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General Machinery Corp. and the Liberty Engine

General Machinery Corp. and the Liberty Engine. Many of the ships known as "the shopping baskets of World War II" were powered by engines designed and built in the shops of the General Machinery Corp. in Hamilton. Liberty ships acquired that designation after the first American vessel of its type -- launched Sept. 27, 1941 -- was named the SS Patrick Henry, recalling the revolutionary leader's "Give me liberty or give me death" declaration. The name also was attached to their engines, which were designed and first built in England in 1879. The British government in 1941 engaged Hooven, Owens, Rentschler (HOR) to manufacture the 1,500-horsepower vertical triple expansion Liberty engines. HOR was already at work on a $3.9 million contract awarded in 1940 for diesel engines for U. S. submarines. Later, the U. S. Maritime Commission contracted with 13 other U. S. companies to build the same engine for the 10,500-ton cargo ships (officially named EC2-S-C1). Because HOR was designated the design agent, the English plans were brought to Hamilton to be redrawn in standard U. S. measures. Jigs, templates and other devices for the other U. S. builders also were made in the Hamilton plant. The first engine was completed here July 1, 1941-- five months before Pearl Harbor. The 250th engine was dispatched from Hamilton in December 1942, and by November 1943, HOR was shipping an engine every day. The last of the 826 was completed March 9, 1945. The Hamilton plant built more than 31 percent of the 2,623 Liberty engines produced by 14 U. S. companies. The plant employed 4,500 men and women -- many on 11-hour shifts -- during peak production. Other Hamilton industries were subcontractors on the project. The shops -- which once covered about 30 acres -- were along North Third Street north of Vine Street, and between Fourth and Fifth streets north of Heaton Street. The massive engines (287,700 pounds each, or more than 100 tons) were assembled in the shop as the parts were machined. Then the completed engine was taken apart, crated and sent from Hamilton via railroad to the 18 shipbuilding companies. The assembled engines were 23 feet long, 17 feet wide and 23 feet high. The 441-foot cargo ships -- which could haul 440 tanks or 2,840 Jeeps -- were designed to carry supplies across the Atlantic to England before the U. S. entered the war. The intent was to build the ships faster than German submarines could sink freighters ferrying food and supplies to war-strapped England. Only 195 of the 2,751 slow-moving ships (11 knots maximum) were lost during World War II. By the war's end, Liberty ships had served a multitude of duties, including transporting troops and supplying Allied invasion forces around the world. A former crew member termed them "the shopping baskets of World War II."


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