In The Shop And On Display

The ship in the photo above, passing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, was the USS Iowa, the first of four battleships to carry that name. This one was built 1893 to 1897 as the first of a new class of ship for the US navy. Because of the rapid changes in ship technology taking place in that era, Iowa had to modernized ten years after entering service and was obsolete after fifteen years. I’m not particularly interested in guns or armor, but the changes in technology around then also include marine engines (replacing reciprocating engines with turbines), hull design, and radio.

Iowa was in the East River sailing north (that’s Brooklyn in the background, at the east side of the bridge) heading to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. For a long time now, the Navy Yard has been a form of industrial park, so it’s easy to forget that it used to be exactly what its name implies. Here’s a picture (not necessarily from the same trip) of Iowa in dry dock at the Navy Yard:

You can make out the wood blocking supporting the hull on the lower right, just above the “Detroit Photographic Co.” lettering. More interesting are the struts on the left, running from the stepped wall of the dry dock to the hull, just above the waterline. (The hulls of US navy ships of that era were painted white above the waterline, giving them a distinctive appearance.) The struts kept the ship stable while work was being performed; it would be unfortunate if, as water was pumped out of the dry dock, the ship were to lean over to one side and fall off the blocking. The stepped dock walls allowed for ships of different sizes to be worked on in the same dock. The wider a ship was, the higher the blocking would have to be to get the hull up to the point where the steps were far enough apart to fit.

Iowa looks to be in good condition in the second photo. The trip to the dry dock may have been for nothing more serious than cleaning and painting the hull. I’ve talked a lot about looking at various technologies as systems rather than as individual items, and that applies to warships as well. The ordinary ship trade-offs of speed versus carrying capacity versus maneuverability are exacerbated by the need to carry guns and armor.

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