Archivist’s Attic: As Amirkian as Apple Pie – The Seabees and the Ammi Pontoons, Part 1


As we wind down from our Memorial Day festivities, our bellies full of hamburgers and hotdogs, potato salad and some good craft beer, what could be more American than Amirkian? No, that’s not a misspelling and believe me, spell check has it underlined. Dr. Arsham Amirkian helped us through World War II, the conflict in Vietnam and beyond. He was an American engineer known for his ingenuity and many innovative projects, which served the Navy, the Seabees, the entire technical community and engineering profession.


His most famous design concept was the Advanced Military Mobilization Implement (AMMI), which enabled the Seabees to construct various pontoons and bridges. This provided a solution to the problem of advance base construction. In order to understand why the AMMI pontoon changed the way the Seabees maneuvered items, we first need to understand the ideas that Amirkian came up with and the man behind them.

Dr. Arsham Amirikian was born in Kighie Armenia in 1899. By 1923 he had immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Chevy Chase, Maryland where he started his career as a structural draftsman working for five steel fabrication shops. In 1928, he joined the U.S. Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks as a structural engineering assistant. He advanced through the ranks, ending up as the chief engineering consultant.

Throughout his career he was granted various awards including Civilian Career Achievement Awards, Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award and various awards from welding and concrete societies. In addition to the awards he received, he maintained long associations with technical and professional societies and took an active part in their work through committees. One of the benefits of these associations were the collaborations he formed with other engineers. These collaborations came up with various new designs, such as a new code for welding reinforcing bars. Collaborations of this sort were rarely available before. The most interesting part was that these new collaboration concepts were done without industry standards or guidelines.

Amirikian built his career covering a wide variety of shore facilities and floating craft. His entire career was devoted to developing and improving methods of structural analysis, framing arrangements of increased efficiency combined with construction techniques and procedures of greater economy.

Seabees Working

The most impressive of these developments was the AMMI pontoon systems and his invention of the biserrated orthotropic framing system (more on this later). The AMMI was developed primarily as a cause way component for use in the shallow waters of Vietnam to transfer cargo from deep-draft vessels anchored great distances from shore. Stay tuned to see how these AMMI pontoons were different from conventional pontoons and what the Seabees used them for!


150225-N-JU810-001Meet the Archivist: Ingi House
Ingi House is originally from Kansas where she got her B.A. in history from K.U. and M.L.S. from E.S.U. After working for the Dole Institute of Politics she moved to the East Coast.  In D.C. she worked at the National Archives and Records Admiration and then at the Defense Acquisition University where she became a Certified Archivist. Her continued enjoyment of military history lead her to switching coasts and coming to work for the Seabee Museum where she is collection manager for the archives and records manager liaison

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