Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Ship Model-1922 Boucher Company Model of USS Chicago

The following are images of the protected cruiser USS Chicago model currently on display in the museum's Steel Navy gallery. Chicago is most famous for being the "C" in the Navy's "ABCD" series of ships.  The "ABCD" ships brought about a rebirth in the US Fleet through the use of steel-hulled warships.

The New York-based Boucher Company manufactured the model around 1922.  Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt ordered ten duplicate sets of twelve ships (eleven ships and one aircraft) he felt were historically significant to the chronological development of the Navy (1776-ca. 1920). Chicago was one of the twelve subjects Roosevelt chose.

The FDR sets helped financially stabilize the Boucher Company in its start-up years. Since they had to make ten duplicates of each model, Boucher used mass-production techniques. When the 120 models were complete, Boucher continued selling the carved hulls and cast metal parts to the public.  This resulted in the birth of the model ship kit industry in the U.S.  Some of the fittings for the set are still being replicated and sold today.

The Navy initially classified Chicago as a "protected cruiser."  At the time, the Navy had three classifications for cruisers: "unprotected" (wooden ships), "protected" (thin layer of steel plating) and "armored" (heavier steel plating, specifically made to stop incoming shells). While Chicago and her sister "ABCD" ships were supposed to be the great leap forward for the U.S. Navy, one cannot help but notice that the model of Chicago looks like the Confederate cruiser CSS Florida. Both ships have a narrow hull and twin smoke stacks.  They used pivot-mounted guns (not turrets) and had masts for sails.

Unlike the Florida, the Chicago had a thin layer of unarmored steel plating over its wooden hull.  Chicago also has two screws when compared to Florida's one. Indeed, Chicago served as a transitory design between the wooden cruisers of the mid-nineteenth century and the fully loaded armored cruisers and battleships of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century.

Chicago had a quiet operational career. She never saw combat, but served invaluable duty as a training vessel. As one of the Navy's first steel hulled ships, officers and sailors like Alfred Thayer Mahan learned how to operate this new type of vessel while aboard her. She spent some of her time in Hampton Roads, most notably for the 1893 Naval Rendezvous.

USS Chicago in 1891-note the additional equipment the Navy added in comparison to the model.

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