Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Gibbs, William Francis (1886–1967)

U.S. naval architect. Born in Philadelphia on 24 August 1886, William Gibbs grew up fascinated with ship design and marine engineering, but at his father's insistence he studied economics and law at Harvard and Columbia. During two years of unsatisfying legal practice, he joined his younger brother, Frederic Herbert Gibbs, in speculative plans for a fast, 1,000-foot transatlantic liner. In 1915 Gibbs abandoned the law to pursue this project, winning financial backing from John Pierpont Morgan Jr. American involvement in World War I prevented the ship's construction, but the proposal and Morgan's support attracted attention from both military and civilian shipping authorities, leading to Gibbs's service as a shipping expert in the War Department and an adviser to the United States Shipping Board.

In 1922, Gibbs and his brother organized a company to recondition the 54,300-ton Leviathan, formerly the German liner Vaterland. Success in this difficult undertaking made the firm's reputation, and in 1929 the brothers joined another naval architect, Daniel H. Cox, to form Gibbs and Cox. The new company became noted for its yachts and passenger ships, but it also profoundly influenced naval design through development of high-pressure, high-temperature propulsion systems, which were first used in 16 Mahan-class destroyers ordered by the U. S. Navy in 1933.

World War II prompted Gibbs and his company to phenomenal productivity; 63 percent of oceangoing merchant ships and 74 percent of naval vessels constructed in the United States during the war were built to Gibbs and Cox specifications. Resuming government work, Gibbs served as controller of shipbuilding for the War Production Board in 1942 and 1943 and subsequently as chairman of the Combined Shipbuilding Committee of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. He simplified and standardized shipbuilding through economies of scale and a relentless emphasis on time saving and efficiency. From 1943, he also represented the Office of War Mobilization on the U.S. Navy's Procurement Review Board. His most striking single accomplishment was his dominant role in designing the Liberty ship, a basic cargo vessel derived from British precedents, of which more than 2,700 examples were built under his direction.

Following the war, Gibbs returned to his early vision of an American superliner, finally realized in the construction of the SS United States in 1952. Gibbs died in New York City on 6 September 1967.

John A. Hutcheson Jr.


Further Reading
Braynard, Frank O. The Big Ship: The Story of the S.S. United States. Newport News, VA: Mariners' Museum, 1981.; Elphick, Peter. Liberty: The Ships That Won the War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001.; Lane, Frederic C. Ships for Victory: A History of Shipbuilding under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1951.
 

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