Preserving retired naval warships is an increasing trend in the United States. This trend has increased in tempo in the last twenty years. While most people, and students of history, would agree that some retired warships need to be preserved, the question needs to be asked, When will there be enough retired warships on display? And what effect will the escalating amount of displayed ships have on each other, especially in the area of economic viability? It is also important to address why Americans preserve ships in such numbers also, as of December 2000 there are more preserved warship in the United States then in the rest of the world combined.1

It is important to trace the growth of this phenomena, but there will be limitations on the study of the subject. This paper will only cover major warships, or those from Destroyer size up, and those with a steel hull. It will also exclude preserved Coast Guard Vessels as while the Coast Guard serves as a section of the Navy while in a time of war the fact that only two or three ships have been maintained as museums thus the over-all impact on the naval ship museum situation is minimal. Also while other warship types deserve mention, the age of sailing warships has passed and very few were preserved by any nation, the abundance of relatively modern warships will remain the focus.

Up until 1948 there was only two naval vessels on display, the preserved sail frigates U.S.S. Constitution (launched 1797), and U.S.S. Constellation (launched 1855). The trend of modern preservation started with the U.S.S. Texas, (completed 1914) preserved in 1948.2 In 1954 the submarine U-505 (completed 1941) became the first modern submarine on display in the United States at Chicago in the Museum of Science and Industry.2 The protected cruiser U.S.S. Olympia (completed 1895) was saved from rusty retirement and made into a museum in 1957.3 This was the first wave of retired warships to be saved, with most of the ships having a direct relationship with World War II, a war that still in the forefront of the general public's mind.

The second wave of ships preserved also had a connection with World War II. These were the battleships U.S.S. North Carolina, (completed 1941), U.S.S. Massachusetts, (completed 1942) and U.S.S. Alabama4 (completed 1942). All were acquired by their home states and placed on display as museums and memorials to the various states war dead of the Second World War.. The historic memorial fleet now stood at eight major naval vessels. It was to stay this way through the rest of the 1960's. It also should be noted that this was also a time of relative prosperity in the United States, The economy was being fueled by the Vietnam War and the building of the Great Society by President Johnston.

The third wave of naval ship preservation happened in the 1970-1980 time frame. This was also the time of the United States Bicentennial. Patriotic Themes were predominating the nation and America was trying to recover from the shame of defeat in Vietnam. The United States Navy was embarked on a massive scrapping program of the reserve fleet. This program, started in 1959 would pick up its own tempo until by the mid-1970's most of the war-built ships had been condemned and made available for scrapping. These factors lead to the largest jump in the preserved naval warships up to the current time. Twenty major warships were turned into naval museums. They included the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown, (served in World War II), the guided missile light cruiser U.S.S. Little Rock (built in World War II), the fleet destroyers U.S.S. The Sullivans, U.S.S. Cassin Young, U.S.S. Joseph P. Kennedy, and the U.S.S. Laffey , the destroyer-escort U.S.S. Stuart and a massive amount of fleet submarines. U.S.S. Cobia, Batfish, Ling, Lionfish,Torsk, Becuna, Cod, Pampanito, Croaker, Silversides, Clamagor, Requim, and U.S.S. Marlin.5 With the exception of the Marlin, a small submarine designed for costal operations in the 1950's, all the above ships were of the World War II era. The historic fleet jumped from eight ships to 28 ships in ten years. This was a major increase in vessels on display in the United States.

The ships placed on display in the 1980 to 1990 show both the lack of available World War II ships in the United States and the growing interest in post-World War II preservation of historical ships. World War II was now becoming the war of America's Grandparents, America had Korea and Vietnam as more recent military memories. The was only six major warships preserved at this time. The second aircraft carrier was put on display, U.S.S. Intrepid, a Second World War veteran along with the 1950's era destroyers U.S.S. Edison, and U.S.S. Turner Joy, a ship that was involved with the start of the Vietnam War. These ships were supplemented by the submarines U.S.S. Albacore, an experimental submarine, U.S.S. Growler, a 1950's missile boat, and U.S.S. Nautilus, the first nuclear powered warship and submarine.5 The historic fleet now stood at 34 major warships on display.

The United States entered into a period of expanded economic growth and well-being in the 1990's. The decade witnessed very low inflation and unemployment, the United States was also the chief architect in a stunning victory in the Persian Gulf War. There was also the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War II. These were significant factors in the second boom of historical naval warship preservation. The money was there to set up new displays of ships, there were feelings of great national pride in the military forces of the nation, and a final sense of history connecting to World War II and a passing generation.

