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John Lenthall (T-AO-189)


First U.S. Navy ship named in honor of John Lenthall, a prominent American shipbuilder and naval architect, whose career spanned the U.S. Navy’s transition from sail to steam propulsion and from wooden ships to ironclads. Born in Washington, D.C. on 16 September 1807, Lenthall began his career in 1823, when as a teenager he became an employee of the United States Department of the Navy at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., where his father had been Superintendent of Shipwrights. He learned the trade of ship carpenter and received additional training in Europe at shipyards in the United Kingdom, France, Denmark and Russia.

By 1827, Lenthall became the apprentice of Samuel Humphreys, the Chief Constructor of the Navy and Naval Constructor at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pa. Humphreys took on all the design work at the navy yard himself and Lenthall worked closely with him, excelling as his assistant and draftsman. While there, Lenthall was also exposed to the work of the noted naval architect William Doughty.

Humphreys nominated Lenthall to become an assistant naval constructor at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1828. With Humphreys monopolizing naval ship design, Lenthall and his fellow constructors and assistant constructors began designing merchant ships.

Lenthall was well educated about current ship design theories of the era and used extensive calculations in his design work. Under his superintendence in Philadelphia, the first U.S. first-rate ship-of-the-line, Pennsylvania, was completed and the supply ship Relief was constructed. He was promoted from assistant naval constructor to naval constructor on 21 July 1838 and became solely responsible, with the approval Humphreys, for the design of a popular class of sloops-of-war made up of Decatur, Dale, Marion, Preble, and Yorktown. He also continued his commercial efforts by designing ships for Philadelphia merchants that included packet ships for the Cape Line.

He left the Philadelphia Navy Yard in order to become Chief Constructor of the Navy in Washington, D.C. in 1849 and replaced Francis Grice. As the steamship era emerged, he was one of the more forward-looking naval architects of his time with the adaptation of steam propulsion to naval ships.

In 1853, Lenthall became chief of the Navy‍ '​s Bureau of Construction, Equipment and Repair in Washington, D.C. and he held the position until his retirement 18 years later. During his tenure as chief of the bureau, he was responsible for the design of some of the most significant U.S. Navy ships constructed in the years just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Among them was the wooden steam frigate Merrimack, which the Confederate States of America later refloated and converted into the ironclad Virginia. Another Lenthall design of the period was the wooden steam frigate Roanoke, which the U.S. Navy converted during the Civil War into a three-turret ironclad monitor.

Lenthall initially expressed little personal interest in the design of ironclads. He also expressed doubt about the adequacy of John Ericsson‍’s revolutionary design of Monitor, believing she would founder soon after being launched. However, when hostilities began in April 1861, the War Department desired Lenthall‍’s assistance in designing shallow-draft warships for U.S. Army use in riverine operations against Confederate forces. With his experience limited to deeper-draft seagoing ships, Lenthall doubted that a shallow-draft ship could house a successful steam propulsion plant, but he drew up a preliminary design for a 170-foot warship with a beam of 28 feet and a draft of only 5 feet before passing it on to Samuel M. Pook and James Buchanan Eads so that he could concentrate on ocean-going ships. Pook and Eads in turn modified Lenthall‍ '​s design in order to produce the seven City-class ironclads of the U.S. Army’s Western Gunboat Flotilla that were later transferred to the U.S. Navy as the Mississippi River Squadron. Despite Lenthall‍’s initial lack of interest in ironclads, he oversaw the design and construction of monitors and other ironclads during the Civil War and designed the ships of the successful Miantonomah class.

Lenthall retired in 1871, but remained active in retirement. He served on a board that advised the U.S. Navy on new ship design and construction at a time when the service was making a transition from wooden and iron ships to the construction of the modern steel navy that began appearing in the 1880s.

John Lenthall died  in Washington, D.C. on 11 April 1882, and is interred at Rock Creek Cemetery.

(T-AO-189: displacement 9,500; length 677'; beam 97'; draft 35'; speed 20 knots; complement 103; armament 1 .50-caliber machine gun, 2 20 millimeter Phalanx close in weapon systems (CIWS); class Henry J. Kaiser)

John Lenthall (T-AO-189) was laid down on 15 July 1985 at New Orleans, La., by Avondale Shipyard, Inc.; launched on 9 August 1986; and sponsored by Mrs. Thea Kempf, wife of Vice Adm. Cecil J. Kempf, USN (Ret), former Director of Naval Reserve. John Lenthall entered non-commissioned U.S. Navy service under the control of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) with a primarily civilian crew on 25 July 1987, and serves in the United States Atlantic Fleet.

On 17 April 2004, while John Lenthall was undergoing maintenance, a merchant ship lost steering control while departing Valletta, Malta and collided with a nearby ship before striking John Lenthall broadside while she lay pierside. The ship suffered no injuries to her people and she sustained only minor damage to outside structures and equipment.

An embarked security team on board John Lenthall fired warning shots in the vicinity of two small boats on 23 September 2008. Despite defensive measures to deter the vessels from approaching, the small boats continued to near the ship. The rounds impacted the water approximately 50 yards from the closest boat and resulted in both small boats ending their pursuit. While it was unclear if the individuals in the boats were intent on attacking the vessel, it is clear that they were not following international protocol observed by mariners around the world. The location of the incident, the small open skiffs involved and the maneuvering they undertook was consistent with reports from previous attacks on merchant vessels in the region.

Detailed history under construction.

Paul J. Marcello

9 December 2015

Published: Mon Dec 14 14:22:37 EST 2015