Farrell Ship Launching

Wriston, Walter B.


Many years ago the packing industry in Chicago used to boast that their technology had become so advanced that they were able to use every part of a pig except the squeal. The technological problems of the packing industry in relationship to those which face the American Merchant Marine were not difficult, and so it is fitting that the Farrell brothers and Ingalls Shipyard have succeeded in bettering even the remarkable record of the packing companies. I refer to the fact that with the possible exception of the father of the bride, the most useless man I know is the husband of the sponsor at a ship launching. The fact that they thought even of a use for such a useless person is a tribute to their ingenuity, and if their innovations continue I have no doubt about the future of American-flag shipping.

The position of the American Merchant Marine today is somewhat analogous to that which was suffered by the Armed Forces of many countries between wars. While it is perhaps unfashionable to quote Kipling in the year 1963, he summed up in a line the general feeling about the Armed Forces between wars when he talked about the British G. I., Tommy Atkins. He wrote "It's Tommy this and Tommy that and Tommy go away, but it's thank you Mr. Atkins when the guns begin to play. " Many of the same people who took this kind of a position about the American-flag Merchant Marine were the first to cheer when the Farrell Lines ship, , sailed out of Havana harbor this last December with the refugees from the Bay of Pigs. This one incident dramatized again that the American-flag fleet has a mission that goes well beyond its economic function and is embedded in the very security of the United States.

All industries which survive go through many revolutions in technology and skills. The Merchant Marine is no exception. In 1921 the historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison, wrote a book entitled "The Maritime History of Massachusetts" in which he lamented the passing of the clipper ship. In one chapter he observed, "For a brief moment of time they flashed their splendor around the world, then disappeared with the sudden completeness of the wild pigeon. One by one they sailed out of Boston, to return no more... The master builders, ... dropped off one by one." Changes in technology destroyed the clipper ships' competitive position and gave rise to the unhappy situation described by Mr. Morrison. Fortunately, there were owners and builders who responded to new challenges and were able to fashion ships like the one to be christened today, fully able to hold its own on the high seas.

While all great enterprises, such as the building of this ship, which completes the "third fleet" of the Farrell Lines, are products of many men's work and thought, to me this vessel recalls memories of ten years ago when the Farrell brothers were looking forward even then to the day of this launching. It was almost a decade ago when Mr. Farrell and others foresaw the need to replace the American fleet and assumed the driving role in the development of legislation which was to make the financing of American flag vessels possible. The history of ship financing has not always been a happy one. The former unhappy side of ship financing was perhaps most vividly dramatized by a cable which we received from a foreign port from a vessel financed by our bank. This cable read in part as follows: "Chief engineer informs he has sixty barrels of fuel, no water aboard and as of now the plant is killed... we need at least twenty tons of water due to leaking pipes and thirty barrels of fuel per day ... no barges available this port only tugboat rescue available which must be arranged for through New York stop advise that this is done soon as possible as there is no food aboard and Captain has given crew subsistence rations for five days stop no ship chandler will deliver anything without cash stop Captain is under doctor's care and must leave vessel, chief navigating officer will take over stop vessel cannot stay at any dock unless engine can run due to hurricane season stop please instruct." I hasten to add that this vessel had no connection with any parties present today, but it did not enhance the general feeling of confidence in the financial community regarding ship mortgages. The Farrells and their colleagues in the American-flag steamship business worked hard and long to fashion and to persuade the Congress to pass what is now known as the Title XI U.S. Government Insurance Program. Under the aegis of this statute the United States shipping industry is now proceeding with a $4 billion program to replace obsolete vessels with modern high-speed ships capable not only of competing in the free market place of the world, but in making a vital contribution to the security of our nation. The new speed records of the Farrell ships between New York and Africa reflect the leadership position assumed by the Farrell Lines in such efforts, the skill of her architects, Gibbs & Cox, and the efforts of the dedicated workmen in the Ingalls yard which have given this dream reality.

The life of a ship is unlike that of any other asset in a business. No one would think of christening a store or a factory or a new mine, and this ceremony reflects the fact that the vessel will come to assume a personality of its own. Like any material thing, it can be used for good or ill and the men who control its destiny will make the difference. While the ship today is a marvel of technology, its purpose is the same and unchanged throughout the years. The men who put to sea do so not only to turn a profit, but also because they are touched with a larger vision of a better world tied together through trade and not fragmented by differences. The Farrell Lines have kept this dream alive with great skill, energy and courage against heavy odds.

Their vision has been rewarded and since 1925 the exports from the United States to Africa, south of the Sahara, have increased more than seven-fold and our imports from the same area have increased eleven-fold. This has been achieved by breaking down the north-south ties which the former colonial powers developed through the years, through giving better service to American exporters and importers to meet the intense competition from abroad. The return cargoes carried by the Farrell Lines have done more than any other private enterprise to encourage the acceptance in our market of African commodities, ranging from sisal from East Africa to lobster tail from South Africa. The direct line service to and from the vast continent of Africa established by the Farrells and their co-workers have eliminated the costly indirect routings of our trade and much of the trans-shipment which used to be accomplished in European ports. It has built a whole new chapter of American enterprise. The ship that is launched today will be asked to carry a mixture of heavy and bulky cargoes made up of wool, chrome, gold, manganese, copper and other minerals, and her sister ships will carry vegetables, cloves, coffee, sisal, rubber, palm oil and mahogany and will make possible the further expansion of ties of trade and friendship between Africa and America.

A ship launched is like a pebble thrown into the water -- the ripple it causes moves in an ever widening circle carrying the American flag, trade and friendship to the far corners of the world.

  • The document was created from the speech, "Farrell Ship Launching," written by Walter B. Wriston for a Farrell Lines' ship launching on 16 February 1963. The original speech is located in MS134.001.001.00018.
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