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William Francis Gibbs, the SS United States' Dedicated Designer (Part 2)

The story of the SS United States has inspired dedicated supporters from across the country and around the world. One man's dedication to the ship was legendary.

The ship's designer — my grandfather William Francis Gibbs — called the ship at the same time every day she was at sea to check on how she was doing. Every time the SS United States returned to New York after a transatlantic run, he would rush to her West 46th Street pier to watch as the tugs nestled her into her berth. Once all her lines were secured, he was always one of the first up her gangway. He’d greet her captain, officers, and engineers and ask them questions about her journey.

On those arrival days, my grandfather always woke up early. He’d set his alarm before dawn and instruct his chauffeur to drive him in his gray Cadillac from his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to Brooklyn’s Shore Parkway so he could be the first to see his ship appear on the horizon. Before heading to her pier, he’d sometimes get out of the car and stand alone at the water’s edge, his fedora pulled down low, as if he were the first or last man on earth.

From his vantage point on shore, he could see her whole. It was as if she had run all the way across the ocean just to be reunited with him.


Susan Gibbs is the Executive Director of the SS United States Conservancy. To learn more about the Conservancy's efforts, visit

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