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Wednesday, September 26, 2018


Tankers and shipping trailing behind in changes at the Smithsonian Museum

Over to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in WashingtonDC, where we were shown a remarkable transformation. Its well-visited exhibition called ‘America on the Move’ has been modernised from traditional museum to modern themed exhibition – almost theme park. Cars, trains, buses are all there, (with fabulous examples from a Model ‘T’ Ford to a full size steam engine) set out attractively and imaginatively – and more importantly set out in context with full-size people and backgrounds. In other words, food, families, workers, products all ‘on the Move’. The detail is great, with even a section of the famous US East/West Route 66 set into the floor for all to walk on.

The new-look Smithsonian attracts 5 million visitors a year on the ground and another 7.5 million on line.

But what of shipping? There’s been no mention of shipping so far. Well, that’s because the shipping section is the last to be done up and work on that job is still at the design stage. The contrast between the old-look, traditional museum and the new-look themed presentation is enormous. Walking into the maritime section is like walking into a time warp. Gone is the touchy, feely, try-me set-up of the new exhibition. The maritime section is back to don’t-touch-me-just-look set-up with models in glass cases and no buttons to press. This part is about one quarter of the area of the total, but there are decidedly fewer people passing through than in the main halls.

How come shipping has got left behind? Because the decision was made to work on land-based transportation first and finish three quarters of the space before finding funds for the last part.

However design work is well under way, although reconstruction will not be started until the $4m funding required is gathered in – America on the Move has been, and still is, funded from industry rather than by the museum foundation, and the funding still has a long way to go.

Maritime America will be split into a number of sections including one called Modern Maritime America. One part of this section will be oil tankers. The opportunities for 21st century technology to showcase the tanker industry are great – simulated berthing or transit through Suez Canal, Bosporus or Mississippi River; representations of the huge length of tankers and the great height, breadth and depth of their cargo tanks; demonstrations of the modern technology employed on tankers both for navigation and for cargo control including crude oil washing; tanker market ‘games’ to show the enormous volatility of tanker freight rates and ship values; a demonstration that without oil tankers, modern civilisation grinds to a halt – our lifestyle comes by sea.

Contact: Bill Box