Eight warships were put on display in this time frame. The battleship U.S.S. Missouri was put on display in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The ship was the subject of a fierce contest between Bremerton, Washington, and Honolulu, Hawaii to win her as a museum ship.6 The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet was saved from scrapping in California and placed on display,7 the first major warship on display on the west coast of the United States since the ill-fated battleship Oregon, of Spanish-American War fame. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington was preserved in Texas,8 the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Salem, 9 in the yard of her birth in Massachusetts. The submarine U.S.S. Blueback, a modern submarine, was placed on display in Washington State and New York recovered the destroyer-escort U.S.S. Slater from Greece.10 Battleship Cove, also in Massachusetts, received the ex-German and Soviet missile boat Hiddensee.11The United States Navy itself moved into the preserved naval ship field by preserving the destroyer U.S.S. Barry12 in the Washington D.C. naval yard. The number of retired warships moved from 34 to 42, an increase of 20% in a few years.

There were also two ships who were acquired to be naval museums, but were not ready for public viewing at the end of the decade. The battleship U.S.S. New Jerseywas awarded to her home state, but issues still haven't been resolved regarding her final siting.13 The destroyer U.S.S. Orleck was recovered and towed from Turkey to Texas and is being refurbished for public display.14

There is also a unique navy-private partnership relationship involving the battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin. This ship while a part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet, will have its main deck areas open to the public while remaining a reactivation asset of the Navy. This means that this ship will receive more maintenance and attention to its care than a normal ship that is out of commission, in reserve. It could be viewed as the ultimate win-win scenario in this field as both private and public funds will be available to maintain her.15

There is also a significant number of ships in "donation hold" status in Navy hands. Normally ships that are in reserve have a limited number of options. The ships can be reactivated for U.S. or foreign naval service, stripped of useful parts and scrapped, or expended and sunk as a target in a life-fire exercise, (called a "sink-ex") or sunk as a marine enhancement. With the exceptions of reactivation, these ships become a total loss to history should the other fates befall them.

There are definite standards that have to be followed to have a ship placed in "donation hold." Just because a ship was popular over its career does not justify its preservation. The Navy Standards are clear on the requirements.

"The Navy will recommend vessels be placed on donation hold if the Vessel meets one of the following:

  1. Vessels individually awarded a Presidential Unit Citation
  2. Vessels aboard which an individual act of Heroism took Place that was subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor Or the Navy Cross
  3. Vessels to which a future President of the United States Was assigned during his/her naval service
  4. Vessels that represent to the navy a unique first time Technological revolution or advancement
  5. Vessels nominated by the Chief of Naval Operations or The Secretary of the Navy"

There are eleven ships on "donation hold" status. Many of these ships have historical impact, some show the changes and evolution inside the Navy and some have a mixture of both.

The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Midway, the only survivor of its class and the largest aircraft carrier developed by the United States during the Second World War survives in the reserve fleet in Bremerton, but is slated to become a museum ship in San Diego.

The fleet tug U.S.S. Hoya is in the reserve fleet in California, she is notable for being on station at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. She aided a number of ships at "Battleship Row" during the Japanese attack.

The heavy cruiser U.S.S. Des Moines rests at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, this cruiser, along with her sisters were the largest heavy cruisers built by the United States and the only ones mounting automatic eight inch guns in their class.

The Cold War and the advent of the jet aircraft, along with the first "super-carriers" are represented by the sister ships U.S.S. Forrestal and U.S.S. Saratoga. These ships are also the largest warships proposed for military museum use.

The 1960's era of warships are represented by the helicopter assault ship U.S.S. New Orleans, this class was the first full sized ship designed from the keel up for rapid invasion and support. The U.S.S. Charles F. Adams, a guided-missile destroyer is one of the first designed from the keel up missile ships instead on a conversion. The frigate U.S.S. Knox was the first of her class and was designed to counter the heavy amount of Soviet submarines. Lastly, the guided-missile cruiser U.S.S. Sterett, a ship that witnessed a great amount of Cold War duty and shows the advances in technology in missile technology during its 30 year career.

