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In one of history's biggest privately funded ventures, the tanker Manhattan won immortality as the first commercial ship to break through the Northwest Passage. The feast happened in 1969, after the Manhattan was converted into an icebreaker by Sun Shipping in Newport News, Virginia.

For over 500 years, the Northwest Passage had tempted merchant adventurers with its promise of a seaway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans across the ice choked top of North America. The first explorer only succeeded after a three-year journey. The following decades saw that only nuclear submarines and small coast guard icebreakers could make the trip. Until oil was discovered on Alaska's North Slope in 1968 spurred the development of a brand new type of ship: the icebreaking oil tanker.

Built in 1962 by Bethlehem Steel in Quincy, Massachusetts, the SS Manhattan was also the largest US merchant vessel. SS Manhattan was also the only twinscrew tanker over 100,000 dwt in the world at the time. She possessed a unique, transitional structure that bridged an evolutionary moment in ship design. The ship combined the daring size of the future with the conservative robustness of the past. For example, the Manhattan had 45 cargo tanks between the forepeak and engine room bulkheads. Today's ships of similar length would have only about 15 tanks. Her short tank length gave a more substantially rigid structure than found in the modern design. Her scantlings were so heavy that the bottom plating, deck, and upper hull structure were of heat-treated steel which by nature a very favorable low temperature characteristics.

The conversion project took everyone into the unknown, shipyard, scientist, and expert alike. Very little was actually known about the extent of the work needed to make the Manhattan ready for Arctic service. Only one yard--Sun Shipbuilding was willing to take on the extensive modification task in which over 9,200 tons of steel would be added to the ship.

At the project's height, the project occupied over 90% of Sun's workforce of 5,500 men and 100% of its capacity. Esso also paid Sun to suspend work on the two new buildings to give complete the Manhattan's conversion in eight months.
No single shipyard could make it in eight months, and the project was divided among four yards: Sun, Newport News, Alabama Dry Dock, Bath Iron Work. Arrived at Sun in January 1969 and leaving in August of the same year, the icebreaker Manhattan became the most heavily armored merchant ship in history. Yet she lost only a quarter-knot in service speed.

The total cost of the conversion was $58 million--all was undertaken by private enterprises. (Arco and BP each paid $2 million and Esso $54 million--about $300 million today.) It was a tremendous cost if compared to a same size tanker which would cost only $20 million to build at that time.

Until the premature end of her days in 1987, SS Manhattan sported her distinctive icebreaking bow-- a monument to what can be achieved when one has the will.



This Tanker Manhattan  model features:

 - Superior hollow hull construction, hollow hull construction, weighing less than 10 lbs  (A solid hull of this model would be over 40 lbs which feels like a heavy toy rather than an art piece.)

- Hollow superstructure is comprised of many individual thin pieces of wood glued together, not several solid pieces of wood stacking on top one another.

- Windows are cutouts (not black decals), thanks to the hollow structures.

- Light rust appearance for

- >95% of parts are wood and metal

49" long x 12" tall x 7" wide   $3,500    S & H is $150

For display case, please click here: Model Ship Display Case