At the start of the Civil War the north recognized the importance of ironclad ships. In his first report to Congress, on July 4,
1861, Gideon Wells, Secretary of the Navy, referred to the importance of ironclad steamers and how expensive they would
be to build. He asked for permission to appoint a board to study the subject. On September 16, the new board accepted
3 proposals for construction contracts. The first 2, were the GALENA and NEW IRONSIDES. The third was almost not
In early September, Wells visited C.H. Bushnell, the builder of the GALENA. He showed the design of the MONITOR to
wells who was so impressed that he arranged a meeting with the board and Bushnell to present the design. Wise to the
ways in Washington, Bushnell arranged a meeting with President Lincoln and showed the design to him first. He was so
impressed that he went to the board meeting with Bushnell. After a long discussion, President Lincoln closed the meeting
with one of his quips:
"All I have to say is what the girl said when she stuck her foot into
the stocking, It strikes me there is something in it."
The board was still quite cool to the idea so another meeting was set up with the designer, John Ericsson. After meeting
with the board and convincing them his ship would work, he was finally given a contract and told to immediately start
The design, which was initially offered to the French, was simple but revolutionary. It consisted of two major parts, the
outer deck (179 x 41) feet and the inner hull (126 x 34) feet. It had a draft of only 11 feet. The overhanging armored deck
(4.5" on the sides and 2" on top) projected only 18" above the waterline, protecting the crew and engines. By
centering the heavily armored revolving gun turret (10.5 feet high) on the hull, the ship became very seaworthy.
The keel was laid on October 25, 1861 at Howland Shipyard, Greenpoint, Long Island. The engines and turret were
subcontracted to other firms so everything was built at the same time. The engines were installed and tested on December
30, and she was launched on January 30, 1862. The turret and its guns (new 11" Dahlgren Smooth bores) were
installed last. The ship was completed on February 15. After three short trials, where numerous problems were found and
repaired, she was commissioned on February 25 under the command of John L. Worden.
On March 6 the MONITOR was ordered to Hampton Roads on her way to join Admiral Farraguts fleet in New Orleans.
The rest was left to history. Her chance engagement with C.S.S. VIRGINIA changed naval warfare forever.