Aberdeen shipyard sets new record in shipbuilding on September 9, 1918.

  • By Bill Alley
  • Posted 8/05/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7383
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On September 9, 1918, Grays Harbor Motorship Corporation in Aberdeen lays the keel for a new transport ship to meet the demands of the war effort. A mere 17 1/2 days later the Wonder Ship, as federal inspectors called her, is completed, establishing a new world record in ship construction.

The Wonder Ship

With the United States' entry into World War I in Europe, shipyards across the country were busy turning out ships to meet the demands of the United States and its allies. To spur construction, the Emergency Fleet Corporation of the U.S. Shipping Board encouraged the nation's shipyards to seek to set new records in ship construction. The Aberdeen yard accepted the challenge with gusto.

To the strains of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," the employees of Aberdeen's Grays Harbor Motorship Corporation laid the keel of a new ship, to be named Aberdeen, on the morning of September 9, 1918. This would be no ordinary ship when completed, and though her ultimate fate would remain a mystery, the Aberdeen achieved great fame with her launching.

Every Record Broken

With the Sousa march playing, the keel for the 290 foot vessel was laid in a matter of seconds, and the pace would not subside. "In building the Aberdeen every record ... was broken," an official of the company wrote. "The following record, vouched for by the United States Inspector, speaks for itself: Laying of keel, 10 seconds; assembling, building erecting and shoring 73 square frames, 29 hours, 26 minutes; ceiling, 151 hours; planking 228 hours" (Hughes and Beckwith).

By 9:00 p.m. on September 28, 1918, an audience of more than 10,000 had gathered to watch this "Wonder Ship" slip down the ways. After another six days to install the engines, the Aberdeen was ready for her trials. "Ship met all tests splendidly; not only in waters of harbor, but out to sea," the government representative reported to Washington, D.C. "She proved seaworthy in every particular and is truly a Wonder Ship."

For her maiden voyage, the Aberdeen sailed first to Honolulu and San Francisco before her transit through the Panama Canal to East Coast ports. The speed with which the Wonder Ship was built, however, would also be her undoing; built with green lumber, the timbers of the vessel eventually began to dry out, opening her seams. She was in constant need of caulking.

The ultimate fate of the Aberdeen remains unknown. She played no part in the war for which she was built, as the Armistice was signed a few weeks after her maiden voyage. There were rumors that she had been converted to a San Francisco garbage scow, but that turned out to be a different Aberdeen. Whatever her fate, her record-setting construction was a testament to the shipbuilders of Aberdeen.

Sources: John C. Hughes and Ryan Teague Beckwith, On the Harbor: From Black Friday to Nirvana (Aberdeen: The Daily World, 2001), 68-71. See also: Bill Hurley, The Bridge to France (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1927), published on The World War I Document Archive website accessed on July 17, 2005 (http://www.gwpda.org/wwi-www/Hurley/bridgeTC.htm).

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