Sailing and Motor Yachts in Mahogany and Teak
William Starling Burgess
Jack of all trades
A Dazzling Life
William Starling Burgess was born December 25th 1878 into a prominent and formerly wealthy New England family. The family soon lost their fortune and only an elusive glamour remained.
Even while at his Milton Academy, at the age of 18, he had already developed a new machine gun, which the US-Army showed interested in.
In 1904, he officially established himself as a yacht designer and boat builder in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he initially designed and built smaller boats.
In 1909, he became interested in aviation, designed and flew the first airplane in New England. Following this, both he and his yacht building partner Norman Prince passed their flying exam with the Wright brothers. He then spent several years building the Wright brother's airplanes for the US Army and Navy.
In 1911, together with two partners (Greely S. Curtis and Frank H. Russell), he founded the Burgess Co., for the construction of airplanes, hydro airplanes and „flying boats“. By October 1911, he had already fitted out a biplane with swim pontoons and was carrying out water take-offs and landings.
Even then, William Starling Burgess was considered to be a visionary designer and an outstanding inventor of his time. Along with Wright brothers, he was considered one of the pioneers of american aviation. In 1913/1914, he became the third person, following the Wright brothers and Curtiss, to receive the Collier trophy, the highest award in US-Aviation.
Characteristic for the USA, Burgess mass-produced his design of the Burgess-Dunne seaplane during the First World War: over 800 workers built eight airplanes a day.
Although the business grew rapidly, Burgess sold the factory in 1917. He spent the following years as a ranking lieutenant commander, designing airplanes for the United States Navy, and was often called upon as a consultant to the assistant Defense Secretary at that time, F.D. Roosevelt.
In 1920, Burgess devoted himself again to yacht design. Among many other things, he was commissioned to carry out rigging and sailing tests for the America’s Cup due to his experience in aerodynamics. As one of the first engineers of his time, he tested yacht models in towing tanks and the rigs in wind tunnels. Mathematical formulas were refined on the basis of these results.
Cooperation with Bremen Shipyard A & R
In the mid 1920s, Henry Rasmussen met the designer Burgess and by 1926 Rasmussen had completed two small motor boats for Burgess. What followed was a close business relationship, which they developed successfully. Burgess designed the yachts, which A & R then built for the US customers. This represents an example of successful international cooperation across a distance of more than 4.000 miles - in the Twenties of the last century!
The company dissolved in 1926, and Burgess then formed the partnership Burgess & Morgan Ltd., yacht design, New York City.
After having designed a streamline-shaped skyscraper in 1927, he joined forces again with R. Buckminster Fuller in 1933 to design the revolutionary aerodynamic three-wheel vehicle Dymaxion. For this, he carried out extensive wind channel tests.
From 1935, Burgess worked as a freelance yacht designer for the “Aluminium Company of America” where he applied aluminium as a building material. He designed the “Alumette”, a ship built entirely out of aluminium (including the propeller).
Complicated private life
Numerous affairs, five marriages, five children, high-profile divorces and endless scandals, the accidental death of one of his sons etc. - private details, which were often connected to his business life, led to numerous problems and many financial in nature. At one time he even had to declare bankruptcy due to his lack of business knowledge. The scandal surrounding his first divorce shook Boston so much that Burgess even felt forced to leave the country for a few months. Just how much these private worries affected him, is reflected in his alleged several suicides attempts.
Altogether he led a spectacular life, not untypical for that time. He was a child of the times.
His daughter Natascha once described him as “a bird of paradise in a family of English sparrows”.
A friend of his last wife once wrote about him: "With all his brilliance, he is a child, and that is part of his charm. He will not face hard facts, but will hide from them and will love the person who shields him from them."
His daughter Natascha wrote this about his death in 1947: "Papa had a recurring dream all his life of a beautiful, walled medieval city. He would approach it in his dream but he could never enter. The doors and gates were always locked. He would look at all the towers and balustrades and know that it was beautiful within. He longed to enter but never could."
The Art of Tasha Tudor, Harry Davis, Little Brown and Company (October 2000) http://www.twbookmark.com/books/61/0316174939/chapter_excerpt10704.html