Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. 9 vols. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1959-1991. This nine-volume series of basic ship histories of commissioned US Navy ships and specialized appendices, covering the Revolutionary era into the Cold War, is available in many medium to large libraries, Government Depository libraries and through interlibrary loan from nearby libraries. Most of the volumes can be purchased from the Government Printing Office.
Bauer, K. Jack and Stephen S. Roberts. Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. Although this book does not contain formal histories, it is extremely useful because it gives the final disposition of many decommissioned Navy ships that were still on active duty when the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships was written.
Online Bibliography of books on US Navy ships.
Other historical information is available for in-person research at the Naval History & Heritage Command in Washington DC, including post 1950s ship information gathered after the publication of the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. World War II records are located at the National Archives in College Park MD. For detailed information on facilities holding ship-related records see Sources for Individual Ship Study
22 November 2009