USS Monitor was the Union's first ironclad warship in the Civil War; it was built is response to Confederate construction of the ironclad Virginia (previously known as Merrimack when in wooden form). The two ships famously fought for four hours without a clear winner -- see above for a painting showing that battle, with the tiny Monitor on the right. Today, the New York Times has an excellent piece on the history of Monitor, including an ongoing attempt to restore its famous gun turret. The article includes a photo of three researchers inside the turret -- now imagine that there were sixteen more men, plus two cannons in there, and you've got a picture of how the Monitor actually worked. Here's a snippet from the article:
"What makes the Monitor so remarkable is that she's almost a stealth vessel because all the systems except the ordnance are below the waterline," said Anna Holloway, the curator at the Monitor Center. "Keeping the engine safe from attack was a big breakthrough. Not only did Ericsson create this radically new type of vessel, but his designs were so nearly flawless that foundries and contractors from around the Northeast could fabricate the parts, and they all fit together when the ship was assembled in Greenpoint. It boggles the mind."
The Monitor has been so familiar for so long that it is hard to realize just how radical it seemed at the time -- and how much luck was involved in building it. The ship's history is a case study in the difficulties of technological innovation. The Monitor had a genius for a designer and a lobbyist so well connected that President Abraham Lincoln made a personal plea for it, yet when a scale model was first presented in Washington, the members of the Navy's Ironclad Board rejected it.
Read the rest for a story of swift technological advancement and very slow restoration.