The US Navy built 12 concrete ships for World War I

During World War I, steel for building ships was in short supply.

While American President Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the U.S. out of the war, he didn’t want America’s Merchant Marine to be left unbuilt. So he approved the construction of 24 ships made from concrete to the tune of $50 million ($11.4 billion adjusted for inflation) to help build American shipping capacity.

Concrete, while cheap and readily available, is expensive to build and operate when it comes to ships. They need thick hulls, which means less room for cargo. Only 12 were ever built and by the time they were ready, the Great War was over.

A website dedicated to this “experiment in ship building,” ConcreteShips.org, keeps track of what happened to these 12 innovations.

SS Atlantus

The Atlantus was a steamer that was sold as a ferry landing ship. Before she could ever be used for that, she broke free during a storm and grounded near Cape May, New Jersey, in 1926.

concrete ships

The Atlantus in 1926.

She’s been falling apart ever since but what’s left can still be seen from shore.

SS Cape Fear

A good example of the drawbacks of using concrete for shipbuilding, the Cape Fear ran into a cargo ship in Rhode Island, shattered, and then sank with 19 crewmen lost.

SS Cuyamaca

The Cuyamaca was stripped down in New Orleans after she was built. She was then converted into an oil barge. Like other concrete ships hauling oil in the Gulf of Mexico, not much is known about her final resting place.

SS Dinsmore

Artificial structures sunk in coastal areas protect the coasts from negative effects due to weather and the spread of sediment. The Dinsmore is living on in this regard. She was sunk to be a breakwater in the Gulf of Mexico.

SS Latham

The Latham also became an oil barge, storing oil pumped in the Gulf of Mexico. While transporting oil pipes, she hit a jetty and nearly sank. She’s now floating around the Gulf somewhere, storing oil.

SS Moffitt

concrete ships

SS Moffitt being launched.

Moffitt is another oil barge off the coast of New Orleans.

SS Palo Alto

This ship was turned into a dance club and restaurant in California. It featured an arcade and a swimming pool before the company that ran the place collapsed in the Great Depression.

concrete ships

The Palo Alto (used by permission)

When a storm cracked her across the middle, the Palo Alto became a fishing pier.

SS Peralta

Now in British Columbia, Canada, the Peralta spent time as a floating fish cannery and is now a floating breakwater. She’s the only one of the 12 still afloat.

concrete ships

The SS Peralta (photo by Scott J. Lowe)

The Peralta is also the largest concrete ship still afloat anywhere in the world. She protects the log storage pond of a Canadian paper company.

SS Polias

After hitting an underwater ledge, Polias shattered and sank off the coast of Maine. Fourteen crewmen died trying to abandon ship.

concrete ships

A 1924 hurricane further shattered her wreck. What remains is off the coast of Port Clyde, Maine.

SS San Pasqual 

When the San Pasqual ran aground off Cuba, no one was inclined to dig her out. She stayed there and became a depot ship and then a prison. Now, she’s a 10 room hotel.


SS Sapona

Originally sold for scrap, Sapona was converted into an offshore liquor warehouse during Prohibition. She was grounded off the coast of Bimini, an island of the Bahamas, during a hurricane. The stern broke off, destroying the rum running owner’s stock and leaving him penniless.

concrete ships

The Sapona in 2009

The Army Air Forces and Navy used Sapona for target practice during WWII.

SS Selma

Called the “Flagship of Texas,” the Selma was an oil tanker that hit a jetty off the coast of Tampico, Florida. The government sent Selma to Galveston for repairs, but the shipwrights had no experience with concrete. She was taken to Pelican Island, Texa in 1922, where she sits today.

concrete ships

The SS Selma in Galveston (photo by John Wiley)

The Texas Army named her its flagship 70 years later.

NOW WATCH:

 

TOP ARTICLES
This is what Sikorsky thinks should replace the Blackhawk

The Defiant is fast, it can carry a lot of troops, and it's armed to the teeth.

How one vet learned to actually appreciate his deployment to Iraq

This veteran believes God used the Iraq war to fulfill Biblical prophesies, and he's written a four part series to explain it.

Combat Controller receives Air Force Cross for valor in Afghanistan

Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter was awarded the Air Force Cross Oct. 17 for actions during an eight-hour firefight in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan.

This is what Iran will do if the US pulls out of the nuke deal

President Trump is threatening to back out of the Iran nuclear deal — in direct opposition of the other five countries involved. Here is what Iran thinks.

5 military movies you should look out for in 2018

These are some of the handful of military-related movies hitting the screens next year that look like they could be worth the price of admission.

Why Hollywood prescribes pot to its veteran characters with PTS

A new Netflix comedy takes a lighthearted look at the growing use of medical marijuana to treat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Does this picture show the US covertly moving SEALs into Korea?

The USS Michigan stopped in Busan for a "routine port visit," but pictures of the event suggest a more clandestine purpose that may involve US Navy SEALs.

How ISIS became a 'pathetic and a lost cause' after the fall of Raqqa

Special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Brett McGurk tweeted photos of a mass ISIS surrender.

Here is how the MLRS became a 44-mile sniper

The M31 Guided Unitary Rocket can put 200 pounds of high explosive within 30 feet of its aimpoint. That'll ruin a bad guy's day.

These 10 letters kids sent to deployed troops will make you smile

From moms who drink wine to soldier kitties saying 'meow,' these hilarious letters to troops will warm your heart.