Walk the deck of the museum and discover your connection to maritime exploration of the past, present, and future.
US Merchant Marine and Modern Warships
The World Wars brought many advancements to maritime warfare. Ship design saw the creation of the iconic British Dreadnaughts of the First War, the German wolf pack submarines and the American Liberty Ships of the Second. Combatting nations sought to outdo each other in stealth, speed, and size. During World War II the demand for increased presence on the water led to the creation of the Merchant Marines. Examples of British, American, German, and Japanese vessels displayed in these rooms illustrate the development of the modern military fleet.
Modern Merchant Marine
Ninety percent of the world’s economy is shipped overseas. Worldwide markets are floating on the decks of megaships that carry tens of thousands of containers filled with goods; oil tankers cross oceans carrying billions of dollars in ‘black gold.’ Cities, like Houston, are built on the success of being a port to world shipping. This gallery showcases how Merchant Marines support the global maritime industry and the variety of vessels used in ports and the open ocean.
Sailing Ships and Steam Power
The economics of maritime trading demands ever increasing performance capabilities from merchant vessels. Carrying capacity and speed spurred the development of sail powered vessels to those driven by steam. This gallery showcases examples of this transition including the unique vessels which bridge the gap between one and the other with rigging for sail and steam.
Civil War Vessels, Great Lakes Trade and a Conversation on Ships-in-Bottles
Among its lasting impacts the Civil War ushered in an age of iron ship construction that quickly replaced wooden hulled designs. Battles of the first ironclads took on mythic qualities and raised the morale of both the North and South. After 1865, warships were repurposed for commercial ventures as well as training vessels for a unified U.S. Navy. Timber and iron ore resources made the Great Lakes an industrial river system that supports local economies today. In two sections, this gallery tells the stories of some of these vessels. Additionally, this area includes a conversation on Ships-in-Bottles, the recognizable folk-art of sailors and the modern craftsmen who carry on the tradition.
Navigation & Age of Discovery and Pleasure Sailing
Columbus, Magellan, and Cook are names that carry legends of the Golden Age of Exploration. Worlds were mapped in consequence of these voyages and technological advancements in navigation. Through select stories that span colonial exploration to the scientific diving of Cousteau, this gallery documents man’s need to push boundaries and explore unknowns. It also highlights several navigational tools with particular attention to the revolutionary sextant, whose use is still being taught today to young seamen. Toward the early 20th century, comfortably certain of the mastery of the sea, pleasure cruise liners developed allowing non-specialized travelers to embark on ocean voyages. One of the most well-known maritime disasters is represented in this section. The allure of the open water is also included in stories of sport, yacht raising, and the coveted America’s Cup, the oldest continuing international trophy awarded in sports.
Houston's Story: From Bayou to Ship Channel
“The Port That Built the City” is a common saying for describing the impact of the Port of Houston on the city. This room traces the development of an unlikely port situated 35 miles inland from the coast. Historic Houstonian luminaries such as the Allen brothers, Congressman Ball, and Mayor Rice convinced the city and U.S. government to join together for the Houston Plan, the first plan of its kind that matched funding for a public works project between a city and the federal government.
Sailing Ships of War
Before the twentieth century, ships of sail were the definition of modern warfare. Vessels were built to impress and convey the power and prestige of its mother country. Many of the ships represented in this room became a symbol of the country, such as the American frigate USS Constitution. She is a vessel created at the birth of the nation and has become an icon of American strength and freedom.
Energy from the Sea
Man has known how to get oil from the sea for centuries. For example, hunting whales for fatty oils fueled growth of coastal communities in the American Northeast in the nineteenth century. During a fifty year boom, entire cities became synonymous with the trade such as Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts. With the decline of the industry and demand for alternate fuel sources, modern technology now digs into the seabed to extract fossil fuels. Examples of the machinery designed to achieve this goal are on display in this room. Meeting popular demand for the product and locating natural reserves demands new and constant innovations in hunting for oil.