12 March 2009

Hull No. 736

From Time magazine on this day in 1965:

The dowager Queen Mary will be replaced in three years by a $64 million ship that is known so far as Hull No. 736. Already it has stirred curiosity and controversy. The Council of Industrial Design has worried aloud about whether the Cunard Line will make the ship's interior look smart enough, and last week Cunard felt obliged to announce that the Queen will "reflect all that is best in British design."

Nobody doubted that the vessel itself would be shipshape. It will be built, like almost all other Cunard passenger liners, on the banks of Scotland's River Clyde, in the yards of John Brown & Co. With British shipyards ailing, John Brown pared its bid almost to cost to win the largest ship order in British history. This summer the company will assign 5,500 workers to the task of putting together the 58,000-ton Queen.

John Brown has built scores of ships —the latest being the 67,000-ton tanker British Confidence—and it is busy on land as well as on sea. It is stringing a 500-mile pipeline across Algeria, and will soon begin constructing a $112 million synthetic-fiber plant in Siberia. This wide-ranging activity helped increase the firm's profits 50% last year, to $8,400,000—to the delight of its stockholders, high among which is the Church of England.

Surviving Nationalization. At the helm of John Brown is Lord Aberconway, 51, a pleasant, unprepossessing product of Eton and Oxford, who succeeded both his father and grandfather as chairman. Lord Aberconway stresses Brown's broad outlook: "We call our selves engineers and shipbuilders."

John Brown started out as a land lubber. A onetime Sheffield cutlery apprentice, Founder Brown ventured into steelmaking in 1840, expanded into railway rails and armor plate. In a dispute with his directors, Sir John resigned in 1871, later died in poverty. The company grew on through wars and depression, hardly paused in the late 1940s, when the Labor government nationalized its coal and steel subsidiaries. It Used a $15 million compensation to modernize plants and acquire machine-tool companies. When the Tories offered back the denationalized mills in 1953, John Brown was doing so well that it turned them down.

Not Just Luck. Machine tools now account for 90% of the company's earnings, but the most promising subsidiary is an engineering design and construction firm, Constructors John Brown. "C.J.B.," as its executives call it, is building the Algerian pipeline and the Russian plant, a fortnight ago won an order to put up an Imperial Chemical Industries complex in Yorkshire.

Because such business is more promising than shipbuilding, John Brown will be paying less and less attention to the sea. The changing emphasis will reflect its motto—Nee Sorte Nee Fato [Neither by luck nor destiny]—which Lord Aberconway amplifies by adding, "Rather by planning and good work."

Public domain

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