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Sketching History

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library blog! I have a special treat for you today: a glimpse at the birth of the fastest ocean liner ever built, the SS United States! Launched in 1952, the United States was at that time the largest passenger ship ever constructed in the United States. She served in a place of honor as her namesake nation’s crown jewel for 17 years. Although retired in 1969 and currently in a state of disrepair, the United States deserves recognition for not just the people it ferried across the Atlantic, but for the engineering prowess and detailed specialization with which it fulfilled its role.

The bow of the ship takes form behind a thin veil of scaffolding. From The Mariners’ Museum Collection.

In a series of black and white pencil sketches, the artist C. E. Parkhurst captures the construction process of the United States as each piece of her frame – funnel, keel, stern, bow and propeller shaft – slowly comes into being. The pieces are shown individually at first, as each sketch focuses on a different aspect of the ship’s construction. By just looking at the sketch out of context, the individual pieces seem rather commonplace. It’s when one gets to the last of his sketches that one can see the pieces assembled into the whole, with the now-recognizable ship standing ready to sail into history.

Parkhurst sketches the vessel with all her components assembled together. From The Mariners’ Museum Collection.

The individual sections of the United States contribute to a unified ship that is far greater than any of its parts. In a way, the legacy of the United States can be interpreted in much the same way. When one comments on the ship being the fastest ocean liner, or the biggest liner built in America, or the crowning engineering marvel of its day, one does not see the whole picture – it’s when you take these facts and mold them together that you can understand the whole story of the United States. If you want to explore this story for yourself, The Mariners’ Museum Library has a lovely collection of books, pictures and records on the United States, including photographs of her construction and launching, as well as a hefty record of the plans to convert the SS United States into a troop transport. For more information on that particular record, stay tuned for more postings from the Library blog!

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