April 9, 2015

Fame again after a century

IT TOOK a surprisingly long time for Edward Burgess to be formally recognized by his own countrymen. He died in 1891, but it wasn’t until 1994 that he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

In case you didn’t know either, Edward Burgess was a Boston boy who taught himself how to design racing yachts that could beat those built by the best of Britain’s professional naval architects.

After a visit to England in 1883, Burgess returned to Boston to find the family business failing. He promptly set up a practice as a self-taught yacht designer, and, as luck would have it, his first commission was to design a defender of the America’s Cup against the British challenger, Genesta, in 1885. Burgess drew the lines of an 80-foot cutter called Puritan, which soundly beat the British yacht.

A year later, in 1886, he struck gold again with the design of the successful Cup defender Mayflower, and then, to cap everything, the following year he designed yet another Cup winner, Volunteer.

By this time, the whole country was aware of his triple successes, and showered him with acclaim for the brilliance of his designs. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that his business flourished to the extent that in seven years he produced designs for 137 different vessels, including yachts, fishing boats, pilot boats, and steamers.

In 1887 he was selected by the Secretary of the Navy to serve on a special board to choose designs for a new American naval fleet, resulting in the construction of the battleships Maine and Texas.

But his sudden rise to fame and fortune had its consequences. He died at age 43 as the result, it was said, of a fever brought on by his demanding naval work. And it wasn’t until more than 100 years later that his brilliant contribution to the art and science of yacht design was recognized by his induction to the Hall of Fame.

Today’s Thought
The splendors of earthly fame are but a wind,
That in the same direction lasts not long.
— Dante, Purgatorio

“Who’s that gorgeous girl over there?”
“She must be the village belle.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s wringing her hands.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


biglilwave said...

I believe he would have lived a long and happy life if he didn't take that defense contract.

Alden Smith said...

I agree with Dante!

Edward Burgess' son William Starling Burgess was equally famous - a fantastic yacht designer.