The love affair of William Francis Gibbs (Fortune, 1957)

April 15, 2012, 5:21 PM UTC

Editor’s note: Every Sunday, Fortune publishes a story from our magazine archives. Today is the 100-year anniversary of the foundering of the RMS Titanic, one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. A century later, the ship still fascinates, both as an archeological and cultural artifact, not to mention a great and tragic tale. (James Cameron didn’t hurt the vessel’s commercial appeal, either.) This week, we turn to the happier story of ship designer William Francis Gibbs. Gibbs’ was the wily and irascible mind behind the SS United States, one of America’s greatest engineering feats in league with the space shuttle, the Hoover dam and the interstate highway system. The ship is still the largest ocean liner constructed entirely in the U.S. and the fastest to cross the Atlantic in either direction. Like Ahab and Aeneas, Gibbs pursued his unlikely dreams across the oceans. Unlike them, he was successful and, more importantly, had lots of fun doing it.

By Richard Austin Smith

FORTUNE — Even before the heroine showed up, it was plain that this was a decidedly offbeat love affair. The time was six o’clock of a bald-headed May morning and the scene all wrong for a conventional romance. Manhattan was rising, coldly prismatic, out of the harbor mists. Brooklyn was already wide awake and on the way to work, a vehicular cataract that ran in a sort of growling sibilance along the smooth bed of the Narrows expressway. A few white guns wheeled above the oily chop of the Narrows itself, and on the far shore the whole of Staten Island seemed to be spilling down like a vast overstuffed warehouse into the waiting ships. As for the hero, the big Cadillac limousine at the curb suggested wealth and circumstance singularly at odds with his personal appearance. A tall, thin man going on seventy-one, he wore a battered brown hat, a blue suit under an old trenchcoat, cracked black shoes, and an expression of pleasurable cussedness. He had the reputation of being able to talk five minutes using only four-letter words, and indeed, when he had had the Cadillac’s radiotelephone pulled out as unnecessary, office scuttlebutt was soon whispering that an outraged FCC had revoked the license for incorrigible inflammation of the air waves. “Do you see her?” he rasped now to his chauffeur, who was peering round the bend. “Well, go on down a little farther.” Then, in an impatient aside, “most deliberate human being that God ever made. He’s got one speed-dead slow.” But a moment or two later, the lady in question made her appearance, the United States–the greatest passenger ship this nation has ever built, moving in from the Atlantic with the litheness of a yacht. Her running lights still burned from bridge and masthead, while halfway up her raking black bow was the mark of seas parted at thirty knots in another unrivaled crossing of the Western Ocean.

“I know her fairly well by sight,” the old man remarked, his mouth resolutely turned down and the light in his taciturn brown eyes giving no indication that this ship was the embodiment of thirty years of dreaming. Nor was there a hint that every morning of her passage east or west across the Atlantic he telephoned her captain and chief engineer to learn how she was doing, that only twice in nearly five years, and then only because a doctor kept him in bed, had he missed seeing her sail into New York Harbor and out again.

The face that launched 6,000 ships

The love affair between William Francis Gibbs and the liner United States had its origin in some very unsentimental cogitation by a third party, in this instance the United States Lines. The U.S.L.’s President John M. Franklin had come to the conclusion that only the best naval architect in the country could design what would be preeminently the best ship afloat; superiority was what he was after and superiority was what he got. For many years William Francis Gibbs has stood at the top of his profession, both individually and through Gibbs & Cox, the firm founded, owned, and run by himself and his younger brother Frederic. With a payroll of 1,000, Gibbs & Cox is the best and biggest firm of independent naval architects anywhere in the world. Its performance from 1940 through 1946 was phenomenal: 63 per cent of all merchant ships of 2,000 tons up and 74 per cent of all American naval vessels (destroyers, landing craft, escort carriers, etc.) were built to the designs or working plans of Gibbs & Cox. Over the past twenty years the firm has prepared designs or working plans (or both) for more than 6,450 ships, ranging from mine sweepers to passenger liners. Willie Gibbs himself? Vice Admiral Emory Scott Land, whose brilliant record in the Navy and as Maritime Commissioner was built upon hardheaded judgments, recently looked back over a quarter-century of professional association with the man and said flatly: “Gibbs is a genius.” Vice Admiral Harold G. Bowen, onetime chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Engineering, believes that “Gibbs has had the greatest influence on naval design since John Ericsson [creator of the Monitor].” As for the romance between Willie and his ship, America hasn’t seen one like it for a century, not since another New York naval architect, John Willis Griffiths, designed the clipper Rainbow in 1843. The parallels between these two giants, each so patently a product of his times, is striking indeed.

