The story logically begins with John Stevens, III (1749-1838) who bought the land upon which the institute sits. The buyer was of the third generation of Stevenses, a family of landed gentry which came to colonial America in 1699. With income from extensive real estate in New Jersey and from a merchant fleet plying the Atlantic trade routes, the second and third generations of Stevenses had intermarried with other wealthy New Jersey and New York families and immersed themselves in the pursuits typical of their class in the enlightened 18th century: education, natural philosophy, architecture and civic activism.
John Stevens, III, was educated at Kings College (Columbia) and followed the example of his father and most of the landed elite by joining the patriot party during the Revolutionary War. While his father was secretary to Governor Livingston (New York), the son, at 27 years old, was appointed captain in Washington's army.
Later, as a colonel, he collected taxes for the American cause as treasurer of New Jersey. After the war in 1784, John Stevens, III, or Colonel John as he became known, bought at public auction from the state of New Jersey land which had been confiscated from a Tory landowner. The land, described as "William Bayard's farm at Hoebuck" comprised approximately what is now the city of Hoboken.
Almost from the start of his ownership, Colonel John was interested in steamboats. In general, the interest of Americans was whetted by the inventor John Fitch's public demonstration of a primitive model steamboat in 1787 before members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia the first steamboat in the world. In the late 1780s interest was further stimulated by a pamphlet war among proponents of the application of steam power to boats over feasibility and the issue of monopoly rights in the waters of the several states.
Colonel John became an enthusiastic and active supporter of steam navigation and envisioned, as did Fitch before him, the public benefits and personal profits resulting from steamboats linking the geographically separated population centers in the United States. This combination of civic and private motivation was natural in the 18th century when transportation projects required large initial outlays of private capital given the limited functions of government; investments in turnpikes, canals and bridges were repaid by tolls, and the risks of investment were lessened by the award of monopoly rights for a number of years.
It was also natural that Stevens quickly entered into steam boating, given his wealth and his family's experience in transportation. In addition to owning a merchant fleet, his father had been commissioner of turnpikes for the colony of New Jersey before the war, and Colonel John himself was a planner and later president of the Bergen Turnpike Company incorporated in 1802.
The organizational meeting of the New York Yacht Club was held on the oldest of Colonel John's sons, (John Cox Stevens') yacht, "Gimcrack," in 1844.
The first clubhouse of the New York Yacht Club was built on the Stevenses' Hoboken estates just north of Castle Point in 1848, and John Cox Stevens was the first commodore of the club. Now, John Cox Stevens and his brother, Edwin, also a later commodore of the club, were part of a well-to-do group of members who built the yacht "America" according to the designs of John Steers, the famous yachting architect. This yacht sailed to England in 1851, and, with John Cox and Edwin aboard she defeated the field of the Royal Yacht Squadron in the Cowes regatta around the Isle of Wight.
The "America" received an elegant and ornate silver cup worth some 100 pounds as a trophy. Later, in 1859 the New York Yacht Club dedicated the prize as a perpetual international challenge cup open to competition from premier foreign yacht clubs wishing to challenge the best yacht from the United States. This was, of course, the origin of today's America's Cup -- another part of the Stevens legacy.
The Davidson Laboratory, founded in 1935, is one of the largest and most renowned hydrodynamic and ocean engineering research facilities in the nation. Pioneering marine hydrodynamic studies in both physical modeling and computer simulation of marine craft designs (ranging from high-speed planning boats to submarines) have contributed to the Laboratory's international reputation. The primary research facilities are two unique wave tanks. The first is a high-speed towing tank with a length of 320 feet, width of 16 feet, and a variable water depth of up to 8 feet, a result of a recently completed a major renovation. A monorail-supported cable-driven carriage is capable of speeds up to 100 ft/sec. The tank also contains a programmable wave maker capable of generating monochromatic and random wave fields, as well as several types of wave spectra. Shallow water conditions can be simulated in the tank with the installation of an adjustable slope false bottom. Nearshore beach conditions are studied by placing 40 tons of quartz sand on a 65-foot-long, 1-on-20 sloping false bottom. The tank's improved instrumentation, glass walls for viewing and photography, and public access improvements further enhance the Laboratory's contributions to fundamental and applied research in ship design, hydrodynamics and ocean engineering. The second tank is a rotating arm and oblique-sea basin, with dimensions of 75-feet-long by 75-feet-wide and a variable water depth of up to five feet. The facility has been designated an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, one of only two of its kind in the nation and was featured in the February 1996 issue of Sea Technology.
In addition to the experimental facilities, research addressing engineering problems involving complex flow phenomena is conducted using computational fluid dynamics. The laboratory's simulation software suite is made up of a combination of commercial and in-house modeling codes, several mesh generation tools, and advanced flow visualization tools. Past and on-going projects encompassing numerical simulation-based research include analysis related to supercavitation, vortex induced vibrations, extreme wave loads on off-shore structures, hydrodynamic and hydroacoustic signatures of submerged bodies and wake hydrodynamics, and aero-hydromechanics of high performance racing yachts. The later involving design analysis support for America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race teams and boat designers.