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Vessel Launches: Heckin Good Images

The Mariners’ Museum and Park has glorious photographs in its collections, of course, many of them maritime. Despite the number of battle-at-sea images, many of the most striking visuals are vessel launches.

Transferring a vessel to water is a military tradition seen as a public celebration or even a blessing of sorts. Some of these images are so strong that you can practically feel the drama or the excitement of the crowds. There is power in a majestic vessel seen juxtaposed against the miniature people or in images capturing the ceremonial christening of launching a bottle against a hull.

Below are a few of my favorites from our collection:


Mariners’ Museum Collection P0001.003/01-#PB5730

This shot is perhaps the most dramatic depiction of the size difference between a vessel, in this case, the SS United States, and the crowd of people attending a launch. The size of the ship completely overwhelms those below.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB2274)

Here, viewing the impressive hull of SS Patrick Henry, you could almost miss the crowd below and the spectators above on the deck. I love that this vessel seems to expand in every direction and pushes outside the picture as if it’s too large to contain. It was the first of the “Liberty” ships, mass-produced cargo vessels constructed at low cost.

Mariners’ Museum Collection P0001.003/01-#PB16739

The sepia tones of this print only add to the beauty as the vessel seems to be a shard of bronzed metal. Note, at this vessel launch of the ocean liner SS America in 1939, the mass of guests, dignitaries, and the crowd packed at the base of the massive structure for its christening. This striking image commemorates the exact moment when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt broke the bottle against the ship’s bow. Notably, this launch occurred on August 31, 1939, the next day Hitler invaded Poland, which delayed its first sea voyage by a year.


Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB19862)

One of my favorite photographs in the Museum is Arthur B. Homer, photographed by Richard E. Algire. Here, the freighter appears dangerous and reckless as it performs the typical engineering needed to launch. A familiar sight at a sideways launch; however, I can guarantee you that I would not be standing in front of that crowd. Look at those waves!

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB310)

The St. Mihiel troopship in this image looks like it failed its 1919 launch, but my research shows that it was successful. However, not all launches were successes, and several were tragedies due to either ship anchor failures or the sudden power of water currents and waves.


Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.011/01-#PK0033)

Here is a depiction of the key moment in the christening ceremony for the July 10, 1902, Thomas W. Lawson launch. The largest sailing ship, a seven-masted schooner, was built to use wind power only without an auxiliary engine for propulsion. Unfortunately, it met its end only five years later due to destruction by hurricane-level winds.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.014/01-#PN19539)

The USS U.S. Grant (originally the German ocean liner Konig Wilhelm II seized in World War I) is adorned with American flags wherever you look. This is very fitting as these launches were celebrations of the American military.


Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB29035)

Here is another shot of the William Francis Gibbs-designed SS United States on June 23, 1951, that shows the massive crowd (estimated at 500,000) dwarfed by the size of the vessel. Televised live, you can view footage of this vessel launch at the SS United States Conservancy.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB1058)

The SS Cuyamaca, one of twelve Navy ships partially constructed of concrete, is surrounded by a massive crowd before a June 12, 1920, side launch. While reinforced concrete made the building materials affordable, the construction and operating costs were not. The Navy built twelve of these concrete vessels, but none made it to the war, and the government sold them to private companies instead.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.019/01-109-PS658)

Here is an example of how impressive the massive hulls of the Charles D. McIver and John M. Morehead steamships were to see. The size of the crowd illustrates the popularity of these launching ceremonies. Having never seen a vessel launch in person, I feel a bit envious of these crowds.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.003/01-#PB2276)

We end as we began with this view of SS Patrick Henry leaving the slipways after a successful end-on launch.

Can you imagine these powerful images commandeering a wall in your home like the example below?

We can help you with that! The Museum can offer you any of these images as art prints for your home or office. For information on obtaining these reproductions, please read my previous post, Using Art Reproductions to Create a Home. Or order your photos now by filling out our Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Mariners’ Museum Collection (P0001.011/01-#PK0033)
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