The 1970's are represented by the Spruance class destroyer U.S.S. Conolly, the first class of warships to use gas turbine engines and a highly advanced hull form to counter the modernizing Soviet submarine threat and the guided missile frigate U.S.S. Oliver Hazard Perry, a ship with a similar mission as the Conolly, but less expensive and a design that has seen success in the export field. There is also a movement afoot to preserve the decommissioned nuclear submarine U.S.S. Cincinnati, but the boat has not received "donation hold" status from the Navy.17

Preservation Requirements

Preserving a naval vessel is a large undertaking. There are a number of steps that have to take place before a ship can finally become a naval museum. First and foremost there must be some kind of support group that has the desire to acquire the ship. This interest group can be business people, interested in having some form of increased tourism to an area, former shipmates, interested in preserving "their ship" and their memories, veteran organizations or educational organizations and other groups.

The battleship New Jersey had an organization that formed up in the 1970's to help preserve her, it was a mixture of all the groups mentioned above and was concerned with saving the ship from the scrappers. The planning started in the 1970's, stayed intact while the ship was in its last commission in the 1980's and was awarded custody of their ship in 1999. This is an example of the long term planning that is needed to be awarded the ship.

All ships, like the New Jersey, have to go though a multi-step process to be acquired. The following areas need to be addressed.

  1. A strong financial plan is needed, some of the areas that need to be covered are physical, the costs of towing the ship to its new berth, refitting the ship to its active condition, this may involved restoration of radars, removing preservation cocoons, repainting the vessel, dealing with possible environmental problems (usually asbestos in older ships) and preparing the ship for visitors. The financial plan will also need to show a marking plan, visitor projections, demographics, and a plan to dispose of the ship if the projected museum fails to thrive.

  2. A strong technical plan, this includes mooring the ship in a safe condition so as to not run aground, or survive a once in a century storm.

  3. A towing plan that will show the course taken to move the ship, estimated tugs needed, where towing attachments may be needed, and estimated time of arrival.

  4. A maintenance plan to deal with the regular upkeep of the ship. This may include planned dry-docking, painting plans and securing of areas from the public.

  5. A curatorial plan that will include how artifacts are colleted, how artifacts and the ship will be exhibited, and what plans are made to include the gathering of future artifacts. This would also include the estimated size and ability of the curatorial staff.

The application is then submitted for evaluation where the requirements for the ship are determined, and if there are more than one requirements for a particular ship a comparative evaluation. The Navy also reserves the right to add more requirements if needed.18

Once all these challenges have been met and the ship is transferred, the ship is still not totally free of other restrictions. The Navy holds the right of recall over any museum ship and there are conditions that have to be followed to maintain that right.

1, The main propulsion system cannot be reactivated. This keeps the engines and boilers from being worn out or having part of the system parted out to activate other engines or boilers. Interestingly enough, the Navy does occasionally overlook this rule in that many of the submarines on display do try to have the main engines running or capable of turning over. Two good examples of this are the U-505, in Chicago, that has its main engines started on a monthly basis to keep them lubricated and oiled. The submarine Pampanio, on display in California, has three of the five engines on the boat operating and runs them on a regular basis. The Navy also doesn't allow the shafts of ships to be damaged in any shape or form. The curators of the battleship Massachusetts were denied permission to cut two shafts on the ship for removal of the outermost propellers to provide easier access to the hull during the recent dry-docking. The reason given was that the ship was subject to recall and was not to be damaged.

The main galley of ships cannot be reactivated for the same reasons, but many ships usually reactivate the galleys in the wardroom areas to serve the public. Again, in submarines, the galley space is limited so this rule is bypassed. The radar systems can be maintained and mounted, they can be revolving, but not transmitting. Naval radars are powerful and can cause interference with local transmissions, therefore the systems are not allowed to transmit. Interestingly enough, the guns of a ship are allowed to be active and many ships do shoot off blanks on special events and holidays.19 It also should be noted that the guns fired off are of the secondary batteries mounted on the major warships on display. While some people may feel that these rules and regulations are extreme the sad case of the U.S.S. Cabot, a light carrier from World War II shows the importance of having a strong management and financial plan.

