Marine Link
Sunday, January 21, 2018

Theodore E.Ferris

WITH the creation of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, under the original leadership of General Goethals, the choice of a naval architect and engineer fell upon Theodore E. Ferris, a naval architect and marine engineer of long experience and brilliant achievement.

Theodore E. Ferris was born in Stamford, Conn., August 17, 1872, the son of Nathaniel Betts and Louise (Keeler) Ferris. The family to which he belongs traces its lineage back to Norman origin from Henry de Ferriers, who crossed the channel and fought with William the Conqueror in the conquest of England in 1066. To this de Ferriers the Conqueror made large grants of land in the counties of Derby, Stafford and Leicester. The part of the family which was transplanted in America (the name having previously been Anglicized to Ferris) is descendant from Jeffrey Ferris, who arrived on these shores about 1634, was made a freeman at Boston in 1635, removed to Wethersfield, Conn., and later to Stamford, Conn., and in 1641 finally settled 011 a place within the present limits of Greenwich, Conn. From this first American ancestor the line descends through his son James; his son Samuel and the latter's wife, Ann Lockwood; their son, Nathaniel, and his wife, Mary Johnson; and their son, Gideon, and his wife, Caroline Betts, who were the paternal grandparents of Theodore E. Ferris.

He began his education in the public schools of Stamford and continued at Greenwich (Connecticut) Academy, from which he was graduated after a course of technical training. He then entered a shipyard on Long Island, where he did construction work, and made a thorough study of the construction of wooden ships. Later, in the famous yard of John Roche at Chester, Pa., he studied construction of steel ships, studied drafting, and followed this with work of a similar nature and broadened experience at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit. He became asso- ciated, about 1890, with the late A. Cary Smith, a distinguished marine painter and naval architect, and in cooperation with him designed a number of sound and river steamships, pleasure craft and other vessels.

Mr. Ferris became associated with the Town- send and Downey Company (now the Standard Shipbuilding Company) at Shooters Island, N. Y., from 1898 until 1903, when he again became associated with A. Cary Smith, under the firm name of Cary Smith & Ferris, which continued until 1910, since which time he has been in independent practice as a naval architect and marine engineer. He specialized in merchant vessels, becoming a recognized leader in that department of marine architecture, and designed and supervised the construction of ocean-going ships, both of the freight and passenger class, in very large number for many of the largest ship owners and operators in the United States and in the foremost American shipyards.

When he was asked by General Goethals on April 27, 1917, to become naval architect and consulting engineer for the Emergency Fleet Corporation Mr. Ferris did not want the employment. He has, since 1910, designed and supervised the construction of more than three hundred merchant and pleasure vessels, and had at the time of General Goethals' request thirty-five ships under construction, representing an aggregate cost of about seventeen million dollars. His practice had reached a point where his net earnings were very large. The salary of $2,500 per month, with allowance for out-of-pocket expense and for overhead cost of his offices and force, large as it may seem, was very small compared to the amount his normal income had reached. If Mr. Ferris could, he would have declined the appointment. But, General Goethals was insistent that it was the duty of Mr. Ferris as a patriot to give his admittedly great ability to the public service in a crisis when the Government needed the best, and he entered the service at great personal and financial sacrifice. In addition to his own service he brought to the service of the Government a trained force of men whom he had brought up and educated in merchant shipwork, and much valuable information from his office that did not exist elsewhere on merchant ships and various standard details and all sorts of data in that connection, which he turned over to the Emergency Fleet Corporation without compensation or any other consideration than that of doing everything in his power to further the shipbuilding program. In view of the statements, which were later widely published, it is well to say here that the agreement of Mr. Ferris with General Goethals of the Emergency Fleet Corporation was quite different from that misrepresented in those statements. He was free to carry on his own business and maintain his clientele, but Government work was to be given preferential consideration without any specified element of time.

The project into which Mr. Ferris entered was the greatest undertaking any naval architect ever undertook, and he and his men entered into it with deep patriotic spirit and worked to the limit of their endurance.

Under this appointment Mr. Ferris was the final technical authority for approval or rejection of all plans and designs for ships which were submitted by bidding shipbuilders all over the country, which had to receive his affirmative approval before contracts were given for the building of the ships, and in that capacity he completed arrangements for a large number of vessels of various types and sizes to be built at many yards. But his most important work was that connected with the standardization of plans and specifications of both steel and wooden vessels, by means of which large numbers of ships of identical design and detail for identical capacity and service could be built simultaneously in various yards, and a particularly valuable feature of this standardization was that it made possible the development of standard patterns and sizes in ship shapes of steel, the production of which could thus be distributed to various plants throughout the country for quick quantity production. All the design work for the Emergency Fleet Corporation and a mass of detail in the technical department had been collected in great volume. At the Newark Bay shipyard, which is operated by the Submarine Boat Corporation, one hundred and fifty 5,350-ton vessels designed by Mr. Ferris (known as the Ferris type) are under construction, fifty- six having already been launched.

