There are many model ships on display at the U.S. Naval Academy, but perhaps none as special as the U.S.S. Agerholm overlooking the main lobby in Rickover Hall.
This 16-foot long model is a cutaway that shows the exterior on one side, and reveals the complicated interior layout on the other. David Wooley and William Clarke write in Warships and Warship Modeling that “The Agerholm is probably the most detailed model ever built.”
The World War II-era miniature destroyer was pieced together by the Gibbs and Cox Company model shop in the 1940s. The model Agerholm cost $1.4 million at a time when a single family suburban home went for about $7,000.
Gibbs and Cox was and still is a leading naval architecture firm behind an estimated 60 percent of the present-day surface combatant fleet. In the words of Rear Admiral Harold Bowen, “Nowhere … did the art of model building exceed in excellence its development at Gibbs and Cox.”
Models like the Agerholm had a dual purpose. First, they actually were a part of the design process—modeling was an important step that took place alongside blueprinting to work out just how everything fit together.
In Bowen’s assessment, Gibbs models like the Agerholm “were so accurate that it was safe for a draftsman to obtain dimensions from them, and it was much easier for the pipe shop to lay out its piping from the model than to construct it by laying templates in the actual vessel.”
The Navy recognized modeling as an innovative best practice and at one point actually required that shipbuilders supply a model. The Algerholm’s second purpose had nothing to with actual ship building, though: It was about public relations. Admirals were spending heaps of money on these warships and loved the idea of being able to show off their sexy hardware with museum quality models.
Know Before You Go
Today the Agerholm is on display on the second floor at Rickover Hall, which is not normally open to the public. Contact Naval Academy Public Affairs with inquiries about access.