Starship class, part two: Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies

I grew up believing the Enterprise is a Constitution-class ship. I later learned differently and recently wrote The Enterprise is not a Constitution-class ship

Many people really did not like that. Within 24 hours, the article generated lots of comments on social media, not all of them kind, and a bunch of hits on this site. (The traffic and the comments surpassed the previous champ, my piece on Harlan Ellison’s drug-dealing crewmember, in less than a week.)

Here’s the thing: we discuss this stuff because we love Star Trek, and I respect that, and anyone can disagree with me. I’m just this guy. 

But if you hold fast to the idea the Enterprise is a Constitution-class ship, you are also disagreeing with Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies. 

The creator

The cover of the Star Trek Writers/Directors Guide

Gene Roddenberry created what’s typically called a “bible” for his show. The Writers/Directors Guide was a briefing document for people who were not part of the ongoing production and therefore needed basic information on the show. On page 7, Roddenberry and his staff wrote: The U.S.S. Enterprise is a spaceship, official designation “starship class.”

My copy is of the third revision, dated April 17, 1967. The date is important. This is almost two years after filming Where No Man Has Gone Before. It has been suggested that the dedication plaque, which states the Enterprise is a Starship-class vessel and which forms the basis of my argument, was a leftover from the pilot days that no one could be bothered to replace. This document makes it clear that is not the case.

The Making of Star Trek, first published in 1968 and written by Stephen E. Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry, also could not be clearer on this point.

The Enterprise is a member of the Starship Class (there are twelve of them) Registry Number NCC-1701. Starship Class vessels are the largest and most powerful man-made ships in space.

You can disagree with me. I don’t think you can disagree with Gene Roddenberry.

The designer

Walter Matthew Jefferies designed the Enterprise. The Making of Star Trek includes Jefferies’ renderings of the Enterprise, the bridge, the hangar deck, the shuttlecraft and the Klingon battle cruiser.

The Enterprise, depicted on page 178, is labelled “Space cruiser. Starship class.”

A drawing, from The Making of Star Trek, by Matt Jefferies of the Enterprise

You can disagree with me. I don’t think you can disagree with Matt Jefferies. 

If you haven’t done so, please read my first piece on this. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear it, but the reality is the Enterprise is a Starship-class ship. 

I appreciate everyone who took the time to engage with me on this. Special thanks to Robert J. Sawyer and Pierre Charles Dubreuil who pointed me to the Jefferies drawing and the show bible, respectively.


Captain Pike assigned one crew member to do nothing but stand beside the turbolift. He is there in every bridge scene in The Cage, so I have no idea if the plaque was on the set in 1964.

Update: Trek fan Karl Tate pointed out that guy moves off the wall in one scene and you can see the space beside the turbolift — and there was no dedication plaque on Pike’s Enterprise.

15 responses to “Starship class, part two: Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies”

  1. I’m really enjoying these posts. And I’m glad that they’ve prompted a lot of discussion. Well done!

    With regards to your postscript: the guy in the corner looks like someone I went to school with who was known fir being a bit of a fighter. Maybe he’s been given a time out?


  2. This is great research – and I love that even now, there are still new things to learn. And unlearn.


  3. You are arguing that behind the scenes info takes precedence over other behind the scenes agrees with you and the other does not. Jefferies created the graphic that Scotty looks at that says Constitution Class. Constitution was one of the names selected for use as a Starship. The 1700 registry was seen on screen. These pieces all refute what you are saying. Starship Class is like aircraft carrier, it denotes the type of ship. Though it is more like Ship of the Line from the days of sail even than that. It was Jefferies who made it Constitution Class.


    • Hi again, Robin. Thanks for reading this one as well.

      A lot of people are really invested in the Constitution designation, and that’s great. To them, and perhaps to you, the Enterprise will always be a Constitution-class ship. That dedication to this idea is the only explanation I can see for this being a debate — when both Gene Roddenberry and Matt Jefferies said it is a Starship-class ship and when that writing is literally on the wall.

      As for the graphic in Tribbles, yea, but you saw my suggestion in the first article on that. I don’t actually believe the part itself is Constitution class, but it is true that the image is of a phaser component, not of the ship. The only reason you think the Constitution refers to the ship is because Franz Joseph and many others told the fans in the 70s that is the Enterprise’s class.

      So I am fine with you holding to your opinion; no argument from me. But, please, stop conflating these two statements: “Constitution was one of the names selected for use as a Starship. The 1700 registry was seen on screen.”

      The second statement is true, in Commodore Stone’s office in Court Martial, but the chart DOES NOT include ship names. You can repeat over and over that the NCC-1700 is the USS Constitution but that is never stated on screen and the ship is never seen in an episode.

      As I said, you do you, but please stop saying things that just aren’t true.


