William Francis Gibbs and the S.S. United States
You have chosen a truly fascinating life to write about, Lisa. William Francis Gibbs was a visionary when it came to ship design. Whenever I read about shipboard fires that end with no casualties and only minor damage, I think about this man and his attention to safety at sea. This was evident in his fastidious attention to ensuring that the S.S. United States should have no wood on board, save for its special Steinway piano.
One can only wonder if his attention to safety wasn't influenced by two tragic fires that occurred during his lifetime, involving the General Slocum in 1904 and the Morro Castle in 1934. Both ships were consumed by flames, with their wood, paints, and fabrics fueling the devastation and producing deadly fumes. The Wiki page about William Francis Gibbs covers many of the well-known facts about him, such as the monumental conversion of the liner Vaterland into the troop transport Leviathan without the benefit of designer's blueprints.
But I've read elsewhere, and I don't remember in which of the out-of-print ocean liner books it might have been in, that he walked around with a piece of wood in his pocket to knock on for good luck. I've also read that some of the passions of his life were fire trucks, theater, and of course, ships. This passion showed in all the superlatives of the S.S. United States. The ship could steam at 20 knots going astern, around the same speed that many large ships cruise at going ahead. I had the good fortune of speaking with one of the engineering officers from the "Big U" years ago and he told me the ship could pull away from post-World War II era destroyers on the open ocean without so much as breaking a sweat. This was all courtesy of the incredible 240,000 horsepower power plant Mr. Gibbs chose for the ship.
Reading about the recent developments with Celebrity Cruises, I hope the United States will offer fun at sea for many families while providing them with the opportunity to touch an icon from an incredible era of ocean travel.
Good luck with the book!
Last edited by Cruise Law; 02-10-2016 at 08:35 AM.