Preservation Problems

The Cabot was a light aircraft carrier built in World War II, she was sold to Spain in the 1960's and served as the only aircraft carrier and fleet flagship for many years. The Spanish build a replacement in the 1980's and transferred the ship back to a group of private individuals in the United States to be made into a museum. The ship came back to the United States under her own power, all her systems from guns to radars were in operational status. There was some confusion over management of the ship and she was never opened as a museum in New Orleans. Over a period of time the ship deteriorated and the ship received $2 million in federal funds to have its material condition restored, prior to any attempts to being placed on display.20 Due to confusion over title, poor management plans and lack of federal supervision, the ship languished in New Orleans for nearly a decade before berthing fees and costs were settled by offering the ship for scrap to settle the costs.

The historical loss of this particular ship, if scrapped, will be major. The celebrated reporter Ernie Pyle reported from her decks in World War II. Both Presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush served on this class of ship, and she is the only survivor of both the light and escort aircraft carriers left in the world.20 These ships stopped the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic, paving the way for the liberation of the continent and the light carriers were part of the main carrier force that destroyed the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine in the Pacific during the war. The escort carriers also gave direct aircraft support to the Marines and Army troops that invaded the Japanese held islands of the Pacific. Hundreds of escort carriers were built, none survive today and the Cabot is the lone survivor of her class of nine ships. As of the end of the year 2000, the Cabot sits stripped of her 40 mm guns, her island (the control area of the ship) has been removed for preservation and part of her bow has also been removed.21 The estimated costs of saving the ship before she is totally stripped and scrapped is estimated to be $500,000.

Had a strong financial plan been in hand at the start of this mis-adventure the ship would not have been in the dire situation that it is in. The Navy requirements for a 5 year funding plan would have insured her survival or she would have been scrapped or expended without the intense emotional loss that surrounds her now. This is a danger to the naval museum field. A failed naval museum will sour future ventures and preservation attempts. A failed venture will also discourage organizations from attempting to preserve ships of historical value and donors from donating the time and funds to help with the acquisition process. Unfortunately, there seems to be a movement afoot to acquire antique warships that were transferred to foreign nations that are now being retired. All that the organizations have to do is convince the nation that the ship is wanted and pay the scrap value of the warship, if requested, and the ship is theirs. Four ships have been acquired in this manner, the Cabot, the sadly mismanaged aircraft carrier, the Orleck, a Gearing class destroyer recovered from the Turkish reserve fleet and currently undergoing rehabilitation in Texas, the destroyer-escort Slater, a museum ship in upper New York state, and the LST-325, a ship that beached tanks and men on Normandy, France on June 6th, 1944, and is now preserved at Evansville, Indiana.

While there is hope that these "foreign arrivals" will be able to be successful, there will be little, if any, government regulation of the aforementioned ships and no threat of loss of the ship back to navy control if the respective museum seems to flounder.

Preservation and Reconstruction

The restoration, display, and maintenance of a naval museum has unique problems to address.

In restoring a warship to museum status, one of the questions any organization needs to consider is what time frame to display the warship in. Generally warships undergo a number of refits and reconstructions in their service careers, what a ship looked like at its initial commission may not be what a ship looks like when acquired for display use at the end of its active service career. There are a number of example of this situation. The protected cruiser U.S.S. Olympia appears as she did in the Spanish-American War only because the twin eight inch gun turrets have been re-manufactured and mounted on her. The original mounts were removed and scrapped later in her active duty career and new, inoperable ones remounted to make her appear as she was in 1898, but the additions are not the originals and this can cause a conflict with her historical integrity.

The battleship Texas faced a similar problem, the ship was heavily stripped of her light anti-aircraft weapons before being donated to the state of Texas, for many years the staff had to present her in an early World War II condition due to a lack of 40 mm anti-aircraft guns. It wasn't until the battleship Missouri was reactivated in the 1980's that the Texas museum could purchase the surplus 40 mm guns off the Missouri to be placed on the Texasduring the older ship's early 1990's overhaul.

The Gearing class destroyers Orleckand Joseph P.Kennedy and the Sumner class destroyer Laffey all underwent extensive reconstruction in the early 1960's. This reconstruction involved removing all the old superstructure, the second main gun turret, and all the torpedo tubes and light anti-aircraft guns. Also the radar and communication systems were replaced or modernized. To try and reconstruct these ships to their Second World War conditions would have been so extraordinarily expensive so they were left in their final condition. It was somewhat easier to purchase and modify many of the World War II submarines to their war appearance as the Navy scrapped most, if not all, of their remaining diesel submarines during the early 1970's and many parts were made available by this process.

