On the Water

Silver Dollar Launching Coin

In the life of a ship, launching day is one of the most important. Mariners have long believed that a mishap during a vessel’s slide from land to water foretold disaster. If the transition went smoothly, however, it was cause for celebration. This silver dollar was given to shipwright Archie Green on such an occasion in 1942, after he and his fellow shipyard workers successfully launched a C3 cargo ship in San Francisco.

Launching ceremonies include various rituals, some of which are rooted in maritime traditions. The vessel is officially named on this day, and though not fully completed, it is ready to be moved from the yard into the water, where the final outfitting will be done. The ship is first "christened" by breaking a bottle over the bow, an honor usually performed by a woman associated with the vessel, such as the ship owner’s wife or daughter. As the last of the holding blocks are removed, the ship is released into the water by the launching gang, the crew responsible for ensuring the launch’s success.

Archie Green was born in Winnipeg, Canada, in 1917 and moved to Los Angeles with his parents in 1922. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1939, he began to learn the shipbuilding trade at the San Francisco shipyards. When war broke out, he took part in the U.S. government-sponsored emergency shipbuilding program, which was established to offset the terrible losses of cargo ships by Nazi U-boats.

Drawing from lessons learned during the First World War, shipbuilders developed plans for standardized, prefabricated vessels that could be constructed in any shipyard in the nation. The most famous of these were the Liberty and Victory ships, which transported supplies and troops to Allied positions across the world. A type C3 ship, such as the one associated with this coin, was another design that produced a general-purpose vessel able to carry any cargo, but could also be modified for specific uses. Between 1939 and 1947, 465 of these ships were built in American shipyards.

Archie Green went on to earn a Ph.D. in folklore and devoted his scholarly and teaching career to workers’ culture and occupational traditions. He remained a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America until his death in 2009.

ID Number:
3.700 x 0.200 cm
Gift of Archie Green

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