What is a Liberty Ship?

On January 3, 1941, President Roosevelt announced a $350 million shipbuilding program. In September 1941, the nation launched an emergency ship construction program that would involve building, in just three years, the equivalent of more than half of the pre-war merchant shipping of the world, while during the same time period building the greatest fleet of fighting ships the world had ever seen.

The urgent need for the new cargo ships came at a time when the facilities for producing modern maritime equipment were fully engaged by the requirements of the naval expansion program.

In the autumn of 1940, Britain had placed an order for sixty tramp steamers of about 10,000 ton deadweight capacity. The original design came from Sunderland, England, and originated in 1879. This style of vessel had been produced until the mid-1930s, the last one being S.S. DORRINGTON COURT.

The adaptation was from a wartime plan entitled, "The Northeast Coast, Open Shelter Deck Steamer," and generally known as "The North Sands 9300 Tonner." The scantlings allowed for an 18-inch increase in draft upon the closure of all tonnage openings and provided a closed shelter deck vessel of 10,100 deadweight tons.

The vessels were to be designated as OCEAN class ships.

Sixty British OCEANs were built in this country (30 each at Portland, Maine, and Richmond, California) with closed shelter deck finish, whereas most of the Canadian construction followed the open shelter deck details and were converted during service.

The U.S. Maritime Commission made a number of alterations to the British "OCEAN" design. Some alterations were made to conform to American manufacturing and shipbuilding standards, some to accommodate the scarcity of certain materials, and some to meet the need to build as rapidly and cheaply as possible.

The result was designated EC2-S-C1, and the ships were originally referred to as 'emergency ships.' One of the more common nicknames was 'Ugly Duckling' which stemmed from their utilitarian appearance. But when the first of the new ships, SS PATRICK HENRY, was launched in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a speech refering to Patrick Henry's speech of March 23, 1775, that ended with the famous phrase "give me Liberty, or give me death." The President told the country that these ships would bring liberty to Europe. From then on, they were known as 'Liberty Ships.'

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