Today, we celebrate the last of a wonderful old
technology. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
Last night I walked the
endless hallways of the largest ship I ever
entered. Last night I supped in a dining room on
the Queen Mary. Last night I fulfilled a
I was only three when the Queen Mary was
launched. Her statistics played tag with the French
Normandie. But she was the grandest thing in
the water nevertheless. She was an icon of my
childhood. The words Queen Mary meant size,
elegance and beauty.
Her launching announced England's emergence from
the depression. The poet, John Masefield, regarded
that great mountain of iron with a keen sense of
the engineer's heart. He wrote,
For ages you were rock, far below light,So she came to life: 80,000 tons; almost
as long as the Empire State Building; 2000 passengers
served by a thousand crew members; sluicing ahead at
36 miles an hour. Masefield goes on:
Crushed, without shape, earth's unregarded bone. .
Then Man in all the marvel of his thought,
Smithied you into form of leap and curve;
And took you, so, and bent you to his vast,
Intense great world of passionate design.
Parting the seas sunder in a surge,There were still problems, of course.
She suffered a nasty rolling motion. That wasn't
corrected until William Denny invented a special
damping stabilizer in 1957.
Shredding a trackway like a mile of snow.
During WW-II she converted to a troop ship. Instead
of 2000 passengers she now carried almost 16,000
At first men died of heat exhaustion when her
non-air-conditioned hull entered the Indian Ocean.
Then, in 1942, that siren Queen lured 331 men to
their deaths. Officers on the English escort
cruiser Curaçao wanted to take
pictures as the Queen ran her zig-zag submarine
evasion pattern. The Curaçao got too
close. Suddenly she was in front of the great
liner. Queen Mary sliced her in two like a pat of
Still, despite those horrors, the Queen Mary
helped shorten a terrible war. Then, refitted as an
ocean liner in 1947, she served another 20 years.
She sailed four million miles and carried two
But she couldn't compete with transatlantic jets.
In 1967, she and another great technological
dinosaur retired to a dock in Long Beach,
California. She and Howard Hughes's Spruce Goose
flying boat are both on display there. But the
Queen Mary still functions. Now she's a
grand floating hotel.
Last night I strolled the miles of art deco
elegance. For a moment I knew what it might've been
to be wealthy in 1935. For a few hours I savored
the last hurrah of a technology that's still not
quite ready to die.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Hutchings, D.F., RMS Queen Mary: 50 Years of
Splendour. Southampton: Kingfisher
The QUEEN MARY: A Book of Comparisons.
(This is a reprinting of a brochure published by
the Cunard White Star Line when the Queen Mary was
still young. I obtained mine in the Queen Mary
The "Spruce Goose" has subsequently been moved to
the Evergreen Aviation museum in McMinnville,
For more on the Queen Mary, see the website,
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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