The Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank was the world's first commercial example of a test tank and was the starting point for many of the firm's great innovations. The idea of a tank was first developed by William Froude who built a test tank for the Admiralty in Torquay in 1871. William Denny was impressed with this scientific technique and persuaded the firm's partners to construct a tank in which they could conduct their own experiments.
The Tank was completed in 1883 and was designed to test scale models to determine the most efficient hull shape and power requirement for any particular vessel. These small-scale tests were used to predict the behaviour of full-sized hulls. More value was added to the tests in 1887 when a wave maker was installed to simulate rough seas.
Throughout its working life the Tank, which was part of the Denny shipyard, tested models of a variety of vessels and explored various propulsion methods, including propellers, paddles and vane wheels. Experiments were carried out on models of the Denny-Brown stabilisers and the hovercraft to gauge their feasibility. Tank staff also carried out research and experiments for other companies: Belfast-based Harland & Wolff decided to fit a bulbous bow on Canberra after successful model tests in the Denny Tank.
The success of the Denny Tank inspired other shipbuilders and scientific bodies to build their own tanks. Notable tanks were built at the University of Glasgow and St Albans and these are still in use today.
The Tank was acquired as part of the Scottish Maritime Museum soon after it closed having been in commercial operation for 100 years. The Tank is as long as a football pitch and still retains much of its original equipment in working order. Even after opening to the public as a museum it has continued, from time to time, to operate as a testing tank. For an eight year period it was used by Strathclyde University, Department of Marine Safety, until the naval architecture functions of Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities were merged.