The destroyer-escort Slater had its modern bridge that was installed by the Greek Navy removed prior to opening up as a museum ship, along with other modern equipment to bring it back to its World War II appearance. This was one of the rare times when making a surface warship "look original" was a viable option.

The battleships New Jersey and Missouri are well known for their World War II activities. (The end of World War II was signed on the Missouri's deck.) Both underwent extensive reconstruction in the 1980's and were fitted with the latest in radars and missiles. While they still have their massive 16 inch gun turrets on board, they look distinctly different than 1944 !

The rehabilitation of a ship from reserve status also involves a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money. The ongoing projects of the guided cruiser Sterret and the amphibious ship LST-325 are good examples of this.

The guided missile cruiser Sterret is currently sitting in the reserve fleet in California. The ship has had some significant interest as a museum ship and has had a recent ship check to see what the overall condition of the cruiser is in. The list of work that needs to be done to restore the ship is extensive. The exterior of the ship alone needs massive work to be done to bring it back to a viewing condition. The following is just a partial list of things to do.22

  1. Replace signal lights and flags
  2. Replace ship's boats, all missing
  3. Repair boat winches and davits
  4. Repair helicopter deck and replace helicopter safety nets
  5. Find sample helicopters of the type that operated from the cruiser, can be a major expense
  6. Replace all radio antenna
  7. Manufacture 50 caliber machine gun mounts and find machine guns to mount on them
  8. Replace the missing anti-missile chaff launchers
  9. Replace the missing encapsulated lifeboats
  10. Remount all the main radars, a total of four
  11. Restore the helicopter hanger and control station
  12. Replace all the ship's exterior lights
  13. Replace the missing ship's chairs, engine order telegraph, and helm station on the bridge
  14. Repair the missile rail launchers to make them operational
  15. Procure Harpoon missile canisters and restore launchers
  16. Procure two 20mm close in weapon mounts
  17. Replace the missing five inch main gun in the after part of the ship.
This list covers just the exterior of the ship, there are internal renovations that need to be done also, opening an engine room to public viewing and making it and the interior safe for the general public, and renovating an area for scout sleep -overs are just a few things that also need to be done.

Reacquiring a ship from a foreign power also has its own drawbacks. Before the LST-325 steamed from Greece on its epic voyage back to the United States there was a number of things that had to be repaired on the aged warrior before it was seaworthy. One engine piston had to be replaced, its gyro failed, the #3 generator was replaced, submersible pumps had to be purchased, a magnetic compass had to found, 16 batteries for starting the engines had to be found, the radars had to be tuned up, the main fire pump repaired and the ship cleared of cockroaches. In addition the ship had to run trials and have $25,000 worth of modern communication equipment installed.23

There is also the long term maintenance of a museum ship to consider. Weather, time and tourists all leave an impact on a ship. Ships have to be painted, steel replaced, and areas renovated from heavy use. The battleship Texas underwent an eleven million dollar overhaul in the early 1990's. The battleship Massachusetts underwent a six million dollar dry-docking in 1997, and the battleships Alabama and North Carolina also are due for hull work of the same nature and cost. The cruiser Olympia needs some expensive work. The port engine is totally stripped and it is estimated that it will take $50,000 just to restore that compartment to optimum condition. The wiring of the ship is suspect and that can lead to a fire, the decking has let water seep into the ship jeopardizing the internal stability of the ship. There are asbestos removal considerations and corrosion in the boiler rooms that have not been addressed since 1922! On top of this all, the ship has lead paint to be removed or covered up.24 These undertakings are usually beyond the financial scope of most nautical museums and state public funding had to be sought to due the work. This has been acceptable because most of the larger naval ships are usually the respective state's official war memorial and are in the public eye.

Geographical Competition

The majority of the military naval museums are on the East Coast of the United States. This area of the country is where the Navy was founded, and has had the greatest public image. The largest naval base in the world is located in Virginia so it is natural that this area of the country has been the focus of the naval museum industry. The most densely populated centers of the country are eastward in nature so there is a greater population base to draw attendance and financial support. However over saturation of ships could be a problem. One problem of having too many displays in an area is that they tend to compete with each other for the same customers, mainly tourists and schools. In fact the "sleep aboard" programs are a chief source of revenue for the museum ships.

