In an era of computers, it is hard to imagine research of any kind without them. How did the Navy develop new ships before computer simulations? The answer: through experiments done in a model basin. These facilities allow scientists to build mock-ups ships and aircraft and then put them through real-life conditions to determine how well they will survive.
The Navy’s first model basin was the Experimental Model Basin (EMB), built on the Washington Navy Yard in 1899 and under the command of Naval Constructor David Watson Taylor. The basin was 14 feet deep, 42 feet wide, and 470 feet long, and held a million gallons of water. Much to the Navy’s chagrin, Taylor insisted on wooden models, which cost $80, versus paraffin ones, which only cost 50 cents.
With the advent of aviation, the EMB branched out and began experimenting on aircraft as well. As the Navy expanded, the need for more model basins grew. In 1939, the Navy build a more modern facility in Carderock, Maryland—the David Taylor Model Basin, later renamed the David W. Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center. In 1987, it became the Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Research Center, part of the Naval Sea Systems Command.
Below is a selection of photos from the U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive featuring U.S. Navy and private-sector model basins .