William Francis Gibbs, like John Griffiths, willingly risked his reputation on a daring vessel, and had seen to it that she should be built exactly as he wanted her built—or not at all. Like Griffiths, who abandoned the codfish-bowed, say, ‘All right, we’ll stay but it’s a God-damned highhanded procedure.’ Well, we haven’t lost a customer yet.”

If Gibbs sometimes happens not to be autocratic, it doesn’t mean that he’s mellowed, just that he’s decided to achieve the same ends by covert means. “Sometimes,” complains a shipyard executive, “he short-circuits me and writes to my subordinates, suggesting what they should do about some important phase of the construction. If they weren’t up on Gibbs’s cagey ways, they might agree to do it, and we’d take the rap.” Around the Navy Department, Gibbs’s maneuverings to get his way are an old and familiar story. His method is to press his viewpoint for all he’s worth, then, if balked, go into what has come to be known as “the black-book routine.” Every detail of his position arid that of his opponents is carefully written down and, since he is an indefatigable record keeper–nothing moves through Gibbs & Cox but in an orbit of paper-the “black book” on any given controversy may be several volumes thick. If subsequent events demonstrate Gibbs to have been wrong in his opposition, nothing more is heard of the affair. But if he is right, and legal training on top of technical brilliance has given him an astonishingly high batting average, there’s a loud noise in the department and sometimes a sympathetic detonation on Capitol Hill. “The technique,” sardonically remarked an admiral who has been on the receiving end of it for some years, “can make a great prophet out of a fellow.” On occasion, however, the Gibbs strategy is to get in his licks first. When the carrier Ranger was being developed, the Navy had been committed to a ship of 60,000 tons maximum–all that a budget-conscious Capitol Hill would tolerate. This limitation didn’t faze Willie Gibbs; he was thinking in terms of a substantially bigger vessel with a lot of special features. When he won support from some unreconstructed line officers. Gibbs vaulted solemnly over the Bureau of Ships and made a winsome appeal direct to Secretary Robert B. Anderson. Newport News Shipbuilding already had the contract for building the ship, but Anderson, strictly a landlubber, got himself sold on the G. & C. plans; it took intense effort by the B. of S. to resell Anderson on designs “that were responsive to the Navy’s operational requirements.” Newport News was mad as hell and so was the Bureau of Ships. “Gibbs likes to cook up little secret gadgets, and show them to people,” was the tightlipped comment of Rear Admiral Albert Mumma, its chief, “that is, to everybody but us.”

Where important ship operators are concerned, this same brand of autocracy rises to the status of art. Despite the animosity many industry people have for him, Gibbs can charm the birds off the trees when he has a mind to. His humor is dry, penetrating, and sardonic; his talent for extemporizing on lumpy technical material, making it palatable to non-technical people, is unsurpassed. “Gibbs has a great way of getting what the owner wants and then steering things around to what Willie wants,” remarked a Newport News yard executive.

Says Willie himself: “The trouble with the typical owner is he has to be an amateur. Owners think about a new ship as if it were the only one ever built. Why we couldn’t possibly put most of the stuff on a ship that they want.” But his specific point of view was perhaps best expressed in a talk with one of the younger executives of the Grace Line, for which he has been something akin to house architect. The latter had hardly begun with: “My idea … ” when Gibbs cut him short. “Now, now, young man, if you had any good ideas, you’d be working for Gibbs & Cox.”

“Harm’s Way”

If autocracy is meat for Willie Gibbs, then certainly contention is his drink. A nautical approximation of his sentiments, written by John Paul Jones, is framed on the wall of the G.& C exhibition room: “I wish to have no connexion with any ship which does not sail fast. For I intend to go in Harm’s Way.” Gibbs’s habitual going in harm’s way is no less deliberate than Captain Jones’s and has been made even more profitable. “Contention is advantageous,” he says reflectively. “The shipyards would put you out of business if you didn’t fight. Controversy–we eat it up. This business of being popular and having everybody like you is for the birds. I think people thank God I’m no worse than I am. I’m not particularly popular, because first, I don’t have a very pleasant personality, and second, because they say ‘I’m afraid of this guy.’ If people stopped criticizing me, I’d be worried—was I losing my grip? No, there’s no possibility of this leopard changing his spots when the spots have been so damn successful. Isn’t it funny they hire us,” he added, with a sly smile, “when we’re so unpopular?”

