riggers on Schedule: The New York Sailing Packets to England, France and the Cotton Ports. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1938.

Burkholder, Mark and Lyman Johnson. Colonial Latin America. New York City: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Middleton, Arthur Pierce. Tobacco Coast: A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era. Newport News, VA: The Mariners’ Museum, 1953.

Smith, Eugene. Passenger Ships of the World: Past and Present. Boston: George H. Dean Company, 1978.

 

Pirates & Piracy

From the 15th century until the middle of the 19th century, privateers played an important role in the wars fought by the European powers. Simply put, privateers (the term “privateer” also applies to the men who made up the crew of the ship) were privately-owned, government-licensed warships allowed to attack the shipping of enemy nations in time of war. In return, a privateer’s crew was allowed by the government to keep a percentage of the loot they captured. By harassing an enemy’s commercial trade, privateers filled a valuable niche and freed up a country’s standard navy to engage military targets. The crew of a privateer was always warned that they operated under a “no prey, no pay” clause; that is, if the privateer failed to capture any enemy ships, the crew would not get paid.

This led to the chance of a privateer turning to out-and-out piracy. Pirates, while performing the same basic duty of a privateer, have no allegiance to any nation and all the proceeds of their activities are divvied up among the crew. An armed vessel, filled with a motley assortment of plunder-hungry sailors could easily give up the search for legitimate enemy prizes and begin attacking the shipping of any and all nations.

This was a very real danger. During the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the European powers utilized the concept of privateering with varying degrees of success. But when the wars were over, a generation of fighting men with a taste for plunder and a talent for sailing ships suddenly found themselves unemployed. While some no doubt settled down in legitimate professions, a large number became pirates who menaced the shipping of every nation, from the Americas, to Europe and even spreading to Africa and Asia.

Source: Marley, David F. Pirates and Privateers of the America. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1994.

William and Mary is the second oldest college in the United States, and one of Virginia’s most respected institutions. And it was founded with some amount of pirate loot. In 1688, the Royal Navy picked up four suspicious men in a small vessel on the James River. In their boat were several hundred pounds of silver, money and utensils. The men, Lionel Wafer (c.1660-1705), John Hinson, Edward Davis and Peter Cleiss, gave conflicting stories as to where their cargo had come from. The Royal Navy officers were no strangers to capturing pirates, and the men’s story struck them as being very suspect. The four were placed in the public jail at Jamestown to await trial.

Peter Cleiss, a slave owned by Edward Davis, was the first to confess that the men had been engaged in piracy along the Spanish Main. After changing their story a few more times, the other three prisoners admitted that they had been pirates, but they were coming up the James River to turn themselves in and receive an amnesty from Virginia authorities. Cleiss subsequently died in jail, and the remaining three pirates were released, although their loot was not returned to them.

After numerous court appeals, the King of England gave the men their property back, but confiscated some three hundred pounds to help start a college in Virginia. The college, in turn, was named after King William and his wife Queen Mary.

Source: Williams, Lloyd Haynes. Pirates of Colonial Virginia. Richmond: The Dietz Press, Publishers, 1937.

Going to sea in the age of the sailing ship was a dangerous business. Life aboard a warship was always hazardous; during battle, a man had to avoid cannon- and musket-balls, fire and the ever-present threat caused by flying splinters of wood. It was inevitable that someone would lose an eye, a leg or an arm. Pirates, given the rather violent nature of their profession, were no exception. However, books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-1894) Treasure Island and J.M. Barrie’s (1860-1937) Peter Pan did much to popularize the idea that the pirate population was rife with prosthetic limbs.

Wooden legs were common enough, on both sea and land, as replacements for lost appendages. The Dutch pirate Cornelius Jol (d.1641) did indeed sport a wooden leg, as did a few other rovers recorded in original sources. But the hook-for-a-hand does not seem to have been as popular. In fact, while there were some pirates who were known to have lost their hands, no record of a hook replacement has ever been found in contemporary sources on piracy.

Sources: Cordingly, David. Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. New York City: Random House Publishers, 1995.

