Designed by Swedish-American engineer John Ericsson, when it was constructed, the USS Monitor represented a radical departure from traditional warship design. This Union vessel was powered by steam alone and was the first American warship with no masts and sails. With barely more than one foot of her deck visible, all machinery, storage, working, and berthing areas were below the water line.
The vessel was constructed almost exclusively of iron and was heavily armored. A five-foot high, six-inch thick armor belt encircled the vessel at the water line for protection during battle. Perhaps the ship's most novel feature was its revolving turret. Located near the middle of the ship, it was 9 feet high, 22 feet in diameter, and housed two 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannon.
The Monitor was launched from Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, Long Island (New York City) on January 30, 1862. Less than two months later, she encountered the larger and more heavily armed Confederate ironclad, Virginia, in the infamous Battle of Hampton Roads. While neither ship suffered much damage during the battle, their fight marked the first time iron ships clashed in naval warfare and signaled the end of the era of wooden warships.
Shortly after midnight on December 31, 1862, while being towed by the USS Rhode Island to Beaufort, North Carolina, the Monitor sank in a gale off Cape Hatteras. Its final resting place was designated as the nation’s first national marine sanctuary in 1975.
On January 30, 1975, NOAA designated the wreck of the USS Monitor as the nation's first national marine sanctuary. Fifty years later, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary continues to protect this famed Civil War ironclad.