"The Granddaddy of 'em all" U.S.S. MICHIGAN

Drawing of the U.S.S. Michigan

Condensed from the Master's
Thesis of Bradley A. Rodgers

Born in the age of sail, the U.S.S. MICHIGAN was an experiment. She was the Navy's first iron ship. She was a pioneer, being powered by steam and configured as a Dreadnaught, with her main ordnance mounted fore and aft as are the warships of today.

Ships have personalities. The MICHIGAN demonstrated hers by launching herself in 1843 and by ramming and sinking the tugboat which carried her to the scrapyard.


In 1840, all Navy steamers used steam power as an auxiliary to sail. The MICHIGAN was the first ship designed with steam as its primary motive power. She was designed to look like the average wooden frigate of the day, but the vessel was iron hulled, iron framed and iron fastened.

The long -shared border between Canada and the United States did not always enjoy the tranquility that it does today. Going back to the American Revolutionary War there have been skirmishes along this border. There were a number of "Gentleman's Agreements" drawn up through the years between the Americans and the British in an effort to maintain Great Lakes parity.

The United States Great Lakes fleet slipped into obsolescence as tensions rose between the Americans and the British in the late 1830's. In November of 1841, President Tylerís Secretary of the Navy, Abel P. Upshur, ordered "the necessary measures for constructing one steamer to defend Lake Erie."

Upshur had been the Secretary of the navy for only a month when he gave this order. He had the foresight to see that the Navy wasting money on wooden warships, and he embraced the concept of steamers. He thought building an iron steamer would stimulate development of merchant steamers, helping the Navy in the long run.

Samuel Hartt, naval architect, designed the MICHIGAN in three months. Stackhouse and Tomlinson of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, were given the task of building the warship. They were chosen because of their long experience in ironwork, and Pittsburg was considered safe from British raiding parties because it was not on the coast.

In the summer of 1842, a team of ship carpenters, apprentices and laborers built the molds that would be In the summer of 1842, a team of ship carpenters, apprentices and laborers built the molds that would be used in forming the plates for the hull. Hartt designed the ship to use plates 27" wide and 8" long. As the red-hot plates came from the rolling mills, they were hammered into shape over the molds. After the plates cooled, the hull was assembled to test the fit. By March of 1843, the hull was being taken apart for transport to Erie, Pennsylvania.

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