William Francis Gibbs

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William Francis Gibbs

Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
Death: September 6, 1967 (81)
New York, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Warren Gibbs and Frances Ayres Gibbs
Husband of Vera Agnes Cravath
Father of Francis Cravath Gibbs and Christopher Longstreet Gibbs
Brother of Frederic Herbert Gibbs; Genevieve Freedlander; Bertha Gibbs; Georgeanna Browne and Augusta May Gibbs

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About William Francis Gibbs


William Francis Gibbs (August 24, 1886 – September 6, 1967) was a renowned naval architect who directed the mass production of cargo ships for the United States during World War II, including the famous Liberty ships, of which 2,751 were built. In partnership with his brother Frederic Herbert Gibbs, he designed the passenger liner SS United States (1952).

Gibbs was born in Philadelphia to financier William Warren Gibbs and Frances Ayres (Johnson) Gibbs. He graduated from the DeLancey School in 1905, followed his own curriculum of science and engineering at Harvard University, where he studied plans of British battleships in his dormitory room but left without degree, then attended Columbia Law School 1911-1913, receiving a Bachelor of Law and Master of Arts in economics. He practiced law for the next two years at his father's request.

In 1915, however, Gibbs and his brother began designs for a pair of gigantic 1,000-foot ocean liners, each capable of producing 180,000 horsepower. In 1916 the brothers presented their plans to Adm. David W. Taylor and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. The response was encouraging, and the brothers then approached the International Mercantile Marine Company with the financial backing of J. P. Morgan and the United States Navy. Although a model was tested in the Navy's David Taylor Model Basin, World War I put an end to these early designs. Gibbs became the company's Chief of Construction in 1919.

In 1922 the Gibbs brothers started their own naval architecture firm, Gibbs Brothers, Inc. (renamed Gibbs & Cox in 1929). Their first major contract was to convert the former German liner Vaterland into the American luxury liner SS Leviathan. When shipbuilders Blohm + Voss asked over $1 million for the original plans, Gibbs decided to draw his own. Between 100 and 150 draftsmen documented the existing ship and designed its new layout. After rebuilding at Newport News, the Leviathan ultimately became one of the era's most successful luxury liners.[citation needed]

The Gibbs designed a series of trim white-hulled ocean liners for the Matson Lines service to Hawaii, starting with the SS Malolo in 1925 and continuing with the SS Monterey and SS Mariposa in 1931 and the SS Lurline in 1932. The Grace Line contracted with Gibbs & Cox for four smaller 9,000 tonne ocean liners in 1930, receiving the Santa Rosa, Santa Paula, Santa Lucia, and Santa Elena in 1932. Gibbs & Cox also designed the SS America for the United States Lines, which was completed in 1940 after war had already broken out. All nine of these ships served as troopships in World War II.

During the war, Gibbs & Cox created plans for thousands of American warships, including destroyers, LST landing craft, minesweepers, tankers, cruisers, liberty ships, etc. Some 74% of all American naval vessels built during the war were of Gibbs & Cox design.

After World War II, the Gibbs brothers again began design for a new 1,000-foot ocean liner. After five years of design and 28 months of construction, the SS United States was launched. On her maiden voyage in 1952, she became the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean, averaging 35.59 knots, and reducing the crossing time by 10 hours. Between 1952 and 1969, the SS United States completed 400 problem-free voyages. She was the largest liner ever built in the United States and the fastest liner built anywhere.

Gibbs died in New York City. The Gibbs Brothers Medal, awarded by the United States National Academy of Sciences for outstanding contributions in the field of naval architecture and marine engineering, was established by a gift from Gibbs and his brother.

He was awarded the Franklin Institute's Franklin Medal in 1953.

William Gibbs is honored at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, by the naming of the Marine Engineering Building. The honor is shared with Robert Fulton: Fulton-Gibbs Hall.

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William Francis Gibbs's Timeline

August 24, 1886
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
March 24, 1928
Age 41
New York, New York, United States
September 2, 1930
Age 44
New York, New York, United States
September 6, 1967
Age 81
New York, New York, United States