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Dana M. Wegner commands a fleet for the U.S. Navy, and each of his ships fits easily inside a room. He's a curator of models, overseeing 1,800 ships worth more than $100 million.

The models, which represent the history of naval shipbuilding in the United States, are displayed in Navy buildings, museums and at veterans' reunions. They are requested by presidents. They even appear in motion pictures, most recently in "Guarding Tess.""The models have never-ending value to the Navy," Wegner said.

Building a model of each new kind of ship became standard procedure in the 1800s, and long after a full-size ship has been sold for scrap, the model remains part of the nation's naval history.

At any given time, more than 98 percent of the models are on display around the world, Wegner said. The rest are stored in the care of Wegner and two co-curators at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Carderock.

At first, the models were built by Navy personnel, but now about 35 professional model builders across the country put them together. The models are built mostly of wood and metal - plastic is not allowed. And they are very accurate.

"We really try to pay as close attention to detail and scale as we can," said Michael Condon, a co-curator.