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A Man and His Ship: Building the S.S. United States
Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 6:45 p.m.
The SS United States in the Caribbean, 1966 (SS United States Conservancy)
In the 1940s and 50s, 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 in an era when “made in America” meant the best.
Gibbs was an American original, whose signature achievement was on a par with John Roebling’s in the Brooklyn Bridge and Frank Lloyd Wright’s in 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 40 years dreaming of the ship that became the S.S. United States. Driven, relentless, and committed to excellence, Gibbs loved the idea of his ship 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.
Historian Steven Ujifusa tells a tale of ingenuity and enterprise as he examines how Gibbs and his vision transformed an industry.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)