Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

Experimental Model Basin (Cold War Gallery)

To compete with international navies that were expanding and growing in complexity, the United States Navy needed a location to test new ship designs and engines prior to construction.    The Experimental Model Basin, established by Commander David W. Taylor, was approved by President Grover Cleveland in June 1896.   Construction began at the Washington Navy Yard in 1897.   Completed two years later, the basin was 470 feet long, 42 feet wide, almost 15 feet deep, and could hold a million gallons of fresh water.    Enclosing the basin was a 500-foot-long brick building lighted by a long skylight.    Scale ship models were towed the length of the basin while scientific and photographic equipment measured the effect of water on the hull.   Taylor departed in 1914 when he promoted to chief constructor and attained the rank of Rear Admiral.    Due to the complexities by innovative ship construction at the time, a bigger location was warranted.   A research center named after David W. Taylor was built in 1939 at Carderock, Maryland, and opened a year later.    After use as offices and a storage facility, Building 70 was refurbished to become the Cold War Gallery.  Opening in late 2012, the gallery is as an addition to the exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy.   The building also houses the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archeology branch.

Image:   NH 93334:   Experimental Model Basin (center), Washington Navy Yard, circa 1901.   The small ship in the basin right center is USS Sylph.    U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

To learn more about the Experimental Model Basin, please contact our Education Department for a spot on the next Walking Tour of the Washington Navy Yard.