NOAA 2001-078
Contact: Stephanie Balian

NOAA, Navy Joint Effort Lifts a Piece of History from Ocean Depths

For the first time in nearly 140 years, the engine of the shipwrecked Civil War Ironclad, USS Monitor, broke the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in a recovery mission carried out by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Ocean Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The NOAA team, along with scores of U.S. Navy divers, worked around the clock for 28 days to free the ship's 30-ton steam engine from the "Graveyard of the Atlantic."

The Monitor, designed by noted 19th-century engineer John Ericsson, rests upside down on a sand-covered seafloor approximately 16 miles Southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., in the waters of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

A 400 ton crane aboard the derrick barge Wotan hoisted the steam engine from 240 feet below the ocean's surface to a waiting ferry barge. The engine is being transported to a 93,000 gallon steel tank at The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Va., where conservators will begin the 10-year process to preserve the historic steam engine.

"The public has entrusted NOAA with the stewardship of America's marine sanctuaries for decades," said Scott Gudes, acting administrator, NOAA. "Today we celebrate our historic and cultural heritage in the protected waters of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, a part of our collective riches."

John Broadwater, manager of NOAA's Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, oversaw the archeological aspects of the mission. "The Monitor has captured the imagination of Americans for generations. Her innovative design changed the face of naval warfare," Broadwater said. "Now, her ‘heart' — John Ericsson's innovative steam engine — is being returned to the public."

More than 150 divers from 17 commands logged more than 300 hours of bottom time on this mission. The Navy, through the Legacy Foundation, provided $4.9 million to save the famous warship.

During this year's expedition, divers worked for four weeks to remove the lower hull plating and to secure six lifting straps to key sections of the engine. When that work was complete and the environmental conditions were right, Captain Murray and John Broadwater gave the order to raise the engine.

More than 100 artifacts have been recovered this year alone, including a portion of what is believed to be Ericsson's forced-air ventilation system. A brass filigree wall sconce, several intact lantern chimneys, the engineer's alarm bell and a completely intact engine room thermometer are among the other items retrieved.

"This is truly an historic moment for The Mariners' Museum, U.S. Navy, NOAA, and the world. After resting in its watery grave for almost 140 years, this amazing Ericcson engine is finally coming home to Hampton Roads where it fought the historic battle with the CSS Virginia. What a glorious site seeing the Monitor's engine break the ocean surface," said John Hightower, president and CEO of The Mariners' Museum. "For the next decade our able conservation staff will log thousands of hours conserving, researching and documenting each piece of this engine. And, the entire process will be open to the public for everyone to see."

In March 1862, the USS Monitor took part in the most famous naval exchange of the Civil War, a four-hour duel with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, a converted Union ship the USS Merrimack, at Hampton Roads, Va. The Monitor was lost nine months later during a severe storm off Cape Hatteras.

Efforts to raise the USS Monitor began more than a decade ago. NOAA scientists, concerned about the rapid deterioration of the ship, began plans to salvage the remainder of the ship before it was lost forever.

"This was a stunning accomplishment," Broadwater said. "Now we can turn our attention to recovering the Monitor's ‘soul,' her revolving gun turret."

The Monitor 2001 Expedition continues through August as NOAA divers, working alongside Navy salvage divers, begin the recovery of the ship's innovative revolving gun turret.

Follow the excitement at