The Yard’s “Rosie”

During World War II, approximately 400,000 women served in all the branches of the military.  Women also served on the homefront and were just as vital to winning the war.  As many jobs in defense work were left vacant with men going off to war, the government began a nationwide effort to bring women into the industrial workforce.  Using the ideal and image of “Rosie the Riveter,” the archetypal American woman at work, the effort was a success.  It opened up future opportunities for women in the workplace, including Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  

Working on Patterns, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, c.1942-1945

The Delaware – An “Ordinary” Ship?

Situated comfortably inside our Buildingways of Democracy: Portsmouth and Gosport, 1785-1840 exhibit is a meticulously crafted 3/8” = 1’ scale model of the 74 gun U.S. Ship-of-the-Line Delaware. The largest ship model displayed in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum.

The USS Delaware was one of the many ships built at Gosport Navy Yard (now the Norfolk Naval Shipyard). Considering the life of this ship, personified, it was born, lived (intermittently) and died at Gosport.  Construction on the Delaware began in August 1817 and was completed and launched in October 1820. Instead of setting sail immediately the ship was put “in ordinary” meaning it was not commissioned, but had a very small crew to maintain it. Over the course of its life, the Delaware would be put in ordinary, primarily due to the complications involved with maintaining such a large ship.

In February 1828 Delaware was commissioned and sent to the Mediterranean Sea until it returned to Norfolk in 1830. The ship was placed in ordinary again upon its return and then re-commissioned in 1833 to serve until placed in ordinary again in 1836. In 1841 Delaware was re-commissioned for a tour of duty along the coasts of South America until 1843 and then another tour of duty in the Mediterranean Sea. Delaware returned to the shipyard in 1844 and was placed in ordinary for a final time. On April 20, 1861 Delaware was one of the ships burned by United States forces in efforts to prevent it from seizure and use by the Virginia State (and later Confederate) Navy.

"View of the Delaware 74 in Dry Dock, U.S. Navy Yard, Gosport" by Joseph Goldsborough Bruff, c. 1833

As part of our program today we were joined by Jeffrey Wilson and “Abby,” who were here with Dogs for Defense. We also enjoyed displays from the Old Coast Guard Station, provided by their Director of Education, Programs & Volunteers Leslie Clements. Thanks everyone for being here!

As our Happy Birthday Coast Guard program carries on today, we stopped for a quick pose inside the museum. Our U.S. Coast Guard representatives
FIREMAN Diane Harrington (left) and MACHINERY TECHNICIAN 3rd class Mitchell Brauning (right) pose with our resident collector and historian Keith Atkins (center) at his display area of historic Coast Guard artifacts. Diane and Mitchell both from station little creek and brought their RBS boat on trailer for public viewing today.

Scenes from the museums this morning. Come on down to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum and Lightship PORTSMOUTH Museum today for our Happy Birthday Coast Guard program, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. We are celebrating the history of the Coast Guard, from the Federal Period through World War II!

Relics of Victory from the Spanish-American War

The Spanish Cruiser Reina Mercedes guarded the harbor at Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War, though it was partially stripped of its guns—they were used in Cuban coastal batteries.  On July 3rd, 1898 Spanish forces towed the ship to the harbor in an attempt to scuttle it in a channel at the entry to the harbor to prevent the entry of American naval forces.  The Spanish effort was soon discovered and to prevent the sinking the U.S. Battleships Texas and Massachusetts fired on the Reina Mercedes.  The plan was not to sink the ship but to damage it in order to keep the crew from completing their task.  One of the shots cut the mooring line of the ship and as it slowly sunk it drifted into shallow water away from the entry channel.  Following the war the Reina Mercedes was raised and used by the U.S. Navy for a multitude of purposes for the next sixty years. 

When the ship was broken up at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, bits and pieces of the vessel made their way from the scrap heap to the personal collections of shipyard personnel.  Often these pieces were fashioned into utilitarian mementos and retained as relics of glory.  The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum’s collections area houses many items of this type including pieces of the CSS Virginia, the USS Texas and even from Japanese planes (from WWII).


The Reina Mercedes underway after its defeat.


A brass scimitar fashioned from brass taken from the Reina Mercedes (Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum collection)

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