A Man and His Ship: America's Greatest Naval Architect and His Quest to Build the S.S. United Statesby Steven Ujifusa, Pete Larkin
At the peak of his power, in the 1940s and 1950s, William Francis Gibbs was considered America's best naval architect. His quest to build the finest, fastest, most beautiful ocean liner of his time, the S.S. United States, was a topic of national fascination. When completed in 1952, the ship was hailed as a technological masterpiece at a time when "made in… See more details below
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At the peak of his power, in the 1940s and 1950s, William Francis Gibbs was considered America's best naval architect. His quest to build the finest, fastest, most beautiful ocean liner of his time, the S.S. United States, was a topic of national fascination. When completed in 1952, the ship was hailed as a technological masterpiece at a time when "made in America" meant the best.Gibbs was an American original, on par with John Roebling of the Brooklyn Bridge and Frank Lloyd Wright of Fallingwater. Forced to drop out of Harvard following his family's sudden financial ruin, he overcame debilitating shyness and lack of formal training to become the visionary creator of some of the finest ships in history. He spent forty years dreaming of the ship that became the S.S. United States.William Francis Gibbs was driven, relentless, and committed to excellence. He loved his ship, the idea of it, and the realization of it, and he devoted himself to making it the epitome of luxury travel during the triumphant post-World War II era. Biographer Steven Ujifusa brilliantly describes the way Gibbs worked and how his vision transformed an industry. A Man and His Ship is a tale of ingenuity and enterprise, a truly remarkable journey on land and sea.
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Read an Excerpt
The Way It Was
The transatlantic ocean liner possessed a mystique now lost to the world. For the first half of the twentieth century, ships named Mauretania, Bremen, Normandie, and Queen Mary were known and loved by tens of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic. When a big liner arrived in New York City for the first time, thousands lined the Hudson to watch a man-made object—one that seemed to have life and soul—move serenely upriver. Their eyes were following something simply massive—she could be up to five city blocks long and twelve stories high, her deep-throated whistles bellowing in response to a cheering crowd. Sculpted hull, gleaming paint, and raked-back smokestacks conveyed beauty, power, and speed.
In the New York newspapers, the shipping news doubled as society news, as readers learned if Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Margaret Truman, Vincent and Brooke Astor, or the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were aboard one of the ocean liners arriving or leaving that day. When a great ship left for Europe, it was an occasion awash in champagne and laughter. On board, first-class passengers enjoyed public rooms and private quarters that were decorative showplaces for the world’s most talented designers, men and women who created some of the most stunning interiors ever built on land or sea. En route, high standards of service for the ship’s most privileged passengers meant money for its owners and prestige for the nation whose flag she flew. Ships connected businessmen to transatlantic partners, diplomats to their posts, jazz artists to European audiences, students to adventures, immigrants to American jobs, and refugees to freedom. During two devastating world wars, liners converted to troopships carried millions of GIs to the front, and then brought them home again in triumph.
To the public, the ocean liner—once the only way to get across the Atlantic—was the epitome of glamorous travel. She also represented the pinnacle of technology—the most complex and powerful machine on earth. Deep inside her hull were engines capable of propelling a thousand-foot-long mass of steel through the giant waves of the North Atlantic at nearly 40 miles per hour. The liner that crossed the Atlantic the fastest captured a prize called the Blue Riband. A winner became the most famous ship in the world—until a faster rival bested her.
From the 1860s to the 1950s, all of the liners that captured the Blue Riband flew European flags, as a passive America seemed to accept the superiority of foreign engineering, manufacturing, and managerial prowess. One American did not, and this is the story of his quest to build the fastest, most beautiful, and safest ocean liner ever—the ship that was to become one of the greatest engineering triumphs in American history.
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Meet the Author
Pete Larkin is an AudioFile Earphones Award winner and a 2014 Audie Award finalist. He was the public address announcer for the New York Mets from 1988 to 1993. An award-winning on-camera host, Pete has worked on many industrial films and has done hundreds of commercials, promos, and narrations.
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If you love luxury liners and their history, if you believe they were living, breathing entities, then this is the book for you. Easy read with plenty of background on not just the UNITED STATES, but other famous ships and the men who dreamed, created and built them. Not your typical coffee table book about liners, more like a love story between a man and his ship. I pass her weekly on my travels to Philly and hope to God someone will save this important piece of our American history before she's too far gone.
This book is a must read! For many years, I have driven along the Delaware River waterfront in Philadelphia and marveled the sight of a very worn and neglected SS United States. I have often wondered how it got there and what was its fate. Steven Ujifusa has done a masterful job of answering these questions through telling the life of its creator, William Francis Gibbs. Gibbs was a native of Philadelphia and turned out to be one of the world's most innovative and successful naval architects. The author describes in detail the dreams of the young man, the realities of the transatlantic passenger shipping business and the 40 year struggle to build SS United States. The book reads like a novel but it packed with plenty of historical facts and personal interviews conducted by the author. Frankly, I couldn't put the book down! The SS United States remains a record holder for transatlantic speed. It's military secrets were not declassified until the 1980's. Even in its current moldering state, the SS United States is a beauty. Its story is worth the telling and Ujifusa brings it back to life, taking the reader back to a time when the big passenger ships were the ultimate in luxury travel.
This book is recommended for those who have been on a cruise, are thinking about going on a cruise, or who can spell the word "cruise". The author tells an amazing story of a ship that is currently tied up to a dock in Philadelphia in total disrepair and yet this ship is such an incredible part of U.S. history. You can read the passion of the author in telling the story of the birth of one incredible vessel and the men and women that made it possible. Author Ujifusa has a writing style similar to David McCullough where the reader is transported to the location via strong and descriptive words. Few books truly deserve five stars. This one does.
This was a book I just wanted on my shelf not one that I thought I would actually read. I found I couldn't put it down after thumbing thru the first couple of pages. I was immediately captured by the scale and complexity of what a man with a single minded obsession can accomplish and now find myself hoping that the S.S. United States lives on for a very long time.