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Explore the City by the Sea at the Houston Maritime Museum

By S. Mathur

Most people associate Houston with NASA's space missions. But the city's history goes back to its founding as a port city on the Gulf of Mexico. Leslie Bowlin, Director of the Houston Maritime Museum, says that "It is not uncommon to hear that Houston is a city built by a port." Houston has a strong connection to maritime industry, she adds: "The earliest developments of the city are a direct response to the economic advantages of maritime trade."

The founder of the Museum, James Manzolillo, was part of this history himself as a naval architect and shipbuilder. His private collection of maritime artifacts became the core of the Museum's exhibits. Bowlin explains: "Since our founding in 2000, our collection of ship models and artifacts of ocean-going exploration, maritime industry, and naval warfare tell the story of man's connection to the sea from the golden age of sail to our modern age of container ships."

The importance of maritime trade is not a thing of the past, and Bowlin says that "An astounding 90 percent of all commodities worldwide cross an ocean. The Port of Houston connects the city to billions of dollars in revenue and ranks among the top ports in the nation. Yet Houston's port to the maritime world is too often invisible for its impact on daily life." The Museum exhibits are designed for visitors "to experience the thrills, trials, failures and successes of maritime living in all its forms."

Visitors can find their own way through the thematic exhibits, which go back in time to Ancient Greece. The Museum invites visitors, says Bowlin, to "Discover the earliest form of container shipping through our amphora salvaged off the Greek coast. Learn how sailors navigate without digital maps and global positioning, instead using stars and the sun to plot their course. See how our modern offshore oil industry traces its roots to whaling off the east coast in the 19th century. Make the connections between past and present and help inform future generations about the impact of the human connection to the maritime world.

Our exhibitions feature subjects sure to touch an interest in every person from scientific exploration to pleasure cruising and the spread of civilization to warfare. Through our broad ranging exhibitions, the museum strives to provide the same comprehensive service as the maritime industry does itself."

Docent-led tours, exhibitions, and programs guide visitors through the history of the maritime industry and its impact on their lives. Bowlin says that "With so much to see and our changing highlights and unique docent perspectives, we believe there is always a reason to come back for more." Membership benefits include free admission for the member and a number of guests throughout the year. Volunteers can train as docents or participate in research projects. Continued growth of the collection has made expansion necessary, and the Museum will be moving by 2017 to a new 5-acre site on the waterfront at the Port of Houston.

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