SS Selma: An Extraordinary Maritime Wonder of Concrete Ship Construction

The S.S. Selma stands as a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of maritime engineering during World War I. As one of the twelve concrete ships constructed during this era, its unique design and service have etched an enduring mark on maritime history.

This article delves into the compelling history, construction, service, demise, and legacy of the S.S. Selma, offering insights into the challenges and innovations associated with concrete ship construction.

From its launch in 1919 to its eventual sinking off the coast of Texas, the journey of the S.S. Selma illuminates the enduring significance of this remarkable maritime marvel.

As the wreck of the S.S. Selma continues to be a visible reminder of its legacy, its durability and historical significance remain subjects of ongoing study and preservation.

Key Takeaways

  • The S.S. Selma was an experimental oil tanker ship made from concrete during World War I to conserve steel.
  • The ship had a weight of 7,500 tons, a length of 434 feet, and a top speed of 10.5 knots.
  • The hull of the S.S. Selma was made of more than 2,600 cubic yards of expanded shale concrete reinforced by 1,500 tons of steel reinforcing bars.
  • The S.S. Selma served as an oil tanker on the Gulf Coast, but it eventually struck a jetty in Tampico, Mexico, causing irreparable damage and leading to its sinking off Pelican Island, Texas.

Historical Significance

With its lasting impact on maritime engineering and its enduring presence as a historical landmark, the S.S. Selma holds significant historical importance.

The impact of wartime shipping on maritime engineering is evident through the preservation methods and the enduring legacy of the S.S. Selma.

As an experimental concrete oil tanker, the S.S. Selma represents a unique chapter in maritime history, showcasing the innovative measures taken to conserve steel during World War I. Its construction marked a significant departure from traditional shipbuilding materials, leaving a lasting impact on the field of maritime engineering.

The preservation methods employed to maintain the historical significance of the S.S. Selma reflect its enduring legacy, while its impact on wartime shipping continues to be studied and analyzed by experts, further cementing its place in maritime history.

Purpose of Concrete Ships

During World War I, concrete ships were constructed with the purpose of conserving steel, a crucial material in high demand for wartime efforts. The advantages of using concrete in ship construction were evident during times of scarcity, allowing for the conservation of vital steel resources for military needs.

Concrete, although heavier than steel, was readily available and required less skilled labor, providing a cost-effective alternative for shipbuilding. This innovative approach to wartime conservation addressed the urgent need for vessels without compromising the military's steel supply.

The construction of concrete ships exemplified the adaptability and resourcefulness of naval engineering during challenging times. The utilization of concrete in shipbuilding during wartime not only facilitated the construction of essential vessels but also contributed to the preservation of strategic resources.

S.S. Selma's Specifications

The specifications of the S.S. Selma demonstrate the innovative application of concrete in ship construction, showcasing its unique features and capabilities in maritime engineering. The table below presents key details about the S.S. Selma's specifications, highlighting its construction materials and unique features.

Specification Description
Weight 7,500 tons
Displacement 13,000 tons
Length 434 feet
Beam 54 feet
Draft 26 feet
Engine Power 2,800 horsepower
Top Speed 10.5 knots
Construction Material Concrete, Steel Reinforcement
Unique Feature Concrete hull with high strength and durability

The S.S. Selma's construction materials included more than 2,600 cubic yards of expanded shale concrete, reinforced by 1,500 tons of smooth steel bars, exhibiting a compressive strength of 5,591 psi. Its unique feature lies in the concrete hull's exceptional strength and durability, which contributed to its historical significance and continues to be studied by experts.

Construction Details

Constructed by the F. F. Ley Company in Mobile, Alabama, the S.S. Selma's concrete hull was reinforced with 1,500 tons of smooth steel bars to ensure structural integrity and stability.

  • Advanced construction techniques utilized to reinforce the concrete hull
  • Durability studies conducted to assess the long-term strength and stability of the concrete structure
  • Historical significance of the innovative use of concrete in shipbuilding during World War I
  • Analytical examination of the materials and methods employed in the construction of the S.S. Selma

The construction of the S.S. Selma not only showcased pioneering construction techniques but also prompted ongoing durability studies to evaluate the long-term viability of concrete ships.

This remarkable maritime marvel continues to intrigue historians, engineers, and maritime enthusiasts, contributing to the understanding of concrete's potential in shipbuilding.

Service History

The service history of S.S. Selma as an oil tanker on the Gulf Coast showcased the practical implications of utilizing concrete in shipbuilding during World War I. Commissioned by the U.S. government contracts, the vessel played a crucial role in Gulf Coast oil transportation.

However, its operational tenure was marred by a significant incident when it struck a jetty in Tampico, Mexico, resulting in a 60-foot crack in its hull. While temporary repairs were attempted, the unique construction of the ship made it challenging to find suitable repair facilities.

Consequently, the S.S. Selma languished in Galveston Harbor for almost two years before being scrapped and sunk off Pelican Island, Texas, on March 9, 1922. Despite its demise, the S.S. Selma's service history remains a testament to the unconventional yet pioneering efforts in maritime transportation.

Demise of the S.S. Selma

S.S. Selma's demise marked the end of an era for the pioneering concrete ship, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and challenges in maritime history.

  • The sinking of the S.S. Selma occurred on March 9, 1922, off Pelican Island, Texas, after being scrapped. The demise of the S.S. Selma highlighted the challenges of repairing concrete ships, leading to its ultimate fate.
  • Impact of the S.S. Selma's demise reverberated in maritime engineering, influencing future ship construction methods. The historical significance of the S.S. Selma's sinking has spurred ongoing studies on the durability and limitations of concrete ship technology.