The fourteen types of freighters and two types of tankers adopted by the Shipping Board are sufficiently diversified to meet every cargo and transport purpose. With the single ship as the unit of design any such fleet as that contemplated by the Emergency Fleet Corporation would have been impossible of accomplishment in many times the period allotted to it. Because of the importance of standardization as the strongest factor in the shipping program, the choice of Mr. Ferris as its creator was most logical, for he had long been an advocate of standardization, and had made designs and specifications for standardized vessels for private clients.

The carrying out of the provision for the standardization plans of the corporation was ac-complished by personally completing designs and specifications for ten types of steel vessels (eight of ships and two of tugboats), and by carefully investigating designs and specifications of ship-builders for standardized vessels, of which, after approval by him, four types of steel ships and two types of steel tankers veer by the board. The shipbuilders' designs adopted included a 1o,ooo-ton tanker a 7,500-ton tanker; a 9,ooo-ton cargo ship (fabricated) I2,ooo-ton and 9,500-ton cargo ships of regular construction; and an 8,ooo-ton, 15-knot refrigerated ship. Of his own designs ("Ferris type' ) adopted bv the Shipping Board there were a 16-knot troopship; an 8,8oo-ton, x5-knot cargo and troopship; 7,500-ton and 5,6oo-ton cargo ships (fabricated), and 8,8oo-ton, 7,500-ton, 5.500-ton. And 3,500-ton cargo ships of regular construction; and also a harbor tugboat and an ocean tugboat. There were also designs of wooden ships ("Ferris type") of different tonnages. Mr. Ferris was made responsible for the entire work of standardization, and his work will stand as the most important accomplishment in the history of the rehabilitation of the American Merchant Marine.

The best authorities have highly commended the Ferris type vessels for their special adaptability to the emergency needs of the Government in the prosecution of the marine activities connected with the war, and whatever advantage may be gained through the process of standardized (and it is bound to be very great both in time and quantity of accomplishment) must be chiefly credited to the high abilities, marked originality and tireless industry of Mr. Ferris. The name "Ferris type"' is becoming a familiar one in the daily reports of maritime accomplishment, the fleet for which Mr. Ferris has completed designs and passed on builders' plans for the Government being of an aggregate contract cost of more than Si,000,000,000 and numbering about one thousand vessels.

But the thing which will stand most prominently as a permanent achievement of Mr. Ferris is the designing and creation of the fabricated ship. This meant not only standardization, but such simplification of design and coordination of in-dustry as to make it possible to give out the man-ufacture of various plates and parts of ships to different mills and factories, leaving to the shipyard the assembling and launching part of the program. The essence of the idea was not novel. America's greatness in many manufactures has been built upon the same idea. The reason why it has never been applied to shipbuilding is that wholesale production has never been called for by any previous emergency in shipbuilding. All the shipyards of the United States were busy on orders for steel ships and wooden hulls of an aggregate of 2,800,000 tons when the Shipping Board announced that it needed an additional 3,000,000 tons. To procure this tonnage, within the time it was imperative to have it, under any former method of production was impossible. Yards were not available and must be built, so that the yards must be built and equipped and the ships must be completed in a fraction of the time under any previously known plan. The first step in the fabrication program was the simplification of the design to eliminate all non-essentials, especially all curvature of plates it was possible to dispense with. In the design much thought was given to the use of plates of a kind that might be readily made in structural, bridge and tank shops, so as to make it possible to distribute the manufacturing among a large number of shops, thus by mobilization of every resource in the country, including plants not previously usable for shipbuilding, making it possible to reproduce vessels in large numbers, every one of exactly the same construction, by use of the factory methods which have been so wonderfully successful in other avenues of industry in making quantity production practicable. Under the direction of Mr. Ferris the plans of the Shipping Board to create this unprecedented tonnage, which to the ordinary shipbuilder seemed like a dream of Utopia, was made eminently practical and an industrial reality. Yards that have done no ship work, located at interior points, are now working on parts so completely duplicated as to be interchangeable. When the idea of fabrication, as formulated by Mr. Ferris, became a part of the shipbuilding program of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, it met with a chorus of disapproval from the shipbuilders of the country, many of whom held it impossible to apply factory methods to the art of shipbuilding. But designs were completed, some by himself and others under his approval, the work was inaugurated, is in successful operation and is now internationally recognized as the most important idea of this century applying to shipbuilding.

Since resigning from the position of naval archi-tect of the Emergency Fleet Corporation Mr. Ferris has resumed his busy practice in designing and superintending the construction of steamers and ships of all types, including among his clients some of the foremost shipowners of the country, and also attending to orders for special work for the Government. All of his work for whoever planned ranks as the best known to the science of naval engineering.

With the return of peace the idea of fabrication does not retire from the shipbuilding arena. It has received an impetus from the initiative of Mr. Ferris, which has advanced it to a place of practical utility which it would not have reached for many years if it had not been given the great and convincing demonstration which culminated in the successful operation after quick production of "Ferris-type" ships during the war period.

He is a member of many professional, social and other organizations.

Mr. Ferris married, August 25, 1912, Miss Lois Davis, daughter of James Blake, of New Bedford, Mass. They have two children, Nathaniel James and Theodore Louis Ferris.

Maritime Reporter Magazine Cover Dec 2017 - The Great Ships of 2017

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