Remembering USS Monitor, Her Designer, and Their Arch Rival

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

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

Happy 4th!

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"My dear Taylor, present my friendly greeting to your sons, and give them the enclosed $10, to purchase materials for a glorious noise. Your friend, John Ericsson." Recieved July 4th, 1887. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the library blog. The 4th of July is a special day for all Americans: young and old, immigrant or native born, we can all share in the love of liberty that our Independence Day celebrates. John Ericsson, a Swedish immigrant and inventor of the USS Monitor, was no different. Although he was seen as by the public as veing arrogant, cold, hard edged and antisocial, Ericsson had a softer side as well. In a letter to his friend and personal secretary Samuel Taylor, Ericsson includes a gift to help Taylor’s family enjoy the festivities.

Ericsson’s letter means more than just entertainment for Taylor’s children. His kind gift and thoughtful gesture shows just that Ericsson was not the cold, haughty engineer that everyone thought him to be. He was also a man who could open his heart to others, and who felt how special our Independence Day can be. Perhaps we can take inspiration from his letter as we gather with friends and family this 4th of July to celebrate what it means to be an American. After all, what could be more American than helping kids launch fireworks?   Read more

Shifting Weight with the Engine

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This past week the 30,000 gallon tank containing Monitor’s steam engine was drained for a key milestone in the conservation of this unique artifact. The purpose for the tank drain was the installation of a new support system under the engine that will enable the eventual disassembly of  the object.  Up to this week, the engine which weighs approximately 25 tons, had been suspended off the ground from a massive I-bean supported on large steel posts. In the images below, you can see the engine before and after recent deconcretion efforts suspended from the I-beam.  

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USS Monitor in the New York Times!

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The Mariners’ Museum and Monitor Conservation Project were fortunate to attract the attention of John Tierney and the New York Times.  John visited the museum on two recent occasions and published an article about the Monitor in the NY Times on August 8. 

The article coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication (in the NY Times and other papers) of the Union Navy’s call for “Iron-Clad Steam Vessels” on August 9, 1861.  Check it out his great article here:   Read more

A Day in the Lab

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It was Friday afternoon and Conservator Elsa Sangouard did not say a word; she didn’t have to say anything.  Her smile told the whole story.  Elsa and Gary Paden, the Objects Handler for the USS Monitor Conservation Project, had just successfully removed a beautiful and shiny copper alloy tallow cup from Monitor’s 25-ton steam engine when I walked into the engine treatment tank.  They held the multi-component artifact with pride and examined it closely.  It had the appearance of something Dr. Seuss would have invented.  Two valve handles of different sizes extended from the smooth, round tallow reservoirs.  A smaller drain spigot with a stout nozzle extended from one of the reservoirs.  It looked ornate and stout, fantastical and practical.  Engineers heated tallow or pig fat in these devices.  The liquid fat would then drip into the steam engine’s valve chests, providing critical lubrication.  Surprisingly, Elsa was able to turn one of the valve handles as if it the object was new.  Smiles grew wider on their sweaty and sediment-covered faces.

            They passed the tallow cup to me and I placed it in a plastic container filled with deionized water for safe storage and desalination on a workbench outside of the engine treatment tank.  I labeled the container and lined it up with a dozen similar containers filled with other copper alloy engine components removed during the week.  Conservation Technician Mike Saul walked up to the table with a clipboard and began documenting the condition of each engine component for entry into the artifact database and individual artifact treatment files.  We stared at an amazing assortment of ten oil cups of various sizes removed from the engine’s rock shaft bearings and eccentric arms.  A small drop of oil bubbled to the surface of the water in one container.  “That’s original engine oil from the night the Monitor sank,” I said.  Mike hustled off to grab a glass sample vial so we could collect the oil for later analysis.   Read more