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The Big ShipThe Story of the S.S. United States
By Frank O Braynard
TurnerCopyright © 2011 Frank O Braynard
All right reserved.
The story of the superliner United States is a remarkable epoch. She was a superb wonder ship in many ways; the supreme achievement of American maritime genius. She was a success beyond the most sanguine expectations of her designer and builders.
The opening in 1952 of her brief 17-year career on the route for which she was built was like a brilliant comet’s arrival. She burst on the scene in a blaze of glory acidly described in Britain’s Punch magazine: “After the loud and fantastic claims made in advance for the liner United States it comes as something of a disappointment to find them all true.” In her recapturing of the Atlantic speed supremacy, her great popularity as a trans-Atlantic liner, and her remarkable record of trouble-free operation, many saw a rebirth of America’s maritime glory.
Behind the saga of the United States looms the gaunt figure of one man, a man whose talents and drive put him on the highest plateau among the most gifted of men. William Francis Gibbs, supported throughout his lifetime by his younger brother Frederic Herbert Gibbs, was that man. If ever there was a true perfectionist it was William Francis. And where else in all history has a perfectionist come so close to achieving perfection—not only with the United States, high point in his career, but all along the way in many other maritime milestones that stand to his credit. The mystical chain linking the man and the ship is profound and all-embracing. Although thousands contributed to the creating of this wonder vessel, and Mr. Gibbs emphasized this many times, she was, perhaps as only rarely before, a one-man ship. Some might say this was the case with Moses Rogers and his tiny Savannah, of 1819, the first steam-powered ship to cross any ocean. Others would nominate Isambard Kingdom Brunel and his huge failure, the first Leviathan, better known as the Great Eastern. But there can never be the slightest question in that the superliner United States was William Francis Gibbs—and vice versa. The United States was the embodiment in steel of the spirit that made Gibbs such a superman. Supership-superman and a super merger of the two. This book will be an effort to show how such an amazing union was conceived, matured, evolved, and conquered all, a success story seldom equalled in any field of enterprise. Fortunately Mr. Gibbs did not live to see his masterpiece laid up, a victim of the rush into air travel and the triumph of the jet age.
It is not as if William Francis Gibbs was a superman, God-like man. He had very human qualities and salted into the story they add a strong strain of humor to the saga of the United States. His passion to outdo competitors, particularly British competitors, was one such characteristic. Another was his determination to have his own way. Also his almost paranoic demand for secrecy over whatever he was doing. And his delightful foibles: how he dressed his ancient felt hat on the one hand and his elegant, red-lined opera cape on the other; how he spoke—those who had offices near his often heard him slugging his contemporaries with the strongest kind of language. Swearing was one of his weapons, and he used it liberally to slice up anyone who dared oppose him. How he got his way—skullduggery—was not alien to his makeup, as unwary opponents often discovered. More times than not they never knew what had hit them, he was so deft at deception and fancy stepping. And he managed to combine a temperament that was both self-effacing, on almost a Uriah Heep scale, with an eagerness for recognition and audience appreciation.
Excerpted from The Big Ship by Frank O Braynard Copyright © 2011 by Frank O Braynard. Excerpted by permission.
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