This Month in History – Launching Concrete River Vessel No. 5

At precisely 11:45 a.m. on July 8, 1921, the General George Gibson—the fifth concrete river vessel built at Newport Shipbuilding Corporation’s Wilmington shipyard—splashed sideways into the Cape Fear River. The vessel weighed 600 tons and “…dropped off the ways with a resounding smack while whistles blew and the 2,000 spectators cheered.” Alice Slater Cannon, who was related to one of North Carolina’s senators, christened the boat. She was “attractively gowned in a sport costume of blue and white georgette with a white sports hat and shoes and hosiery to match.”  Cannon had a little trouble christening the ship. The General George Gibson dropped sideways slightly faster than anticipated and “..the popular young Salisbury woman had to move rapidly to dash the beribboned bottle against the concrete hull and pronounce the words that gave the ship a name.”

Concrete ships were first built in the mid-19th century. There were some short-lived efforts to build concrete ships during and right after World War I, in part due to the high cost of steel. Wilmington’s Liberty Shipyard constructed concrete ships on what had been the Kidder Sawmill site. Work on the yard began in May 1918, but the first ship wasn’t launched until after the war ended. The Liberty Shipyard closed in October 1919. Less than one year later, the Newport Shipbuilding Corporation leased the old Liberty Shipyard land from the city of Wilmington. In May 1921, this new endeavor’s first concrete river steamer was launched. Still, this second concrete shipbuilding enterprise did not last long either – the yard stopped producing concrete ships in the summer of 1922.

Wilmingtonian Charles H. Foard worked at a shipyard in 1920 after he returned from World War I; he later donated hundreds of concrete shipbuilding images to the Museum.

View a selection of related photos from Cape Fear Museum’s collection here.

Previous Columns

June: Wilmington Meets Los Angeles
Bellamy Sails to France
World TB Day
February: David Walker is Honored with a Marker
Two Brothers Honored on One Memorial Stone
Holiday Gifts
A nurse comes home from war
Wartime football takes the bases by storm
Circus Day
Motorboat Racing
Celebrating Independence Day at the Beach
Wilmington Turns 200, June 21, 1939
Laura Grace Cox graduates from Tileston
Saint Marks Turns 100, April 1969
March: Troops Return Home, March 29, 1919
February: Black History Month turns 40
January: Fort Johnston and Fort Caswell are seized, January 8, 1861

General George Gibson’s launch
July 8, 1921
Gift of Charles H. Foard
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382