American Merchant Marine Museum History
American Merchant Marine Museum History & Timeline
Almost since the creation of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, there has been some sort of museum on campus. While wartime plans for a permanent museum were ultimately shelved in 1953, between 1946 and 1958 the old training ship Emory Rice was deemed a pier side “museum ship.” While not much is known about this facility, we do know it served as an inspiration for Midshipman Charles Renick, who would graduate in 1947. While the museum ship was scrapped in 1958 and its collections scattered around campus, the idea did not die. Renick returned as an administrator on campus in 1961, and almost immediately began advocating for a distinct museum space. The theft of the MacArthur “Surrender Sword” in 1973 from a midshipman lounge in the barracks underscored the need for a secure space to display the Academy’s treasures.
A permanent site for the Academy’s collection of art, ship models, and nautical artifacts was found in the late 1970s, after the Alumni Association donated the neighboring Barstow estate to the Academy. Renick and other alumni successfully campaigned for a Museum to be located on its ground floor, with storage in the basement, while a sort of hotel for Academy visitors occupied the second and third floors. The Museum officially opened its doors on May 20, 1979, under the care of the American Merchant Marine Museum, Inc., a non-profit entity empowered to exhibit, store, and even restore the Academy’s heritage assets, and apparently allowed to receive new items on its own authority. It also engaged in a vigorous fund-raising campaign from the Barstow building, and on occasion MARAD would provide proceeds from scrapping ships, as it did in 1992 to the amount of $334,000.
Nonetheless, the Museum did not thrive under Foundation leadership. Staff turnover was high, and overall dwindled. While a professionally trained curator did work at the Museum until 2009, the Foundation proved unable to raise sufficient funds to support itself. In 2007 the Academy’s superintendent created a NAFI to oversee the Museum, a questionable move that drew the attention of MARAD’s legal team, which observed a number of irregularities too great to be ignored. The NAFI soon folded, and the Academy appointed a maritime history professor to oversee the Museum’s day-to-day operations.
Since March 1, 2009, the Museum has been operated under federal control with federal employees augmented by volunteers and contractors. During that time, its appropriated budget has fluctuated wildly, from a high of $75,000 to its current budget of $5,000. Happily, it has received large amounts of gift money since 2009, and on several occasions it has petitioned for, and received VORF funds. MARAD’s Federal Preservation Officer has supported a number of initiatives to bring it into compliance with federal requirements, as has its staff. Resources have been found to install a new boiler, overhaul dated bathrooms, and even to provide a new roof. New exhibits find new audiences, and have even brought notice in the on-line edition of New Yorker magazine. Some 12.5 tons of detritus, including rusty metal shelves, old television sets, broken furniture, and hundreds of phone books have been removed from the Museum building. The facility is cleaner, better organized, and better visited than any time in the past, and is used almost daily for midshipmen classes. In fact, midshipmen participation has been a key element in the continued success of the Museum since 2009, and has provided much of the labor necessary to clean and organize spaces.
A quick glimpse of the timeline below will give you an idea of our unique heritage.
- April, 1945: architectural plans drawn up for a combined library and museum
- Summer, 1946: Training vessel Emory Rice redesignated as a “Museum Ship”
- 1948: Congress authorized construction of a combined Museum/Library facility
- 1953: SUPT. McLintock cancelled Library/Museum construction
- 1958: Museum Ship Emory Rice scrapped.
- 1971: Dr. Melvin Jackson of the Smithsonian conducted a survey of USMMA’s collection of models, paintings, and memorabilia and reported on the suitability of several on-campus locations for a museum.
- 1973: USMMA’s MacArthur “Surrender Sword” stolen from a midshipman lounge in the barracks. It was about this time that Capt. Charles Rennick, USMS (USMMA Class of 1947) began to campaign for a museum to display the Academy’s many maritime paintings and artifacts.
- December, 1974: “Kings Point Fund” purchased Lundy/Barstow Estate for $500,000
- 1976: Alumni Foundation donates Lundy/Barstow Estate to USMMA
Museum Foundation, 1979-2009:
- January 1978: Dr. Melvin Jackson, a retired curator from the Smithsonian, appointed as curator of new museum; for personal reasons, he soon resigned.