Why, indeed, do the lines keep coming back for a second helping of orneriness? Partly because much of the shipping business is characterized by somnolence and atrophy; its chief executives are seldom engineers and consequently grateful for just the sort of “guidance” Gibbs hands out. And partly because in naval architecture, traditionally a feast or famine profession attracting too few of the top engineering graduates, Gibbs is a man of unquestioned stature. His contributions in fireproofing, in high-pressure, high-temperature steam, in compartmentation, have been epochal.

Status by collision

The soundness of Gibbs’s views on compartmentation, for example, was brought dramatically home to the entire shipbuilding industry when the brand-new liner Malolo, designed by him and at that time (1927) the largest U.S. merchant ship afloat, was rammed at full speed by a Norwegian collier. The Malolo’s accident, a broadside collision, on the engine-room bulkhead, exactly duplicated that which sent the Empress of Ireland to the bottom in ten minutes with the loss of over 1,000 lives. The Malolo, however, not only remained afloat but was towed back to port with a list of less than five degrees. “That collision gave us a status no one could argue with,” ruminated Gibbs. “You have to regard yourself as a trustee of the public when you build a ship. The public just doesn’t give a damn about safety. So I say, if I’m going to do ships, I’ll do them to suit me. If a fellow doesn’t want a ship properly divided, he can go somewhere else.” An interesting footnote to this view occurred last July when a group of shipbuilders and operators vainly tried to enlist Gibbs’s support for a relaxation of U.S. compartmentation requirements, the strictest and consequently the costliest in the world. A few weeks later, the Doria, a vessel of minimal safety compliance, sank. “Gibbs,” one of the ex-drumbeaters conceded in a rueful telephone call, “you’re always right.” Gibbs allowed as how he was.

On fireproofing, Willie Gibbs is equally adamantine and has had a commensurate impact. The combustibility of most foreign ships gives him the horrors, particularly when their interiors are aglow with beautiful wooden paneling. He remembers the incendiary electrical system in the unrefurbished Europa–solid wire, thinly covered with rubber and cotton, lying in a wooden raceway. Unfortunately, making foreign lines accept American safety standards is an all but impossible undertaking, particularly when some governments, in the absence of an international inspection agency, look the other way at cheating on their own minimal standards. American ships, however, are quite a different proposition. All Gibbs’s vessels are fine examples of fireproofing, but in the United States, with the government wanting a noncombustible troopship in return for footing over half her cost, he was at last able to go whole hog. The Gibbs specifications were written so that the only wood aboard her was in the piano and the butcher’s block. When a subcontractor of Newport News, the builder, tried to use a thin strip of wood as a bonding layer between the aluminum dressers and their Formica tops, Willie’s built-in fire alarm began to clang; he made the subcontractors develop a method of bonding Formica to bare metal. And, characteristically, he made them do it at their own expense. Plastic door numerals also went by the board, while the decorators went through agonies trying to find dyes that would produce the right color on flameproof fabrics. But Gibbs’s day came when he took three leading British naval architects through the great ship, noncombustible even down to her paint and draperies. “Their faces clouded over during the tour,” he recalled, “and no wonder it made them mad! They realized they’d have to recast everything to bring their ships up to the standards of the United Stales. They just couldn’t modify the Elizabeth–a little face-lifting, add a few feet of length and beam. They’d have to redesign from the keel up, and if you knew what a job that is! Then people expect me to be popular!”

Shellacking the shell backs

Gibbs’s third major contribution to his profession–a successful drive to get the Navy to use high-pressure, high-temperature steam–was probably the most courageous of his career, for it was undertaken in 1933, in the depths of the depression. At the time, the single men on Gibbs & Cox’s twelve-mail staff were getting $25 a week, the married men $50. What was obviously needed was not controversy but business. Willie? He sailed out to do battle with the Navy’s shellbacks as if he had an order book in the billions.

The heart of the controversy was whether to use in marine turbines the higher-pressure, higher-temperature steam that had proved so successful in land power plants. Some diehard line officers fought the innovation as inviting greater danger into their engine rooms. The Big Three–Newport News, New York Shipbuilding, and Bethlehem–didn’t like it either; their oversized, low-speed turbines were unsuitable for h-p, h-t steam, and would be discontinued. But the battle went on, furiously, led by a group of far-seeing young officers who were convinced the change would make our destroyers exceptionally “long-legged” (the eventual increase in their cruising radius was an astonishing 25 per cent).

