Museum of Science and Industry safely relocates rare German submarine

November 13, 2014 Laura McDaniel
As told by Ed McDonald, Director of Facilities and Operations, Museum of Science and Industry

The U-505 project was about more than building a museum exhibit. It was about creating a war memorial to the men and women who lost their lives on the high seas in World Wars I and II.

museum science industry u-505 german submarine

The museum was in the unique position of having one of just five German submarines of this type in the world—one of only two above water and the only one in the United States. The sub has long been one of our most popular attractions, but it was deteriorating in its outdoor location and we knew we had to relocate it in order to preserve it for future generations.

Feasibility studies determined that the best place for the sub would be in an underground facility. This would provide better control of the temperature, lighting and other environmental factors. This also presented a host of challenges, not the least of which was that we were digging a 72-foot-deep hole on lakefi ll just 50 yards from the largest body of freshwater in the United States.

We chose JLL because we had worked favorably with them in the past. We charged their team with managing the building design process, permitting, project oversight, overall construction and completion. 

It was a long and complicated process, as you might imagine, that had to address things like preventing leakage, reducing relative humidity to prevent rust since salt is still in the U-505 metal, eliminating dust, performing twice yearly cleanings of the sub and so on. 

JLL expertly managed the construction of this new underground addition, along with the installation of this historic exhibit—even coordinating with the museum’s exhibit team and the Board of Trustees.

One of our greatest challenges was moving the U-505 from its existing to its new location. JLL worked tirelessly with us on the logistics to get it absolutely right. In the end, it took five days traveling at one mile an hour on 144 sets of truck dollies to move the sub—quite a sight! We don’t do things small here. Then we lowered it one inch at a time underground before putting the roof on the building.

We ended up with something extraordinary—an exhibit that had the ability to tell the story of how a war was fought on water as well as honor the 55,000 men and women who lost their lives on the high seas. Each room in the exhibit leads visitors through a different piece of the story, culminating in a tour of the sub itself. 

The museum sees 1.2 to 1.4 million visitors a year, including 300,000 to 400,000 children during the school year—a large percentage of whom visit this 24,000-square-foot special exhibit hall.

The exhibit fittingly opened on June 4, 2005, the 61st anniversary of the submarine’s capture. And even after all these years, it is my most beloved project. When I visit the boat, sometimes I well up thinking about what a good job our entire team did.

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