A builder's half model of the three-masted ship Blue Jacket

Wood, metal and paint on a marquetry baseboard
Collection of the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York

Early naval architects developed ship design through model construction.  The master builder fashioned the model hull to the specifications of the client and then cut it vertically down the center, leaving two halves.  He cut one half at evenly spaced distances along the horizontal plane, and the other half at evenly spaced distances along the vertical plane.

He then laid the pieces out and traced their outlines on to wood or parchment.  He could expand the ship’s dimensions to reflect the true size of the vessel, and use the models as construction forms for the centerline structure and framing systems of the ship.   After the process was completed, the builder often mounted the half models on a wooden backing plate for display.

Photographs by Michael Falco