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National Museum of the American Sailor

On July 3, 1911, the very first recruit arrived at Naval Training Station Great Lakes to report to the newly opened boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. Joseph Wallace Gregg was a slender seventeen-year old from Terre Haute, Indiana. He later recalled, “I was a little shy, homesick and didn’t cut too much of a figure in my new Navy uniform,” sentiments which surely were echoed by numerous Navy recruits who came to boot camp after him. Despite Gregg’s initial impressions of himself, he and his fellow recruits graduated from Great Lakes on October 28, 1911 after months of intensive training and joined the fleet as enlisted Sailors. As an official Department of the Navy museum under the Naval History and Heritage Command, the National Museum of the American Sailor’s mission is to tell the story of the Navy’s enlisted force and how the patriotism, dedication and self-sacrifice of millions of Sailors like Joseph Wallace Gregg have been instrumental to the Navy’s success since the earliest days of the fleet.

The National Museum of the American Sailor is located at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois, the home of the Navy’s only “Boot Camp.” Originally named the Great Lakes Naval Museum, the museum was founded in 1991 and, in 2009, became an official Department of the Navy museum operated by the Naval History and Heritage Command. In late 2008, the museum moved into its current location in Building 42. Known as the Hostess House, the facility was designed in 1942 by the Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. During World War II, the facility served as a welcome center for nearly 1 million Sailors who entered boot camp before joining the fleet.  Building 42 is now recognized as a classic example of modern American architecture. By adopting the Hostess House as its home, the National Museum of the American Sailor connects enlisted Sailors, Navy families and the public to this unique architectural treasure and the central role it played in the Navy’s wartime history.

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While the museum’s original focus centered on the history of Naval Station Great Lakes, in 2014 the museum’s name was officially changed to the National Museum of the American Sailor. This name change was formally announced by Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Michael Stevens and the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Director RADM Samuel Cox (Ret.) on July 4, 2016. While the museum will continue to educate visitors about the importance of Naval Station Great Lakes and preserve its history, this new name better reflects the museum’s mission to capture the entire experience and history of the United States Sailor.

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The National Museum of the American Sailor has a rich and historic collection of artifacts and archives featuring Naval uniforms, boot camp company photographs, letters, diaries and other materials which document the historical experience of the Navy’s enlisted sailor. The museum offers several permanent exhibits in addition to rotating temporary exhibits. Permanent exhibits include From Civilian to Sailor: Life in Navy Boot Camp, Shape Up and Ship Out: Physical Training in the Navy, and Sea Food: Feeding the U.S. Navy.

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The National Museum of the American Sailor also offers a variety of educational programs, including concerts, lectures and monthly “STEM Saturday” family programs which feature hands-on learning activities for visitors of all ages. From building and racing sailboats to learning the basics of celestial navigation, these activities help families learn the important role of science, technology, engineering and math in a sailor’s daily life.

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The National Museum of the American Sailor is located next to the Main Gate of Naval Station Great Lakes. The museum is open Monday-Saturdays from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Admission is free and the museum is open to the public. The museum is closed on federal holidays. Group tours are available by appointment. For more information, please visit www.history.navy.mil/nmas, email nmas.fct@navy.mil, or call 847-688-3154. For more information about the history of the American Sailor and current exhibits and events at the National Museum of the American Sailor, visit the museum’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/nationalmuseumoftheamericansailor/) and blog, The Sailor’s Attic (https://sailorsattic.wordpress.com/).