- January, 1979: Frank Braynard becomes the Museum’s curator
- May 20, 1979: American Merchant Marine Museum opens its doors in former Lundy/Barstow mansion
- 1984: 61-ton Emory Rice engine delivered to USMMA
- May 17, 1985: Berger Hall, housing engine of TV Emery Rice, is opened as a Museum Annex
- October 21-22, 1988: Liberty Ship Reunion
- 1990: Navigation Instrument Room (permanent display) opened
- 1990: Hales Trophy/ Blue Riband returned to Britain, despite support of Smithsonian Curator Dr. Paul F. Johnston and other museum professionals
- October 18, 1991: MacArthur “Surrender Sword” returned to Museum staff
- 1992: MARAD donated proceeds of scrapping of SS Kingsport Victory to Museum, $334,000
- 1997 Brick path made connecting McNulty Campus to Steamboat Road
- May, 1999: “Sperry Navigation Wing” opened (permanent exhibit)
- 2003: Curator Frank Braynard retired from Museum
- 2003: Dennis R. Fanucchi becomes executive director
- February 3, 2003: Marianne Della Croce becomes curator
- February, 2003: Betty Varian retired as registrar
- November 3, 2003: “Maritime Hall of Fame” opened in space that formerly housed organ pipes
- October, 2007: Museum Foundation liquidated; SUPT. Joseph Stewart and replaced with a Museum NAFI Advisory Board
- Early 2008: Director Dennis Fanucchi left
- February 2009: Nancy Kasius and Phyllis O’Connell, last of old Foundation employees left Museum.
Current Museum, 2009-present
- March 1, 2009: Prof. Joshua Smith assumes duties as Interim Museum Director
- April 7, 2010: “Museum Organization and Facility Checklist” submitted by All Museum Services, LLC; facility met 30 out of 111 standards established by the
- National Park Service’s (NPS) Museum Management Program.
- May 20, 2010: “Interim Collections Management Plan” submitted by All Museum Services, LLC.
- April 24, 2011: Clayton Harper commenced working at Museum as a GS-7 administrative assistant
- December 10, 2011 to present: “CONVOY! Supplying Allied Victory in World War II,” (permanent exhibit)
- February 3, 2012: Museum found to be free of air-borne asbestos (although there is a large amount of asbestos in the building)
- March 13, 2012: USMMA Strategic Plan Kickoff hosted in Harry Marshall Room
- March 16-June 29, 2012 “Heifer Relief: Compass, Ark, Berth” exhibit opens: first “modern art” installation ever at AMMM!
- September 20, 2012: Building Evaluation Report submitted, including detailed analysis of Museum building
- May 3, 2013: MAO 330-15, “Management of Maritime Administration Heritage Assets” goes into effect.
- May 21, 2013: Maritime Day festivities held at Museum
- May 21, 2013-February 1, 2014: “Sermons to Sea-Land “ exhibit
- May 20, 2014 to present: “Ships Made America,” (permanent exhibit)
- May 20, 2014:“142” Gallery opened (permanent exhibit)
- August 29, 2014: Museum building/Barstow mansion admitted to National Historic Register
- November 8, 2014-June 25, 2015: “Making Waves” Maritime Photography Exhibit
- March 12, 2015: Academy Gifts and Memorials Board commence regular meetings
- March 25, 2015: “Women on the Water” opening reception at Museum
- April 18, 2015: Boy Scout Camporee at Museum
- June, 2015: MARAD Heritage Asset Policy and Management Manual goes into effect
- July 9, 2015: H.R. 2992 specifically mentions the American Merchant Marine Museum as the permanent home of the “Merchant Marine of 4 World War II Congressional Gold Medal.” Legislation did not pass; revived on November 15, 2017 as S. 2127
- August 6, 2015: MacArthur Surrender Sword presentation by Mr. Ogawa, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- October 7, 2015: Advisory Board Dinner hosted in Harry Marshall Room
- December 9, 2015: Society for Miniature Ship Collectors regional meeting
- April 3, 2016: Middle States Accreditation reception in Gallery II
- May 19, 2016-July 1, 2017: “How to Abandon Ship: The Sinking of the SS Robin Moor, 1941”
- April 12, 2017: COSAS reception, Gallery II
- June 17, 2017: DOT Secretary Elaine Chao tours, holds meetings at Museum
- September 19, 2017-present: "Liberty’s War, An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine 1942-1945"
- March 20, 2018: mural installed in Zero Deck area of Barracks
- March 24, 2018: Museum open on Saturday in support of Boy Scout Camporee
- April, 2018: new roof installed
- May 15, 2018: large tree fell on Museum, damaging newly installed roof
- May 30-June 1, 2018: American Merchant Marine Museum Commission conducts an evaluation visit of Museum
- September 15, 2019 – June 30, 2020: First Class of KP Women exhibit; “KPWomen, Breaking the Gender Barrier 1974-78”
- August 30, 2019: A new series of ship models of more current vessels, such as the Maersk Alabama, go on exhibit.
- November 12, 2019: Curator Rachel McBrayer commences duties.