There are four aircraft carriers on display, two are on the east coast, the Intrepid at New York, and the Yorktown in South Carolina. These two carriers are far apart from each other and so do not compete. Of the other two carriers Lexington is open to the public in Texas and the Hornet is in California. This trend of spacing the major ships a good distance apart is going to be upset with the three new proposed aircraft carrier museum ships. The Saratoga will be going on display in Rhode Island in 2001. This site will compete with both Battleship Cove, the home of battleship Massachusetts and the Intrepid in New York City. The Forrestal is wanted in Maryland or Florida, in Maryland the ship will be near to the proposed battleship New Jersey site in New Jersey and the established Patriot's Point site in South Carolina holding the Yorktown. The Midway will be on the west coast of the United States, at San Diego, California, since the Hornet is near San Francisco they should not have an adverse affect on each other.

The other problem with adding new aircraft carrier museums is that aircraft carrier museums need aircraft to display, or they seem to feel hollow and empty. The addition of three new decks to display aircraft will cause competition to acquire suitable vintage military aircraft. As noted earlier when the Cabot's guns went on sale they were purchased quickly by aviation museums as 40 millimeter guns of the World War II era are now rare and carry a hefty price. Aircraft can be assumed to have the same value.

The battleship museums also have new competition to deal with. For many years it was the Texas in Houston, Texas. The Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, The North Carolina in her home state and the Massachusetts in Fall River, Massachusetts. While there was always some concern about having three battleships on the eastern part of the United States, they are all long term museum ships that have been in place since the 1960's. This delicate balance is about to be upset with the siting of the New Jersey near New York City, now competing with the Massachusetts and the Wisconsin being opened to the public in Virginia, competing with the North Carolina and to a lesser extent the Alabama. The Missouri is safe from competition in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In fact there are plans to move the U.S.S. Iowa from its reserve fleet berth in Rhode Island and move it to California, and after the Navy releases it in about 2006, making it a museum ship in or near San Francisco.

The cruiser museum fleet is less competitive, and also significantly less numerous. The protected cruiser Olympia is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The missile cruiser Little Rock in Buffalo, New York and the heavy cruiser Salem, near Boston, Massachusetts. There are only two other cruisers being proposed for display, the Sterret and the Des Moines and their sites are not certain. There are a number of organizations competing for the Des Moinesin particular.

The destroyer and submarines are scattered across the country, because they are not as attractive to the public eye as the larger ships and also because of the relative ease of maintenance compared to the larger ships, their sites will not be evaluated.

Economic Data of Major Naval Museums

While economic data of this nature is hard to find, some information about a few of the ships is available. Naval museums can make a major impact on their local community and encourage renovation of a depressed area and bring in increased tourism. The battleship Massachusetts is a prime example of this. Prior to the arrival of the warship in 1965, the downtown area of Fall River, Massachusetts was in a state of decay. The textile mills were closing, downtown was facing stiff competition from suburban malls, and the area was in need of a major renovation. The Massachusetts was the first major attempt to stop the decline of the city. The siting of the ship gave people the reason to visit the city. Fall River also played up its relative closeness to cities like Boston, 50 miles north, Providence R.I., (20 miles west) and Newport R.I., (25 miles south)

This helped change the nature and the moral of the city, instead of urban decay, there was a sense of urban pride and the battleship Massachusetts became Fall River's ship.25

While the majority of the naval museums are located in the eastern part of the country, they all have a significant impact on their local areas. It is important to evaluate the following data to find some common grounds for success as a naval museum.

Name Ships City Population Visitors per year Revenue Self-sustaining
Battleship Cove
  • 1 battleship
  • 1 destroyer
  • 1 submarine
  • 1 missile boat
  • 2 P.T. boats
Fall River, Mass 90,000 + people with draws from Mass. and R. Island 130,000 $1.4 million Yes
U.S.S. Salem 1 heavy cruiser Quincy, Mass. 82,640 with draws from greater Boston area Unknown (new museum so limited data.) Unknown Unknown
Intrepid Sea-Air Museum
  • 1 Aircraft Carrier
  • 1 submarine
  • 1 destroyer
New York City 7,311,966 450,000 $5.8 million No (New York is very expensive)
Independence Seaport
  • 1 protected cruiser
  • 1 submarine
Philadelphia 1,552,572 125,000 $0.5 million Yes
Buffalo Naval & Serviceman's Park
  • 1 cruiser
  • 1 destroyer
Buffalo, New York 323,284 65,000 Unknown No
Battleship North Carolina 1 battleship Wilmington, N.C. 130,000 230,000 $2 million Yes
Patriots Point
  • 1 aircraft carrier
  • 1 destroyer
  • 1 submarine
  • other ships
Charleston, S.C. 81, 301 288,509 $3,990,079 Yes
Battleship Alabama
  • 1 battleship
  • 1 submarine
  • 1 LST
Mobile, Al. 201,896 325,000 $2 million Yes
Aircraft Carrier Lexington 1 aircraft carrier Corpus Christi, Texas 266,412 340,000 Unknown Yes
Battleship Texas 1 battleship Houston, Texas 1,690, 180 300,000 Unknown Yes

