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Maritime Administration (MarAd) Ship Plans Collection at NMAH

In 1989, the Maritime Administration (MarAd) of the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a formal Notice of Intent to Destroy a large collection of original ship designs and plans dating from 1939 to 1970. These plans represented many of the most famous series of World War II ships built by the Maritime Commission and later vessels, in their as-built phase.

Stored in rolled bundles at the Federal Record Center in Suitland, MD, the collection numbered in the several tens of thousands of sheets, and MarAd was required to destroy most of them because they were more than 25 years old. In fact, many were older than that, but they had been saved longer than the requisite period since so many of the ships were still in use around the world, and there was considerable demand for their design plans by owners, shipyards, historians, and ship model builders.

After lengthy meetings and numerous drafts of detailed interagency memorandums of agreement, in 1990, the Division of Transportation at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) obtained access to the plans and began sorting through them. Since the collection was documented on microfilm, it was decided to save only the most significant, representative, and best-preserved examples, after offering the first sets of originals to the ship preservation groups managing extant vessels, such as the Liberty ships Jeremiah O'Brien" and John W. Brown, and the Victory ship Lane Victory. The initial selection was made by a group of recently retired MarAd naval architects whose signatures appeared on many of the original drawings, and other volunteers in the maritime history section of the Division of Transportation. The process was overseen by the Transportation Division's maritime staff.

An average of more than two dozen sheets was preserved for each of the 55 designs offered to NMAH, including outboard and inboard profiles (elevations), capacity plans, general arrangements, rigging and machinery arrangements, various sections, deck plans, exterior and interior arrangements, basic structures, shell expansions, lines and offsets, and hydrostatic characteristics. Representative details such as propellers and fairwaters, shafting, rudders, stocks, and accommodation plans also were preserved.

The various ship types in the NMAH merchant vessel and naval ship catalog are identified by their original Maritime Commission design designations. This classification system is based upon three groups of letters and numbers defining a vessel's characteristics. For example, the famous Liberty ship is identified by its design designation of EC2-S-C1. The first group is translated as Emergency Cargo 2 (length between 400-450 feet). The second group indicates machinery type and number of screws (steam, single-screw). The third group specifies the particular design type and any subsequent modifications. Although the classification system of the Maritime Commission is used throughout this catalog, it is followed by the popular name of the ship type in parentheses at the beginning of each design type's serial listing.


Launch of the SS United States as Described in a British Satirical Magazine

"After the loud and fantastic claims made in advance for the liner United States, it comes as something of a disappointment to find them all true."


Related Images

One of the drawings of the stern of the SS <i>United States</i>
One of the drawings of the stern of the SS United States

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