The Ferris wooden cargo ships of World War I
In April 1917, after much debate, the United States entered World War I, which had been raging in Europe for nearly 3 years. It very quickly appeared to the U.S. Shipping Board (USSB) that the country would not have enough ships to bring supplies, food, and ammunition to support the U.S. troops, especially in view of the effectiveness of the German U-Boats. The Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) therefore decided to contract for 703 wooden cargo steamships to supplement its budding fleet of steel cargo ships. This created great controversy; at the time, wood was already obsolete for large ship building, and even reciprocating steam engines were considered old-fashioned. The main type of wooden ship followed the Theodore "Ferris" design (USSB design #1001), a 270' long, coal-fired, "three-island" ship of 3,500 deadweight tons.
B. The Ferris ship
Probably heading for first sea trials.
Ferris standard wooden steamship specifications
Length over all 281'-10" 3,588 deadweight tons
Length between perpendics. 268'- 0" 2,556 gross tons
Breadth moulded 45'- 2" 1,512 net tons
Depth moulded at side 26'- 0"
Load draft 23'-10"
2 water tube boilers each 2508 sq.ft 28 tons coal / day
1 triple expansion (19"+32"+56")/36" 1,400 HP indicated
Speed 10 knots
Offsets; Breadths, Heights, and Diagonals.
Body Plan, moulded lines.
Sheer Plan, moulded lines.
Half-Breadth Plan, moulded lines.
Engine room looking fwd, and boiler room looking aft.
Bridge deck to wheelhouse, construction.
Poop and forecastle, construction.
Keel and shaft, construction.
Ferris Detailed Arrangements
Poop deck and gun house.
Navigating bridge and Wheelhouse.
Except for cantilever crane, this is XVIIth century....
Inside framing, looking aft.
Forecastle, looking forward.
Not found any picture looking aft on center island....
Center island, looking forward.
Poop, looking aft.
Aft hull details; note unusual vertical planking.
Wooden shafted rudder, to cause problems.
Planked and ready for launching.
A wonderful triple expansion engine animation by steam enthusiast Rick Boggs
C. Other wooden cargo ships of the USSB
Also spelled Dougherty.
Wooden except for bulwarks.
The cheaper competitor of the Ferris
Composite; wood planks on steel frames.
The Laker (STEEL)
The steel version, for comparison.
Of the 703 Ferris and other wooden ships ordered, 214 were cancelled when the armistice was signed in November 1918, 323 were completed, 44 sold, 23 lost, and 256 sold for scrapping. These wooden steamships earned a bad reputation due to high maintenance costs and rudder problems, although 265 carried cargoes overseas. In the end, the collapse of the freight rates after the war signed their death warrant. However, had the war lasted even one more year, the wooden steamship fleet would have given ample reason to its existence. These cargo ships were the last and the largest vessels ever built following a tradition of wood shipbuilding that had lasted practically unchanged for centuries. To give an idea of the incredible effort involved, enough wood has been used in these ships to build a bridge 26' wide and 1" thick between America and France, thereby materializing the slogan "Let's build a bridge to France!" of the Shipping Board propaganda of the time.
Steam-powered Ferris ship by Antonio Valderrama, 1:48 scale
Curtis (1919) The Elements of Wood Ship Construction, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Davis (1918) The Building of a Wooden Ship, Philadelphia: USSB/EFC.
Ferris (1917) Specifications for the Construction of a Standard Wood Steamship; Douglas Fir, Hull only, Washington: Gov. Prt. Off..
van Gaasbeek (1941) Wooden Boat and Ship Building, Chicago: Frederick Drake.
Hurley (1927) A Bridge to France Philadelphia: Lippingcott.
Mattox (1920) Building the Emergency Fleet, Cleveland: Penton.
McKellar (1959) American Wooden Shipbuilding in World War One Belgian Shiplover 71:319-341.
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