Spring 1998

People of the Century

A New Generation of Mariners

T he railroads were not the only means of transportation to have benefited from the creativity and talents of WPI alumni. A number of graduates helped shape the modern era of shipbuilding. Hugo P. Frear, Class of 1883, for example, was a designer and builder of ships and shipyards. Frear joined the Union Iron Works in San Francisco as a draftsman after graduation and went on to become chief naval designer. He later became chief naval architect for Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp. He designed one of the earliest West Coast shipbuilding yards, the first to be fitted with an immense hydraulic lifting dry dock. He designed ships in many classes, from tugboats to patrol boats to cruisers, and was chief designer of the Battleship Wisconsin. The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers honored him in 1939 with its David W. Taylor Medal.

The powder used in the guns on the ships Frear designed was likely the product of the ingenuity of George W. Patterson, Class of 1888. Patterson was considered the foremost expert on the compounding and manufacture of smokeless powder. He was chief chemist and expert at the U.S. Naval Powder Factory for more than 40 years, and is credited with new developments that gave U.S. ships superior firepower.

The interest of Charles E. Eveleth, Class of 1899, was not building ships, but finding them. As an engineer at General Electric's Schenectady Works, he was a member of a group that in 1917 invented a submarine detector. The device, used on many vessels operating under American and Allied flags during World War I, contributed to the destruction or disabling of 50 enemy craft.

A model of the oil tanker named for Robert L. Hague.

Robert L. Hague '03 may be the only alumnus to have had a major oceangoing vessel named for him. The 17,800-ton oil tanker R. L. Hague was built in Italy in 1932, a tribute to an accomplished ship designer who spent his entire career on the ocean or building vessels to ply it. He first went to sea as crewman on a Great Banks fishing smack and then was an apprentice on a four-masted bark. He was later an oiler on a freighter owned by the American Hawaiian Steamship Co., and rose through the ranks to become assistant in charge of new construction for the line. After World War I, he joined Standard Oil of New Jersey, where he eventually became general manager of the marine department. During his tenure, the company's fleet of tankers grew from 81 to 205, and its shipping tonnage more than doubled.

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Last Modified: Thu June 10 11:52:53 EDT 1999