Update on the Status of the Cruiser Olympia

For veterans by veterans

Update on the Status of the Cruiser OLYMPIA

In February 2010, the Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) announced that the aging Spanish-American War Cruiser Olympia, a National Historic Landmark and one-of-a-kind former U.S. Navy vessel was in need of substantial and costly hull repairs to prevent her from sinking. Annual inspections by the Navy have highlighted several times over the past 12 years the ship’s deteriorating hull condition and the need for dry docking. The ship has not been dry docked in more than 65 years. According to an independent marine hull inspection and other inspections, the ship will sink in place within three years if no actions are taken. ISM has attempted to seek another non-profit organization willing and able to assume ownership of the vessel and fulfill contractual obligations for the indefinite maintenance and preservation of the vessel. To date, ISM has been unable to identify a qualified organization which to transfer the Olympia. The Navy has advised ISM that they are willing to authorize ISM to responsibly dispose of the Olympia. ISM will cease public tours of the Olympia on November 22, 2010.

Restoration Efforts Past, Present and Future

ISM has spent in excess of $5.5 million on the maintenance, repair, preservation, and restoration of Olympia since agreeing to take possession of her in 1996 from the Cruiser Olympia Association. Now, another $10 million is required to restore the hull and deck, including dredging at Penn’s Landing Marina and a safe tow to dry dock. An additional $10 million is required for an endowment to fund future maintenance and repairs or to fund a permanent berth in a cofferdam and some endowment for maintenance. Â

“The Independence Seaport Museum Board of Port Wardens is unanimous in its acknowledgement of Olympia’s rich and unique history and her importance as a naval treasure,” says Board Chairman Peter McCausland. “The Museum has been an outstanding steward for this magnificent naval ship and its related historical artifacts for many years,” McCausland says, “but is not able to raise the significant amount of money needed to dredge the Penn’s Landing Marina, transport Olympia to dry dock, and finance the repairs necessary to ensure she will remain afloat.”

For the last two years, the Museum has worked to secure funding for the preservation of Olympia, approaching the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Department of the U.S. Navy, the Federal government, and private funders – with no success. The Museum also conducted a feasibility study, which determined that it would be unable to raise the substantial funds needed for Olympia’s preservation at this time.

During its tenure as Olympia’s steward, the Seaport has worked tirelessly to preserve, repair, and maintain the ship. These efforts have included, amongst others, stability tests and floodable length studies with the U.S. Navy; an extensive hull condition survey; removing and disposing of 30 tons of asbestos; repairing bulkheads and doors; upgrading electrical and service water systems; constructing a replica wheelhouse to historic specifications, and restoring the bridge deck.

Over the last two years alone, the Seaport completed interim repairs to the steel plating at Olympia’s wind and water line, and is currently working to restore the integrity of her inner hull, as further protection against a catastrophic break in her outer hull.

The Seaport recently completed a strategic planning process, which outlines a new vision and direction for the Museum. Significant funding is needed to make that vision a reality, maintain the Museum’s financial stability, and keep this cultural institution relevant to the City of Philadelphia and the Museum’s visitors, which include residents, tourists, and tens of thousands of schoolchildren each year. “Regrettably, in the current economic climate, the Board of Port Wardens has concluded that it cannot raise the funding necessary to save Olympia while also financing the implementation of the Museum’s new strategic plan,” McCausland says.

Olympia’s Historical Significance

From the moment of her launching in 1892, Olympia was a rare treasure in the U.S. naval fleet, as no sister ships were ever built. She is the world’s oldest floating steel warship and the sole surviving naval ship of the Spanish-American War. Olympia served as Admiral Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay, which marked the U.S.’s emergence as a world naval power. Olympia’s last official naval mission was to carry the body of the Unknown Soldier from France to the United States in 1921. In addition to being a National Historic Landmark, Olympia is also a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, and part of the Save America’s Treasures program.

  • Length: 344 feet
  • Beam: 53 feet
  • Displacement: 5,870 tons
  • Crew: 33 Officers, 396 enlisted men
  • Top Speed: 22 knots (25mph)
  • Coal Consumption at Top Speed: 633 lbs./minute

Step back in time aboard Independence Seaport Museum's Spanish-American War flagship -- the Cruiser Olympia!

The Olympia (C-6) is the oldest steel warship afloat in the world. Launched in San Francisco, CA, in 1892, she is similar to many early steel warships built in Philadelphia for the US Navy.

On May 1, 1898, Olympia devastated a
Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines,
beginning the Spanish-American War.
Olympia helped catapult the United States
into the role of superpower and won fame
for her most famous officer, Commodore
George Dewey. It was from Olympia's bridge
that Dewey delivered his famous order, "You
may fire when you are ready, Gridley." Olympia
also served her country during World War I. Olympia

Cruiser Olympia was decommissioned in 1922 and has been part of Independence Seaport Museum’s Historic Ship Zone since 1996.

Olympia is a National Historic Landmark, a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is part of the Save America’s Treasures program.

Travel back in time to see
what has changed aboard
Olympia in the past 100 years.
Click here to begin.
Olympia saloon

Take a peek inside the
ditty box of an Olympia sailor.

To learn more about Olympia, visit the Spanish-American War Centennial web site, home to Olympia’s all-volunteer Living History Crew.

Click here to return to the Historic Ship Zone homepage.


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