100 Years Ago: The Tidal Wave Ships of July 4th 1918

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The Tidal Wave, July 4,
1918–95 ships launched.
Library of Congress.

On the Fourth of July 1918 the United States celebrated the holiday with a Tidal Wave of ships.  From both coasts–Portland, Maine to Portland Oregon and at Great Lakes ports a virtual tsunami when ninety-five new ships were launched. It was a remarkable Independence Day celebration, and a milestone day of great achievement for the Emergency Fleet Corporation for this action established the new United States merchant marine as a formidable war time and maritime organization.

These ships were built as part of a merchant fleet desperately needed to transport goods, people and to aid communication.  From April 1918 to July 1918 a tremendous effort was expended in order to build and launch the 95 ships.  These totaled nearly 500,000 tons, a figure which exceeds the tonnage lost by American shipping since the war began by 150,000 tons. Of the ninety-five ships, forty-one were wooden.

A remarkable postcard photograph of the three ships launched from Newington NH on 4 July 1918, the Chibiabos, Roy H. Beattie and the Milton. A four ship, the Haverhill is included.

In New Hampshire three ships were launched from the L.H. Shattuck Shipyard in Newington NH.  The Portsmouth Herald of 5 July 1918 related what happened the day before: “Portsmouth and vicinity contributed its full quota to making the Fourth of July “Pershing Bridge” by sending into the waters of the Piscataqua river in a most successful manner three of the large wooden cargo carrier steamships from the yards of L.H. Shattuck Inc. at Newington. It was not only a most successful demonstration of what can be done in the way of ship building in this section, but a historical event for it brought back to this city its early industry of ship building, and made once more after gears of neglect gave the seal of the state of New Hampshire with its ship on the stocks, its old time meaning.

Nature itself intended that the event should be most successful for a more ideal days would be hard to imagine. Clear skies with ideal temperature and breeze enough to make the flags stand out in bold relief, as though Old Glory itself was throwing defiance in the face of the German submarines. The launching was most picturesque, the handsomely decorated approach to the yard, the gaily dressed thousands of spectators in and about the ship yard, with the grim war colored ships flag bedecked waiting to take their initial plunge into the water, the hundreds of river boats each crowded to its capacity off the shores of the yard with the busy patrol boats while across the broad waters of the Piscataqua on the green shore of Elliot were thousands of people, and on the grounds of the Green Acre were hundreds of automobiles and thousands of spectators, all making a spectacle that will go down in history as a crowning event in the rebirth of ship building on the old Piscataqua.

The three great cargo carriers, built for carrying space not speed or beauty, were launched without a hitch of any kind and within one hour and a half after once the work was started. It is also the first time in New England if not the country that three ships of this size have been sent into the water in the same day from the same yard.

The size of the crowd is hard to estimate, there were probably nearly ten thousand in and about the ship yards and on the river and on the opposite shores almost as many more. …. There was a large number of distinguished members and people present. Gov. Harry W. Keyes with his staff, members of the state government, Mayor S.T. Ladd of this city, the mayors of the most of the cities in the state and a large number of well known professional men from all sections of the state. The government was represented by Rear Admiral Clifford J. Boush U.S.N., commanding this naval district., Col. C.G. Patterson U.S.A. the commanding officer of the Portsmouth Harbor military district, commanding officers of the ships at the yard and many of the naval and army officers. The Emergency Fleet was represented by Mr. Roy R. Beattie, Assistant Manager of the Wood Ship Division, after whom one of the ships was named and representatives from other ship yards.

List of Ship Launchings Aug 1917-Aug 1918.
From Brooklyn Daily Eagle 27 Oct 1918 page 29.

The ships and their order of launching were: the Chibiabos, the name selected by Mrs. Wilson wife of the President after the character of that name in Longfellow’s Hiawatha; the Roy H. Beattie after the Assistant Manager of the Wooden Ship Division of the Emergency Fleet, and the Milton, named after the town of Milton, Mass. The last two named were Red Cross Ships that is named by the Red Cross as the result of the highest bid for the honor in the recent Red Cross Drive. Mr. H.W. Putnam making the highest for one named after Mr. Beattie and the town of Milton gained its from being the largest over-subscribed place in New England District.

It was 8:15 when the husky gang under the Chibiabos,began driving home the wedges to raise the ship off her shores and knocking out the keel blocks. On the stand at the bow the ship Miss Althea Louise Shattuck, the daughter of L.H. Shattuck, president of the company, stood ready with her ribbon bedecked bottle of champagne, and as the last of the blocks were knocked away and the ship began to move she broke it across the bow saying “I christen thee Chibiabos,.” Gathering speed every minute the big ship slid down her ways and took the water at 8:40 to the mighty cheers of the crowd, the shriek of the locomotives and the whistles of the tugs and river boats.

The service life of these wooden ships were short lived.  In 1919 the Roy H. Beattie and the Milton burned, and in 1925 the Chibiabos was scrapped.

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].

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3 Responses to 100 Years Ago: The Tidal Wave Ships of July 4th 1918

  1. Pingback: New Hampshire World War I Military: Heroes of The Great War | Cow Hampshire

  2. Amy says:

    Happy 4th of July, Janice!

  3. Interesting post! My husband and I once owned a house in Portsmouth, Virginia that was part of a neighborhood built to house shipyard workers during World War I. I’ll bet whoever first lived in that house worked on one of the 95 ships!

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