This data was difficult to find.26 Many museums, as noted above, do not release their revenue figures, whether it is to discourage more competition in the local area or as a matter of policy is not stated. There are some interesting conclusions that can be made.

1, Battleships are very popular and a relatively low cost item. The battleships Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Alabama bring in between 1.4 to 2.0 million dollars of revenue to their sites and a number of visitors higher than their base population. They are also self-sustaining and two, they are located in smaller population centers. This reinforces the attractiveness of the ship type and bodes well for the battleship New Jersey, Missouri, and Wisconsin museums, however there still is the danger of adding two more battleships on the east coast area of the United States.

The battleship Missouri, safe from competition in Hawaii, is estimated to bring in $5,000,000 of revenue to Hawaii, thus making the Islands a more popular place to visit.27 This can make a major impact on hotels, shops, restaurants and the like that are dependent on both the local population and tourism for their income.

Aircraft carriers, of which there are four, may be a different story. The Yorktown and Lexington are self-sustaining, there is no information on the Hornet, and the Intrepid, in the largest population base of all, not self-sustaining. Why a museum ship in the largest port of the United States is not a major attraction raises a number of questions. It there too much to see in New York? Is the site being managed properly? Is the waterfront an easy place to get to? By all standards the Intrepid museum should be flourishing according to attendance and population figures yet it is not. It also should be noted that the Cabot, our failed aircraft carrier museum ship, also suffered from failed management. This may be a problem that the Saratoga museum may face being 20 miles or less from Battleship Cove.

The other museum that has not become a break even operation is the cruiser Little Rock and destroyer The Sullivans display site. Buffalo is off the regular tourist routes and is located in an out of the way part of upper New York State. It seems to lack the popularity of some of the other sites to entice visitors. To be honest, how many things are there to do in Buffalo on a regular basis? What would draw more tourist there?

So some very limited conclusions can be made from the following data.

  • Battleships are more popular in the public eye and easier to promote and maintain as museum ships than aircraft carriers, there is more to see, guns, turrets, and massive superstructures compared to large, and sometimes empty, flight and hangar decks.

  • To be successful, a naval museum needs other reasons for people to come to a geographic area to visit. Many of the museums are sited in areas rich in history. The ships in Massachusetts are near areas where one can see Revolutionary War relics, fishing ports, discount shopping districts,or Newport mansions. This makes the museum a part of the community attraction and not a stand alone facility.

  • Age of display is not a barrier to being an attraction, both the cruiser Olympia (launched in the 1890's) and the battleship Texas (launched 1912) are still attracting visitors, and indeed are unique representations of ships of their particular eras.

Historical, Educational, and Emotional Value

Historical value is one of the prime reasons given to preserve a ship, regardless of type. It can be argued that everything and everyone has some form of historical value because of mankind's relationship to his world. The question that needs to be asked; Is there enough historical value to justify the saving of a particular ship. Ships are like children, they are a very long term investment that cannot be put aside without serious consequences. The World War II aircraft carrier Enterprise had the most outstanding record of any warship in recent history, yet she lacked public support for her preservation and was scrapped in 1958.28 The French ship of the line Duguay Trouin was captured shortly after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1804. The ship was renamed the Implacable and served the Royal Navy for 144 years, and was declared surplus after World War II and was scuttled in the English Channel in 1946!29 The battleship Warspite, Britain's most honored and decorated battleship was sold for scrap in 1948.30 Today only the stripped remains of the Cabot await the final series of cutting and that ship will be gone.

Some ship's historical value is so clear that the loss of the ship would cause a public outcry. No one would think of raising the hulk of the Arizona to clear Pearl Harbor of the wreckage as it is a silent reminder to the start of America's Involvement in World War II. Nor would anyone allow the scrapping of the Missouri, the site of the Japanese surrender ending World War II. These ships are unique because of the history that happened, the battleship New Jersey is in a similar situation because of its Vietnam experience, but does every ship need to be preserved? Does the public need all four Iowa class battleships as museums or every single retired super-carrier. There is a danger that if the "historical" label is applied to too many ships that it will become valueless and lacking in impact.