Rogozinski, Jan. Pirates! Brigands, Buccaneers, and Privateers in Fact, Fiction, and Legend. New York City: Facts On File, Inc., 1995.

 

Shipbuilding, Ship Design & Ship Models

In 1886, tireless industrialist Collis P. Huntington (father of the Central Pacific and one of the nation’s great railroad magnates) was granted a charter for the incorporation of his planned Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company. Investors were found, piers and shops were constructed, and the city of Newport News’ infant shipbuilding industry was born. By 1890, the yard’s name was changed to the more familiar Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and construction began on the first ship to be completed at the yard, the tugboat Dorothy.

Naval contracts soon followed, and Newport News subsequently built a number of battleships, submarines and destroyers for the United States Navy. Throughout the 1920s, Newport News focused on constructing merchant vessels and passenger ships. Business naturally fell off after the start of the Great Depression (1929), but picked up again after the yard was awarded contracts for constructing the Navy’s next generation of aircraft carriers, a task it continued throughout the Second World War (1939-1945).

After the war, attention turned again to civilian vessels, although the passenger liner United States received some major input from Navy sources. The shipyard, now named Northrop Grumman Newport News, is the leader in constructing and repairing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the United States Navy.

Sources: Fox, William. Always Good Ships: Histories of Newport News Ships. Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company, 1986.

Smith, E.O. Notes on the History of the NNS & DD Co. Newport News, Virginia: Published by author, 1938.

 

Steamships & Passenger Liners

In 1819, a rather tiny (less than 100 feet long) ship set sail from New York bound for Liverpool. This was the Savannah, the first ship fitted with a steam engine to cross the Atlantic. Of course, she only used the engines for roughly 80 hours on the one month passage between America and Europe. As revolutionary as her trip across the ocean was, the Savannahfailed to excite much interest on either continent. In the early 19th century, steam vessels were thought of only in terms of the shallow draft steamboats that were considered relatively safe. The idea of actually crossing the ocean in a ship powered by steam was alien, and there weren’t many takers for passenger berths on the Savannah.

The first vessel to make the trek across the Atlantic entirely by steam was the British steamship Sirius, which sailed between Cork, Ireland and New York City in April of 1838. She made the trip in a respectable 18 days, though her coal bunkers were emptied by the crossing.

There had been other steam-powered vessels to cross the Atlantic between the Savannah and the Sirius. In fact, ships capable of both sailing and steaming were becoming more and more common on the ocean. As steam engineering became more reliable, steamships became faster and capable of carrying more passengers or cargo than their sail-driven counterparts.

Sources: Braynard, Frank. S.S. Savannah: The Elegant Steam Ship. New York City: Dover Publications, Inc., 1963.

Hartman, Tom. The Guinness Book of Ships and Shipping Facts and Feats. Middlesex, England: Guinness Superlatives, Ltd., 1983.

In the days of the old Spanish Empire (16th-17th centuries), it could take large, unwieldy ships like galleons more than two months to reach their destination. The average length for a voyage from Spain to the New World ports of Havana or Cartagena was about nine weeks. Contrary winds or sailing for destinations beyond the Spanish Main might considerably add to sailing times.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the English had no better luck sailing to their American colonies. The average voyage from England to Virginia took seven or eight weeks. Wind and the storms that form along the eastern seaboard often added another week or two to the trip.

The 19th century saw the advent of the true ocean liners, when companies of similar ships plied the waters between Europe and America. The packet ships running between New York and European ports boasted sailing times of three or four weeks. Westbound passages (those going to New York from Europe) tended to be a week to ten days longer.

The coming of steam revolutionized the trans-Atlantic carrier trade. By the mid-19th century, it took only a week or two for a steamship to sail from Europe to America. No longer were ships forced to rely upon sometimes adverse winds or blown seriously off-course by violent storms. Rivalries developed between competing companies, or sometimes even between captains employed by the same company, as to who could cross the Atlantic faster.

Sources: Albion, Robert Greenhalgh. Square-Riggers on Schedule: The New York Sailing Packets to England, France and the Cotton Ports. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1938.


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