On the Water:
Stories from Maritime America
The United States grew up on the water and remains a maritime nation to this day.
For more than 300 years, waves of new Americans arrived by sea. In that time, the nation’s seacoasts, rivers, lakes, and canals became avenues of exploration, communication, and commerce. These waterways linked people and communities with the rest of the country.
Stories of life and work on the water—from fishers to passengers to seafarers—unfolded at the same time, through immense challenges and achievements, and occasional disasters. Ships today connect Americans to a complex web of international trade. In the age of flight, it’s worth remembering that the nation still thrives on the water.
The exhibition is organized into the following main sections:
Living in the Atlantic World
Over nearly four centuries, Atlantic-based trade shaped modern world history and life in America.
Shipbuilders, mariners, and maritime merchants helped the new nation defend itself and grow.
Fishing for a Living
The bounty of the waters has sustained people of North America for centuries.
The country’s vast system of rivers and lakes has helped people settle the land and create communities.
Ocean liners were ships of transport for immigrants and machines of leisure, status, and national prestige.
Answering the Call
Merchant seamen and ships played a vital role in winning both world wars of the 20th century.
Modern Maritime America
Maritime activity is as important as ever, and it affects the lives of people everywhere.
Lesson and activity plans teach kids about maritime history in America.
Explore the Collection
View our collection of maritime objects and artifacts.
This exhibition was made possible through the support of many generous donors.