Rahmi M. Koç Museum Displays American Relics

Istanbul’s Rahmi M. Koç Museum includes American relics.

| October 2013

Classic pieces of historic American industrial technology routinely appear in museum collections. What’s less routine? Finding American treasures in a museum in Istanbul, Turkey.

The first major museum in Turkey dedicated to the history of transportation, industry and communication, the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul contains more than 10,000 items, ranging from dollhouse miniatures to a working tugboat. Among the American-made relics are a 1910 Aultman & Taylor 20 hp steam engine, a 1944 submarine, three Model T Fords (a 1908 2-seater wagon, a 1918 roadster and a 1918 touring car) and an 1898 Malden steam car built in Massachusetts.

Rahmi Koç is head of the Koç Group, which builds Ford and Fiat automobiles in Turkey. During business trips to Detroit, Koç made regular visits to the Henry Ford Museum. Profoundly impressed by what he saw there, Koç dreamed of creating a similar institution in Istanbul.

Since its opening in 1994, the Koç museum has expanded to cover 290,000 square feet (similar to the size of St. Peter’s Square in Rome) and attracts more than 210,000 guests each year. The collection includes two restored vintage boats (a fishing boat and a tug) and a narrow-gauge railway that follows the shore. Short cruises are offered on the Golden Horn, Istanbul’s natural harbor, during the summer.

The collection is beautifully housed in two historic buildings on the shores of the Golden Horn. Covered display space encompasses nearly 120,000 square feet.

The largest item on display is a submarine built for the U.S. Navy at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1944. The USS Thornback saw service in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the war it was decommissioned and placed in the U.S. Navy Reserve fleet. In the early 1950s, the Thornback was modernized and re-entered service. In 1971, the submarine was transferred to the Turkish Navy and renamed TCG Uluçalireis. It remained in service for 30 years before becoming part of the museum collection.