  4. It could be both things, they are not mutually exclusive. The Enterprise is a Constitution-class starship. As with US Navy ships the first vessel of a design gives the design class its name, but its size and function determine the type class whether it’s a battleship, cruiser, destroyer, etc. But other ships of the same design would not bear the name of the first vessel on them, other than possibly on engineering documentation.

    At the time of the writers guide, no other ship names had been written so the design class was fleshed out later.


    • Hello. Thanks for reading.

      Your solution is reasonable in terms of what later became canon. I do quibble with two points.

      When you say the first vessel of a design gives its name, that’s true in general but we have no idea what the first vessel of this design was called. NCC-1700 is seen on a chart (in Court Martial) but there are no names attached, so we neither see the USS Constitution nor hear it referenced over the three years of the show.

      Second, as I said in the article, the writers guide I referenced is the third revision, dated April 1967. That is two years into production of the show.

      And, of course, the phrase “Constitution-class starship” is not in any of the source material from the 60s.

      It turns out many fans have a real affection for the Constitution-class designation. As I said, thanks for reading.


  5. I don’t think it’s too much to say that “starship” refers to any ship capable of interstellar travel, and not ALL Federation ships are necessarily starships. When Roddenberry fleshed out the ideas for how Starfleet was organized, originally there was just one class – *the* starship, the Connie, what have you. As design went on, more ‘classes’ of starship were created.

    But here’s the rub – does it really matter in the long run? Nerds will nerd out for years to come but are fans really wrong for calling the Enterprise a Constitution-class? No. It’s a Constitution-class Starship, and it’s not a retcon if the lore was expanded while the show was still being made. That’s just how fictional worlds are built.


    • Hi Robert. Thanks for reading and commenting. I will make a couple of points.

      Does it really matter? I guess you have to define what matters. On one level, none of this really matters, in the same way that batting scores or an Inverted Jenny don’t really matter — except that all of this also does matter. I care about it, and a lot of fans do. I do take your point, and I hold no bad feelings for people who want to maintain the Enterprise nomenclature. It’s fine to do so. I think it’s incorrect.

      “It’s a Constitution-class Starship.” Well, but it wasn’t. Not according to the guy who created the show and the guy who designed the ship. You can argue that it is now, that it was retconned, but during pre-production and production of TOS, the Enterprise was Starship class.

      Again, thanks for reading. I welcome comments (and disagreements) on anything here.


  6. First and foremost.Thank you sir. It’s great reading the back and forth between the writer’s, fans, and everyone else that holds Star Trek near and dear to their hearts.
    Gene Roddenberry started something magical.
    I see the one thing that you keep coming back to on your POV is both Gene and Matt said it was a starship class and that’s great, but I have to wonder in what context were they talking about the series?
    I mean every time I muddle through these back in the day or behind the scenes etc, etc retelling of stories. One thing a lot of people forget.
    You have to realize these guys were doing a job. A job the network were sticking there noses in on a consistent basis. Day in day out. Over and over again. With all that going on they’re just trying to get a weekly show completed on time, within the confines of an ever decreasing budget. Do you think that after it’s all said and done at the end of it all. After three years of fighting to keep his beloved idea on the airwaves. After the ax fell on his dream that even the great bird of the galaxy could miss speak about something so close to his heart? They were thinking this stuff up “on the fly”. Writing dialog, shooting scenes, re-writing dialog, shooting more scenes. Over and over. I can believe some things were not articulated as well as they could have been.
    This show was rushed into production, put on the air, and canceled. All in the blink of an eye. They didn’t have the luxury of time. Time to flesh out every little detail that would explain everything to everybody’s satisfaction. I believe there is room for reasonable doubt that this one detail could have been overlooked. Like I said time wasn’t on the creative teams side. A lot of stuff was fleshed out after the series was canceled. With syndication breathing new life into this phenomenon. New ideas, new details, and new thoughts can be brought up for discussion. With the conventions bringing in huge amounts of money. I’m sure a lot of people associated with Star Trek were eager to piece together a world of tomorrow. There were plenty of people with conflicting ideas on the best way to move forward.
    With large groups of people, politics and bureaucracy are sure to follow. Meaning whomever is placed in charge. Not everyone is going to agree it’s the right direction. Even Roddenberry himself was pushed aside in dealing with his dream project. Twice.
    With all that said, I will say thank you again for your part in everything Star Trek.
    It is remarkable that all of us trekkies, trekkers, nerds, or believers in tomorrow can sit around and talk about this great thing called Star Trek.


    • Anthony, thank you for reading and for commenting! You are correct that everything was done on the fly, and that there are inconsistencies. (The location of Enginering, for example: However, everything that was thought out, that was intentional — like the dedication plaque, The Making of Star Trek book, the drawings by Jefferies, the show bible — all say the Enterprise is Starship class. Not one of those specifies Constitution class. So, to my mind, there is no controversy or counter argument, other than that Constitution class is a better name. And it is. But that’s not the name the creators of the show used.


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