Museum of Science and Industry

Ships Through the Ages

Exhibit Essentials

This exhibit is suitable for all ages.
Lower Level, Ships Through The Ages
Museum Map

Ships through the Ages is a collection of authentic ship models ranging from reproductions of the first sea craft that dared to sail the ocean nearly 5,000 years ago to luxury liners of the mid-1900s. The exhibit features models of approximately 50 famous ships that were used for war, passenger transportation and distribution. Each model chronicles a different era in man's quest to travel the sea.

One of the most popular attractions of the exhibit is a nearly life-size mock-up of part of the quarterdeck from a typical 19th-century "tall ship." You can handle and steer the ship's wheel, see how a binnacle is used to keep a ship on its course, examine the rigging leading to the sails above, and sound the time of day on the watch bell. The exhibit also features instruments used by sailors and navigators such as sextants, telescopes, a barometer, and a chronometer. 

The most ancient ship in the exhibit is the Sahure. Named after King Sahure, this Egyptian vessel is recognized to be the first sailing craft ever to venture on the open seas. It sailed the Mediterranean Sea around 2,750 B.C. Other early ships include models of a Phoenician ocean trader dating from 600 B.C., the Viking Oseberg, from around 850 A.D., and the Chinese Yangtze from 1,200 A.D. Ships from many sea-faring countries are included in the exhibit, including Italy, Norway and Japan.

Famous and historic ships are also represented in the exhibit. You'll see scale models of Christopher Columbus’ famous fleet: the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Adjacent to these ships is an English Merchantman, the Mayflower, which was made legendary by the Pilgrims who first settled the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Also on display is a piece of the stone steps from Plymouth, England, on which the first Pilgrims walked when boarding their ship to the New World. It was presented to the Museum in November 1969 by the Lord Mayor of Plymouth to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower's sailing.

The exhibit shows the many purposes for which modern ships are constructed: a banana boat, a tanker, tug boats for moving barges and other ships, special vessels for laying or repairing cable on the ocean floor, and ocean liners for carrying passengers. The differences between ships designed for ocean travel and those intended for local or river use also can be seen.

Museum Hours
  • Daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Open daily except Thanksgiving and Christmas
More Information

Museum Location
Museum of Science+Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
1 (773) 684-1414
Getting Here

Buy Tickets Online

More Exhibits

All Exhibits

Find It on the Map

Map of the Museum

See the Museum Map

Get our e-Newsletter!
Subscribe to the e-Newsletter
connect with msi!