Back Story: Christening the S.S. Mobile City, 1920

Woman christening the S.S. Mobile City

The S.S. Mobile City shoved into the water on May 27, 1920, just six months after production began at the Chickasaw Shipbuilding & Car Co.

This unidentified woman held the honor of christening the steamship, presumably with water, juice or cider, given its occurrence during Prohibition.

One of six vessels launched from Chickasaw that year, Mobile City was specifically designed to carry odd-shaped cargo and liquids in bulk. According to a November 25, 1945, article in the Mobile Register, Mobile City “survived almost two years of U-boats and an almost certain sentence to a watery graveyard after Armistice.” The ship would go on to sail under three different flags (Panama, Costa Rica and Lebanon) and was reportedly scrapped in Greece in 1962, under the name Elpis.

Before closing in 1983, the Chickasaw shipyard had produced nearly 100 ships for the U.S. Maritime Commission, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy.

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“These launchings were festive community occasions. Politicians, executives, dignitaries, citizens and children all clad in their Sunday best jammed the ways and cheered the awesome spectacle of a big ship sliding into the water with a mighty metallic groan and a huge splash.” 

Excerpt from “The Mobile River” by John S. Sledge

Sip, Ship, Hooray

Launching ceremonies — the joyous occasion marking a boat’s inaugural transfer from land to water — date back to at least the Babylonian Empire. In the centuries since, people have chosen various ways to celebrate (or appease the sea). Turks sacrificed sheep; Vikings sacrificed humans. But around the 15th century, sprinkling wine on the boat’s deck, instead of blood, became the more palatable tradition. The following are just a few notable commemorations:  

USS Constitution: The launching of “Old Ironsides” is the first recorded instance of an American warship being christened. Captain James Sever broke a bottle of Madeira wine on the bowsprit, October 1797.

USS Hartford: The sloop-of-war from which David G. Farragut proclaimed, “Damn the torpedoes,” was doused with water from the Atlantic Ocean, the Connecticut River and Hartford Spring, November 1858.

USS Maine: Champagne wet the bow of the Navy’s first steel battleship, November 1890. 

USS Kentucky: Much to the crowd’s chagrin, the battleship was christened with spring water gathered from Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace. After the ship’s launch, spectators threw bourbon bottles against its sides, March 1898.

USS Akron: Lou Hoover, President Herbert Hoover’s wife, didn’t break a bottle of spirits. Instead, she released a flock of pigeons, 1931.

Do you recognize the woman in the photo? Let us know! Email [email protected].
Photo courtesy Erik Overbey Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

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