Gibbs was brought in as a consultant because the progressive Navy people saw in him a powerful ally; he had studied h-p, h-t steam in land power plants with the support of manufacturers like General Electric. But what finally won the day was intervention by Charles Edison, then Secretary of the Navy. Edison, sold on the idea and sold on Gibbs, knocked heads together with a clap that reached all the ships at sea. It was a memorable victory both for warships and for merchant ships, for in this country, unlike Britain, the commercial yards take their cue from the Navy.

C. Richard Soderberg, now dean of engineering at M.I.T., who was with Westinghouse at the time of the great battle, has this accolade for his old comrade-in-arms: “Gibbs and the Navy Bureau of Ships were probably the most successful team in our history. Our Navy had been behind in the Thirties, but during the war we were ahead–maybe not in weapons, but certainly in hull and propulsion. This was due to W. F. Gibbs.” Says Charles Edison: “You know the Big Three would have liked to get rid of him. But if ever I made a contribution to the Navy, it was keeping William Francis Gibbs in the picture.”

Superstition and paternalism

The more human aspects of Willie Gibbs have a way of emerging at some distance from his drawing board. He loves the circus and ragging his subordinates in the field when he invites them out to dinner. (“What’s the matter with that fellow?” he’ll say afterward, if someone hasn’t given a’s good as he got. “Why doesn’t he fight back?”) He also loves anything mechanical and still trots down every once in a while to stoke up the scale-model fire engine meticulously built for him in G. & C. ‘s own shops. His principal aversions are antithetical–obesity and exercise–so his favorite sport, according to Mrs. Gibbs, “is walking through engine rooms.” He is superstitious to a degree and seldom steps aboard the United States save wearing the battered brown hat and paint-smudged shoes he wore when first standing upon her keel. Curiously, the set face he wears when stalking around the “spaces” at Gibbs & Cox is entirely absent once he sets foot on the United States. His cordiality there embraces not only old friends like Chief Engineer William Kaiser and Jones F. Devlin, general manager of the U.S. Lines, but scores of waiters, stewards, and other crew members. In his own bailiwick, Gibbs’s image of himself appears to be a paternal one, the strait-laced father fearful of spoiling his “children” with liberal salaries and insubstantial work loads, while expressing his affection in free Salk shots, personal loans, and occasional little gestures of sentiment. When Mrs. Henry Culpepper, wife of G. & C.’s chief engineer, arrived in the hospital to find a mysterious untagged basket of roses by her bed, her nurse reported that an unidentified man had telephoned to say that if those roses weren’t in the room before the patient’s arrival he’d be up and tear things apart. “Oh,” said Mrs. Culpepper instantly, “Mr. Gibbs.”

“I thought him strange”

Gibbs first met his future wife, the daughter of a distinguished New York lawyer, at a dinner party in 1927. Vera Cravath had just got a divorce. She remembers, “‘Francois’ was graver than he is now. You know, he wore only black suits and wing collars. I thought him rather strange, but I was fascinated. It may sound trite, but he knew what he was going to do in life. Later success never changed his feelings. He wanted to build ships–if that meant being the best naval architect, all right–but building ships was the most important thing in the world to him.” Vera Cravath left on a European trip next day, but sometime later she received a wire from Gibbs, who was in London, saying he’d like to call on her in Rome. “I was impressed, you know, that he’d come all the way down there to see me . . . It set me to thinking.” Gibbs, bachelorlike, arrived with a big bag of laundry “which we had to get washed,” took Vera Cravath and her small son for a carriage ride, and departed. But once both were back in the U.S., Willie threw himself into romance with a will. “We were married about two weeks later, without even telling the family,” Mrs. Gibbs recalled, an element of surprise still in her voice. Vera Gibbs now takes the surprising Willie with a stoicism acquired over thirty years.

“He keeps himself like a trainer would a race horse,” she says. “He’s up regularly at six-thirty, except the days when the United States comes in, then it’s four-forty-five. He fixes his own breakfast of weak tea with lots of sugar and Uneeda biscuits. He really only eats one meal a day–dinner.” That meal, invariably eaten out, invariably the same, includes one-half of a whiskey old-fashioned, canned peaches on the side, chocolate and vanilla ice cream.