The educational value of a naval museum cannot be underestimated. Future naval historians and curators are groomed on them. The ships are places that naval engineers can see other types of design processes and compromises. The teacher can point out why the ships were made and what conflicts were brewing in the world at the time. Scouts sleep over on the ships and have their first taste of a larger world. There is a lot to be said about the "hands-on" effect of these ships. Indeed, the battleship North Carolina has become a living example of the Second World War. The main guns fire, a torpedo hits, there are sounds of command and battle, all these are part of the summer program of the ship. History and lives become real, not a sterile film or book.

Emotional value is a harder thing to gauge. In the naval museum field, a ship has emotional value when it can be saved from scrapping by members of its old crew, local governments and civic organizations. A ship has emotional value and impact when it helps to revitalize a depressed area or cause a community to become protective of "their" ship. A ship lacks emotional value when it losses community support or fails as a museum. Perhaps this is the prime reason that the Cabot has failed as a museum. The ship certainly did have its supporters but it had no community to claim it. The ship languished in New Orleans for a decade without public support. Also because it was in foreign hands for so long, it had no large crew base to draw on for its support. The fact is that something has failed here, and perhaps the general apathy regarding the scrapping of the Cabot is proof enough of a lack of "emotional value"

Experts and their comments about naval museums

While some curators preferred to speak off the record regarding new naval museums and preservation of specific ships a few curators have made their opinion known.

"Colin White, Head Curator of the Royal Naval Museum, in his excellent paper 'Too many Ships Threaten the Heritage', presented at the Dundee Conference in 1995, hit the nail soundly on the head when he spoke of the continuing rush to save vessels of decreasing relevance. He also spoke more soberly of the shortage of funds and of skilled labour, the latter a direct result of the reducing apprenticeships of the past thirty years. Yet the rush to 'Save our Heritage' whether it be a Mersey ferry or another submarine continues. When trying to dissuade people from what may be a disaster, or pointing out the reality of the situation, one sees the glazed expression, the far away look in the eyes. They are tuned to higher things, billowing sails, the hiss of a steam engine, the rub of holy-stone on whitened decks. The reality of wood like sponge or plating one could stick a finger through, is seldom seen."

John Kearon31

This sentiment has been echoed in the United States. While many groups and associations are quick to move to preserve a ship from being scrapped, sometimes reality is a far away concept. The sad story of the Cabot bears this out. Also there has been off the record concern about the preservation of a number of post-World War II aircraft carriers and all four battleships of the Iowa class. Whatever your purpose in acquiring an historic ship, acquisition should be regarded as a firm commitment to responsible stewardship and good preservation practice.32

Conclusion and final comments

The naval ship museum is a growing phenomena in the United States, in fact it is the largest movement of its type in the world. This has had and will continue to have a positive impact on the study of naval history, recruitment for the navy, and as important symbols of past conflicts. Many of these naval museums have helped to revitalize metropolitan areas of the cities they are located in and are important parts of their communities. A properly used museum is a educational tool, a source of revenue and a memorial to those people who have given up their time or their lives in service to the greater good of the country. The danger, and it cannot be stressed enough, is that too many naval museums can make the experience common, and the museums can end up in competition with each other, rather than being supportive of each other. The other danger to the museum field is the negative publicity that the historic ships get when there is a failure in the field. This kind of notoriety is detrimental to the future of the industry. It is highly recommended that the pace of naval ship preservation slow down. Not every ship needs to be preserved, while it is sad to see a ship be scrapped, there is a necessity to be prudent for the good of the industry. It should be noted that most of the naval museums are well run, and will remain an important part of this nation's history for the foreseeable future.


Source Times used
newspapers 2
links at Historic Naval Ships Assoc. 3
individual ship home pages 14
Int. Register of Historic Ships 1
newspaper web-sites 2
Guide to Ships/Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet 6
Battleships, Carriers and all Other Warships 2
Battleships of World War II 1
personal observations 1
Conway's Fighting Ships 1
Navy Sea Systems command 4
Total 37


Page History

01 October 2000 - Updated
05 February 2022 - Corrected location of LST-325