Legacy and Recognition

After the demise of the S.S. Selma, its legacy and recognition have continued to be commemorated and studied, reflecting its enduring impact on maritime history.

The wreck of the S.S. Selma is visible from the shore and Bolivar Peninsula Ferry, and it has been recognized with a historical marker. It holds the designation of the Official Flagship of the Texas Army National Guard and is a State Archeological Landmark. Furthermore, the ship is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, underscoring its significance in maritime history.

In 1992, A. Pat Daniels purchased the ship to preserve its historical importance. The durability of the concrete hull continues to be studied by experts, further solidifying the S.S. Selma's enduring recognition and contribution to maritime engineering and history.

Ongoing Studies and Preservation

Ongoing studies and preservation efforts focus on the concrete hull's durability and historical significance of the S.S. Selma, a pioneering maritime creation.

  • Material analysis: Experts are conducting ongoing studies to analyze the composition and strength of the concrete used in the S.S. Selma's hull, assessing its durability over time.
  • Preservation techniques: Efforts are being made to develop innovative preservation methods to protect the remains of the S.S. Selma and ensure its historical significance is maintained for future generations.
  • Environmental impact assessment: Ongoing studies aim to evaluate the environmental impact of the sunken S.S. Selma and its concrete hull, considering factors such as marine life and ecosystem preservation.
  • Historical documentation: Preservation efforts include documenting the historical significance of the S.S. Selma, capturing its role in maritime history and its impact on shipbuilding technology.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Any Plans to Raise the S.S. Selma From the Ocean Floor?

There are no current plans to salvage and restore the S.S. Selma from the ocean floor. The ship's historical significance is recognized, and its durability is studied, but efforts for raising it have not been initiated.

What Were the Specific Challenges in Repairing the Concrete Hull of the S.S. Selma After It Struck a Jetty?

Challenges in repairing the concrete hull of the S.S. Selma after the jetty collision included limited repair facilities and the unique construction. Maintenance techniques faced durability challenges, prompting ongoing study by experts.

How Did the S.S. Selma Contribute to the War Effort During World War I?

The S.S. Selma contributed to the war effort through its innovative construction, conserving steel for other crucial uses. Its concrete hull posed unique repair challenges, contributing significantly to maritime history and serving as an enduring study of construction materials.

What Materials Were Used in the Construction of the S.S. Selma's Conventional Components, Such as the Superstructure and Machinery?

Materials used in the construction of the S.S. Selma's conventional components included steel for the superstructure and machinery. Traditional shipbuilding techniques were employed for these elements. Repair challenges arose due to the ship's unique construction. Preservation efforts continue.

What Are Some of the Ongoing Studies and Preservation Efforts Focused on the S.S. Selma's Concrete Hull?

Ongoing studies focus on the concrete hull repair and preservation efforts of the S.S. Selma, a testament to war effort contributions. Raising the ship and understanding construction materials are key areas of historical and analytical interest.


Concrete ship S.S. Selma stands as a maritime marvel, showcasing the innovative and enduring nature of concrete ship construction. Its historical significance and ongoing preservation efforts serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of this remarkable vessel.

Purpose of Concrete Ships:

  • Concrete ships were initially built as a response to the shortage of steel during World War I.
  • The purpose of constructing ships out of concrete was to provide a cost-effective alternative to traditional steel ships.

S.S. Selma's Specifications:

  • The S.S. Selma was built in 1919 and measured approximately 418 feet in length.
  • It had a displacement of around 7,500 tons and was designed to carry cargo.

Construction Details:

  • The S.S. Selma was constructed using a method called ferrocement, which involved layering steel rods and wire mesh with concrete.
  • This construction technique provided strength and durability to the ship.

Service History:

  • The S.S. Selma served as a cargo vessel, transporting various goods during its active years.
  • It was primarily used in the Gulf of Mexico region.

Demise of the S.S. Selma:

  • The S.S. Selma faced several challenges throughout its service, including collisions and grounding incidents.
  • It was eventually decommissioned in 1962 due to its deteriorating condition.

Legacy and Recognition:

  • Despite its eventual demise, the S.S. Selma is recognized for its historical significance as one of the few remaining concrete ships.
  • It is often visited by maritime enthusiasts and serves as a reminder of the innovative construction methods employed during World War I.

Ongoing Studies and Preservation:

  • Efforts are currently underway to study and preserve the S.S. Selma.
  • Ongoing research aims to understand the long-term durability of concrete ships and find ways to protect and maintain them.

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Our Reader’s Queries

Why did the SS Selma sink?

The concrete oil tanker SS Selma collided with a jetty in Mexico in 1920, causing a 60-foot tear in its hull. Despite attempts to repair it in Galveston, the damage was irreparable, leading to the intentional sinking of the vessel off the eastern shore of Pelican Island near Galveston.

What is the history of the SS Selma?

The SS Selma was constructed in Mobile, Alabama, and given the name in tribute to Selma, Alabama, for its outstanding wartime liberty loan campaign. The vessel was released on June 28, 1919, which coincidentally marked the day Germany ratified the Treaty of Versailles, formally concluding World War I. Consequently, this 7,500-ton ship did not see any action during the war.

What is the concrete ship near Galveston?

One cool example of a concrete ship is the SS Selma, which went down in Galveston Bay. You can actually see it today from the Houston Ship Channel. The SS Selma, named after Selma Alabama, was finished in 1919. It was a whopping 434 feet long and 54 feet wide.

Can ships be made of concrete?

Concrete ships and barges were constructed using reinforced concrete hull shells, making them more accessible to shipyards than steel plates. The use of steel bars for reinforcement made it easier for shipbuilders to obtain the necessary materials for construction.

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