On the Water

Model, Liberty Ship

This model represents one of the 2,710 Liberty ships built during World War II. The designation EC2-S-C1 was the standard designation of the dry cargo Liberty ships that were used by the United States Merchant Marine to transport nearly anything needed by the Allies. Whether in Europe, Africa, or the Pacific, most of the essential supplies arrived on ships, including tanks, ammunition, fuel, food, toilet paper, cigarettes, and even the troops themselves. Manning these vessels was a dangerous task, as the merchant vessels faced tremendous losses from submarines, mines, destroyers, aircraft, kamikaze fighters, and the unpredictable elements of the various destinations. One in 26 merchant mariners died during the war, a higher fatality rate than that of any branch of the armed forces.

Even before the United States was officially involved in World War II, shipyards on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts were building Liberty ships. Drawing from lessons learned at Hog Island in the First World War, Liberty ships were standardized and designed to be built quickly and efficiently. Using new welding technology, workers pieced together prefabricated sections in assembly-line fashion. This largely replaced the labor-intensive method of riveting, while lowering the cost and speeding up production. While it took about 230 days to build one Liberty ship in the first year, the average construction time eventually dropped to 42 days, with three new ships being launched each day in 1943.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attended the launching of the first Liberty ship on September 27, 1941, at the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore, Maryland. The ship was the SS Patrick Henry, named after the Revolutionary War hero whose famous “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” speech inspired the ships’ nickname. At the launching of the first “ugly duckling,” the President’s name for the stout and functional Liberty ships, he praised the shipyard workers: “With every new ship, they are striking a telling blow at the menace to our nation and the liberty of the free peoples of the world.” President Roosevelt proclaimed that these ships would help to bring a new kind of liberty to people around the world.

ID Number:
early 1940s
approx: 14 1/2 x 55 x 7 in.; 36.83 x 139.7 x 17.78 cm
Gift of U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Maritime Commisison (through J. M. Winston)

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