In June 1896, Scientific American magazine published an article titled “The New Double-Deck-Turret Battleship Kearsarge.” The article described the dimensions and armaments of a new class of U.S. battleships, and included an artist’s rendering and a deck plan of the ship.
Peter G. Schmidt, just sixteen at the time, was intrigued by the new battleship design—so much so, that he decided to build a scale model of the ship. Unlike today, though, he couldn’t go down to the local hobby shop and buy a kit. Instead, he studied the plan, the picture, and the text, and built his own model—entirely from scratch.
Peter G. Schmidt circa 1896, when he began building his scale model.
Peter also made a base for the ship, reproducing a becalmed sea of modeling putty painted with watercolors. To enclose the entire production, he visited local mill owner Charley Springer, who built a wood-and-glass case, 37” long by 13” wide, decorated with gold-painted finials.
When the model was completed, it was displayed in the window of Mills & Cowles’ hardware store on Main Street (now Capital) in Olympia. A news article of the time told of Peter’s experience: “Being naturally of a mechanical mind, and having an infatuation at the time for water craft, the boy applied himself to the construction of a miniature warship that should be the exact counterpart of the mammoth war vessel, except only as to size….Every ladder, door, window, railing and every other minutia of the great vessel is reproduced, even to the buoy, anchor and lifeboats. Two little launches are placed beside the ship, having within it the carefully modelled oars. In fact, every detail is perfect.”
Peter’s model ship in its glass case in the early 1900’s
In 1904, when Peter’s parents built their “Three Meter” house overlooking the brewery, they included a space for the model ship. On the stairway between the second and third floors is a long niche designed to accommodate the ship and its case. For years, the model resided in that niche and with an electric bulb, served as a nightlight on the stairs.
After Peter and his wife Clara passed away, their son Peter Jr. took the model ship to his home in Seattle, and there it stayed for many years. Peter Jr. (Buzzie, as he was known) passed away early in 2016. Buzzie had promised that someday the ship would return to Tumwater, and now it has. Although currently residing in our archives, it will soon be returned to its niche in the stairway, where visitors can enjoy a glimpse of the past.
by Karen Johnson, Curator