Samuel Eliot Morison was a well known historian who specialized in American and maritime history. He was born in 1887 in Boston. He earned his AB and PhD from Harvard University in 1908 and 1912, respectively. After earning his doctorate, Morison taught at a number of schools before becoming a full professor at Harvard in 1925, where he was appointed the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History. Morison retired from the University in 1955 but continued to research and write books.
An avid sailor, much of Morison’s work focuses on America’s maritime history. During World War II, Morison was commissioned a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserve to document the role of the Navy in the conflict. Morison visited the sites of each of the major naval campaigns and actions during the war to gather documentation and interview participants for his 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II and the single-volume The Two Ocean War. For his service, Morison eventually attained the rank of Rear Admiral.
Morison is also known for writing accessible general histories on the United States and key figures in her story. Morison earned numerous awards and honors for his work, including two Pulitzer Prizes, two Bancroft Prizes, and the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the last public appearance before his death, Morison cut the ribbon to open the USS Constitution Museum on April 8, 1976. The Museum’s research library and an annual award given by the Museum for scholarship in history are both named in his honor. Morison passed away on May 15, 1976.
“United States Ship, Constitution, preserved through the efforts of the people of the United States and the Navy, is now here in all her pristine beauty and charm and color and she is now given a new lease on life by having this Museum created in her honor. Here will be assembled all the memorabilia that used to clutter her twin decks. Here, I hope you may follow the example of the National Maritime Museum of Greenwich, right slap on the prime meridian, in having special exhibits of the great days of sail and exposing, through sale, books in print on the Constitution and the American sail matters. For the Constitution’s integral part of our country, her preservation assures that as long as we prize valor and maintain a fighting Navy, as long as our eyes dance to see that banner in the skies, we should be a strong, powerful and free nation.”