Steel shortages during World War I led the U.S. to build experimental concrete ships, the largest of which was the SS Selma, today partially submerged in Galveston Bay and visible from this site. It was built in Mobile, Alabama, and named to honor Selma, Alabama, for its successful wartime liberty loan drive.
The ship was launched on June 28, 1919, the same day Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, officially ending World War I. As a result, the 7,500-ton ship never entered the war, but instead was placed into service as an oil tanker in the Gulf of Mexico.
In Tampico, Mexico, on May 31, 1920, the SS Selma hit a jetty, ripping a hole in its hull about 60 feet long. After attempts to repair the ship in Galveston failed and efforts to sell the ship proved unsuccessful, U.S. officials decided to intentionally scuttle the ship. A channel 1,500 feet long and 25 feet deep was dug to a point just off Pelican Island's eastern shoreline where on March 9, 1922, the ship was laid to rest.
The Selma has since been the object of failed plans to convert it for use as a fishing pier, pleasure resort, and oyster farm. Long a source of curiosity and local legend, it remains important to scientists who continue to study aspects of its concrete construction. In 1993, the SS Selma was designated a
State Archeological Landmark, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, and has been designated as the Official Flagship of the Texas Army.