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The oldest American whaling ship still around today is Charles W. Morgan. She dates from 1841 and is today a museum that everyone can visit in Connecticut. As the oldest merchant vessel in America, she has been a major attraction. Over 20 million visitors have walked her decks and learned about her whaling past during her time as a museum.

The Charles W. Morgan is the second-oldest seaworthy ship in the world. People with a liking for very old movies may already be familiar with her - she starred in the movies Miss Petticoats (1916), Down to the Sea in Ships (1922), and Java Head (1923). The oldest ship still afloat is the venerable USS Constitution which was laid down in 1794 and is a museum today.


America's Oldest Whaling Ship & Career

Charles W. Morgan was built in 1841 and was built to harvest the blubber of whales for whale oil (it was used in lamps and for other uses). She was launched in New Bedford in Massachusetts and was named after her first primary owner and agent - Charles W. Morgan.

The Morgan was built for durability (and not for speed). Over her career, she went on to roam all corners of the globe in pursuit of the hapless whales.

  • Built: 1841
  • Oldest: Surviving Merchant Vessel
  • Only: Surviving Wooden 19-Century Whaling Ship

The Charles W. Morgan went on to have an 80-year-long career and made a total of 37 whaling voyages. Her longest voyages could even last three years or more.

Charles W. Morgan Stats:

  • Crew: 35-Person Crew
  • Length: 106 Feet & 11 Inches
  • Sail: 7,134 Sq Feet Of Sail (Fully Rigged
  • Beam: 27 Feet, 9 Inches
  • Mainmast: 110 Feet Above The Deck

On her first couple of voyages, she hunted mostly sperm whales. On her third voyage, it was mostly right whales, and on the subsequent 34 voyages, she largely hunted right whales around the Pacific.

She enjoyed a colorful career and became known as a "lucky ship." She navigated the treacherous Arctic ice, survived powerful storms, rounded the dangerous Cape Horn, and endured the 1938 Hurricane and "hostile natives," according to the National Park Service.

Today the Charles W. Morgan is the oldest surviving merchant vessel (or at least one that hasn't been wrecked). She is also the only wooden whaling ship from 19th century America to survive today.

Related: HMS Victory: Visit The UK's Most Historic Naval Ship

Preservation And As A Museum Ship

Her whaling career came to an end in 1921 and was fortunately preserved by Whaling Enshrined, Inc. She was then exhibited at Dartmouth, Massachusetts, until 1941. In 1941, she sailed out to Mystic where she has since been docked as a museum.

The Charles W. Morgan has had a long career as a museum ship. She has been a museum ship for the last 60 or so years (since the 1940s) and is now a central attraction at the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut.

  • Museum: Mystic Seaport Museum

The Charles W. Morgan is maintained and restored to appear as she would have looked during most of her active career. She set sail once again as recently as 2014. In 2014, she embarked on a 38th voyage and called into historic ports in New England.

Today she has been designated a National Historic Landmark (since 1966).

Related: Whale Watching: The Best Places Around The World To See These Majestic Animals

Visiting The Charles W. Morgan & Mystic Museum

For those visiting Connecticut, visiting the Morgan at the Mystic Museum is a must. She is open to the public, and visitors can also visit the Henry B. DuPont preservation shipyard, where historic wooden vessels are restored.

She had huge try-pots to convert blubber into whale oil (visitors can see them on the deck today). Go below deck and see the cramped quarters that the officers and men had to make do with while out at sea.

  • Opening Hours: 10 am to 5.00 pm (Grounds Close At 6.00 pm)
  • Parking: Free
  • General Admission: $27 (Adult)

Attractions at the Mystic Museum include:

  • Charles Morgan
  • Henry B. DuPont Shipyard
  • 19th Century Maritime Village
  • World-Class Exhibits
  • Children's Museum
  • Treworgy Planetarium
  • Homeport Family Activity Center

The Mystic Museum is a superb activity for families that combines the best of a fun day out with education about America's whaling and maritime history.

Fortunately, today whales are by and large protected around the world, and whales that were once driven to the edge of extinction are recovering. It is also possible to see the massive blue whale in certain places in the world.