A leaf from Clemenceau

“I always say the United States was started at home–the plans were laid out all over the place. He was tense from the laying of the keel on–once he came home particularly worn out. ‘God, I’m tired,’ he said, ‘I’ve been deciding on the height of the toilets all day long.’ He seldom brings work home [a modest Fifth Avenue apartment] but he does go down both Saturday and Sunday, after attending St. Thomas Church [where he’s a diligent vestryman]. Usually, he goes to bed about nine-thirty. But before he’s asleep, I come in and there he is, lying in bed looking at the pictures he carries. It’s always either his model fire engine or the United States.” Mrs. Gibbs paused, her hand unconsciously touching the sofa cushion with its legend: Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. “I’ll have to get William Francis out on his boat more this year,” she remarked, half to herself. But Willie’s wife, like everyone else, has long ago given up the thought that her husband, full of honors, might now retire. Lately Gibbs has been talking of Clemenceau, active in his eighties. “When I retire,” he says, “I’ll be dead.”

These words epitomize the problem that has been plaguing the staff of Gibbs & Cox for five years or more. What happens to a one-man show when the one man disappears? It goes through purgatory, if past experience in the profession is any index, unless preparations have been made well ahead of time. The sad part about G.&C. is that Willie, with the help of brother Frederic, has reserved important management decisions to himself. Non-Gibbsian management at G. & C. has not only been deprived of policy-making experience, but has remained rather meager numerically; only a thin layer of administrative talent lies on top of the technical staff, and through this Willie’s long arm plunges at will.

Who will take the helm?

None of these gloomy aspects of G. & C., however, are intended to suggest that the situation is hopeless or that the firm would disintegrate without Willie Gibbs. Quite aside from W.F.G., it is a highly skilled collection of engineers, designers, and scientists–the technical staff numbers almost two-thirds of the thousand-man total–and, moreover, some of its senior people feel perfectly competent to run the show. But the problem is nonetheless present, and formidable enough to arouse concern among outsiders like the Navy and particularly the Bath Iron Works, for which G. & C. is the sole design agent. Who might take over the helm?

Frederic H. Gibbs certainly has the capability of running the firm. Willie’s closest friend, he has devoted himself to the financial side and without his astuteness Gibbs & Cox, by common consent, would “not be worth a dime.” Deprived of a college education when his father’s fortune was washed out for the third time, Frederic is nevertheless a highly competent technical man. It was he who worked out the computations on the first ship the Gibbs brothers ever designed–the thousand-footer initially set down on paper in 1913-15, later metamorphosed into the United States.

From the staff itself, a half-dozen people stand out. Chief among them: Rear Admiral Paul F. Lee, U.S.N. retired, a steadfast man of impressive technical ability with a special talent for getting the most out of a conference group; Matthew Forrest, one of the most brilliant naval architects in the country, who in thirty years’ work at Gibbs & Cox has kept his pencil sharp, busy, and creative. But when Willie is prodded about the matter of the succession, his eyes drop down to the middle button of his coat, a locale that habitually attracts them when unwelcome questions are put to him. “A committee is studying it,” he murmurs. Yet finding out when the committee meets or what progress it has made is, in ‘his own phrase, like “unscrewing the inscrutable.”

Compounding the internal problems of Gibbs & Cox, Gibbs’s reluctance to share power goes hand in hand with his unwillingness to share ownership. This, to employees of long standing, seems particularly unjust in view of the nature of the enterprise, for Gibbs & Cox is not built upon capital assets. The $7 million to $8 million worth of business it does every year is the result of nothing more material than skill and brains. And since this gray matter produces a respectable gross profit of some $400,000 in a shop where even the furniture is charged off to the client, the staff feels it should participate in the ownership of the firm. Willie himself is concerned about this, but not to the point of amelioration. On many occasions he has blown up and barked that he’d “just sell the God-damn place out,” but when one of his senior people offered to scrape up a reasonable price, partly from staff subscriptions, it was plain Willie had no intention of selling so much as a share.

