The Francis Russell Hart Nautical Collections were created in 1921 by the MIT Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering for the purpose of teaching. Comprised of 18 primary collections, they form one of the most extensive collections related to naval architecture, marine engineering and construction of American vessels in the world. Donated by individuals and other entities, the collections are comprised of approximately 120,000 plans, 200,000 photographic, film, audio-visual and media elements, 75,000 (folder level) business or technical records, 5,000 marine art objects, a 3,000 volume library and 1,500 ship models.
Items date from late nineteenth and twentieth century New England, with the oldest from the sixteenth century. Of note are collections that document iron and steel shipbuilding in metropolitan Boston from 1853 to 1986, the last great chapter in this region's 350-year history of shipbuilding. This includes the largest of three major twentieth century shipbuilding archives documenting the history of Bethlehem Steel's shipbuilding work. (The others are at the Hagley Museum and Library and the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.) Most of the material in these collections is not duplicated in federal archives or elsewhere.