While the USS Maine rusted at the bottom of Havana Harbor, Clemson University was putting the finishing touches on restoring a 16-ton chunk of American history.
Before the U.S. Navy picked up the century-old, 6-inch gun on Monday, specialists at Clemson's Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston spent roughly two years restoring it using cutting-edge techniques pioneered by Clemson, said Lasch center Executive Director Stéphanie Cretté.
"I think it's probably one of the biggest guns from the USS Maine that was recovered and brought to the United States," Cretté said. "It's actually going to be in good condition for when the Navy shows it to a new generation."
The gun was recovered in 1912, and before Clemson began restoration in 2016, it was on display at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Cretté said. The Navy is storing the gun until it finds space for it on a naval base in Richmond, Va., Clemson spokesman Bryce Donovan said.
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The USS Maine was docked outside Cuba's capital on Feb. 15, 1898, when it exploded, killing 268 Americans and sparking the Spanish-American War. Initial reports blamed a mine for destroying the Maine, but more recent research has suggested an accidental explosion in the USS Maine's engine room may have sank the ship.
Clemson's cutting-edge technique was inspired by a British technology that uses superheated, high-pressure water to remove graffiti and restore brick buildings, according to a release from Clemson.
"To boil it down really simply, it's just like a pressure washer, just a really high-powered one," Donovan said.
Traditionally, metal artifacts were restored by moving them into a lab and using dangerous chemicals. However, this new method is portable, uses regular tap water and costs less than traditional methods, according to a release from Clemson.
Before Clemson received the gun, it was corroding, but not to the point where it was falling apart. Donovan said the restoration was done to make the cannon look exactly like it did before the ship sank.
"The more high-profile projects we do ... the more people who are going to say 'maybe they're onto something,' " Donovan said.