The crock of gold

One legitimate obstacle to employee ownership at this time–though certainly not of the magnitude of Gibbs’s opposition–is the firm’s tangled financial situation. Not only is G. & C. the exclusive property of the two brothers, but they have never paid themselves a dividend on the stock and draw only modest salaries. The result is a heavy accumulation of undistributed profits, augmented even further by uncollected debts. “Literally millions of dollars are owed Gibbs & Cox,” said one staff man. “He tells them to hold onto it, he doesn’t want to be paid.” Lawyers have been working on the attendant tax problem in Washington, and there’s a possibility that one of these days the big G. & C. pot of gold may be spun off. But would this open the way for partial ownership of the firm by its staff? Not so long as William Francis Gibbs looks on power as absolute. Over the past few years, a score of young engineers and technical people have left, in the main because of uneasiness about the continuity of the firm. And departures have unhappily gone hand in hand with an exodus from the atomic department, prematurely organized and imperfectly developed. In the Navy’s book, Gibbs & Cox, though re-emphasizing atomic development, is now trailing the field with only a joint General Electric nuclear contract to show. It is Newport News’s design department that is working on the new atomic carrier and Bethlehem’s on the atomic cruiser.

But to Willie Gibbs the look of things around G. & C. has, no doubt, never been rosier. The greatest shipbuilding boom in peacetime history is under way. The Navy is certain to keep ordering ships so long as the cold war continues. The result: Gibbs & Cox has more business than ever; Willie has the United States and the happy prospect of designing her sister ship. Yet it is one of the little ironies of time that the Gibbs of twenty years ago would likely have looked the present situation over and asked a pointed question. The firm is certainly prospering, he might have said, but is its leadership up to its full potential? The answer to that by people in the profession would have to be no.

“A block to progress”

Gibbs’s position now is that of a man who has enjoyed so much success, he finds it hard to risk failure. The great ship that the lines dream of may be just over: the horizon, waiting for an adventurous designer. But Gibbs, so the criticism goes, is looking back, at the United States, whose design span began ten years ago. However strongly some members of his staff may feel that the pace of innovation and development in naval architecture is completely out of tune with the times, that the sister ship of the United States should be something strikingly new, not a copy, Willie is unmoved. It could still be that the prospective vessel will embody major innovations other than higher-pressure, higher-temperature steam and a welded rather than a riveted aluminum superstructure, but there will be no radical difference between her and the United States, unless Willie radically alters his present outlook.

At this stage of the profession a bold willingness to risk failure, as Willie himself risked it in the Thirties over high-pressure, high-temperature steam, is essential if ships are not to be hopelessly outdistanced in the air age. Today’s drive by Rear Admiral Mumma to hurdle the tremendous gap between pedestrian ship technology and vaulting air technology with vessels of lighter materials and more highly stressed machinery–this simply results in Gibbs bringing out his black book. That Willie was right in protesting use of hollow alloy propeller shafts–it cost the Navy $15 million to $16 million to replace them–suggests the enormous hazard of flying in the face of his opinion. Unhappily, not to do so is an open invitation to conservatism, even stagnation.

“Gibbs is so damn sound that he may be a block to progress now,” said his old colleague, Dean Soderberg. “In the past generation a new technology has grown up which really hasn’t influenced ships. In twenty years, the technology of heat engines in airplanes has overshadowed all the developments of the last hundred years. I feel it is necessary to use this new technology in ships–particularly warships. Gibbs’s dream is to build the best damn ships in the world. I don’t think he’s interested in airplanes or the whole [the interrelationship of every form of transportation]. But progress now involves the whole, the entire technological complex. I sounded him out a couple of months ago on air technology as applied to naval architecture. His attitude? A wet blanket. The greater the man, the harder to change.”

“Don’t we have fun!”

The prevailing opinion around his own shop is that Willie Gibbs shouldn’t be criticized for indifference to “the air age”; he’s already made his contribution and an immense one it is. What he can be criticized for is failure to let others carry the ball he disdains, for not spending more G. & C. money on free-lance research, say, in exotic fuels, pushing more projects like G. & C. ‘s hydrofoil boat–which one day may permit the Navy to “fly” landing craft to shore at forty miles per hour.

Once such a man as W.F.G. produces a masterpiece, he becomes in many ways its captive. But Willie Gibbs would likely say: “If this be captivity, let’s have more of it, for it has brought me the greatest happiness of my life.” A hundred years from now people will have forgotten the personality of Willie Gibbs, the man who once, lying spent on a half-finished deck of the great vessel, a friend beside him, cried out with sheer joy: “Boy, don’t we have fun!” Yet those with a love of ships will very likely recall Gibbs of the United States the way they recall Griffiths of the Rainbow, one of the few great men of his profession.