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W. Starling Burgess papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSC-038


Papers: Blueprints of and calculations for devices to counter the Acoustic Torpedo developed for ASDEVLANT, Quonset Point NAS, RI, and Surface Division of ASDEVLANT, Port Everglades, FL, 1943–1945; Blueprints and calculations for Damage Control and Hull Stability tests developed for Damage Control Project, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ, 1945–1947; Correspondence, memoranda and reports regarding inventions and devices, 1938–1948.

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of forty-seven boxes of blueprints of anti-submarine and damage control devices, as well as those for yachts and the Aluminette. Included are mathematical calculations, technical booklets and reports, and correspondence relating to his work for the U.S. Navy in World War II and the immediate postwar era. From 1943 to 1947, Burgess worked for the Navy under personal service contracts: first for the Surface Division of ASDEVLANT at Quonset Point Naval Air Station, Rhode Island, and the U.S. Coast Guard Base at Port Everglades, Florida, and second, with the Damage Control Project administered by the Navy’s Office of Research and Inventions at Stevens Institute of Technology, 1945–1947. During his first assignment, he worked on acoustic torpedo countermeasures. At Stevens, he worked on hull stability measures and devised a method to calculate a ship’s stability when it had been damaged in action. By using these calculations, a ship would be saved from sinking.

He also worked on the development and testing of hull designs for a class of fast destroyers. Burgess considered his work for the Navy one of the most fruitful periods in his long and varied scientific career. The Navy, in turn, felt that his contributions to the development of devices were invaluable.

The Burgess collection constitutes a body of important scientific and technical materials relating to developments in naval warfare during World War II. The war marked an acceleration of government funding for projects leading to improvements in warfare. Burgess’s papers document his response as an engineer and architect to the needs and demands of the wartime era.


  • undated


Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to all researchers, unless otherwise specified.

Conditions Governing Use

Material in this collection is in the public domain, unless otherwise noted.

Biographical Note

W. Starling Burgess, naval and aeronautical architect and engineer, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 25, 1878, to Edward and Caroline L. Sullivant Burgess. Burgess attended Harvard University as a member of the class of 1901; however, he left Harvard during the Spanish American War to join the Navy. He served as a gunner’s mate in USS Prairie and again studied at Harvard in 1903 and 1904.

Burgess was a gifted inventor who designed a recoil operated machine gun that he patented while a student at Milton Academy. His father had designed winning America’s Cup yachts, and in 1904 Burgess followed in his father’s footsteps by opening a shipyard in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where he designed and built motorboats and small boats. In 1909, Burgess developed an interest in the new and burgeoning field of aviation and built an airplane that he flew from Newburyport to Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1910. This was the first flight made in New England. Together with Norman Prince, he began the manufacture of airplanes, with guidance from the Wright Brothers whose use of patents rights extended to the two men. Both the Navy and the Army purchased the Burgess designed airplane. In 1911, with Frank Russell and Greely S. Curtis, he organized the Burgess Company, which manufactured airplanes, seaplanes, hydroplanes, and flying boats. Burgess had the distinction of being the first person to begin and end a flight on water, having fitted out a biplane with pontoons.

In 1913, Burgess’s company gained exclusive rights to the British Dunne biplane. Sportsmen liked the plane and several were sold to individuals; however, in 1914, the Canadian Government purchased the plane for use in World War I. With the war in full swing, there was an increased demand for the Burgess planes and new plants were built and employees hired. However, in 1917, Burgess sold his company and joined the Navy as a lieutenant commander in the airplane design division. This was the beginning of an affiliation with the Navy that continued during the Second World War. When the war was over in 1918, Burgess returned to the boat construction business in Boston. His firm designed prize winning J-class yachts, including Enterprise, Rainbow, and Ranger, which won the America’s Cup Race in 1930, 1934, and 1937 respectively. Expanding his talents even further, in 1933 Burgess designed the Dymaxion automobile, which had three wheels and got thirty miles to the gallon.

In 1936, Burgess worked for the Aluminum Company of America designing and testing the use of aluminum in ship construction at the Bath (Maine) Iron Works. The “Aluminette,” an aluminum section of a ship, that he designed was tested by the U.S. Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, and found to be resistant to corrosion. His design for a high speed aluminum destroyer was accepted by the Navy General Board and was to go into production in 1941; however, when war broke out the order was cancelled.

During World War II, Burgess worked for the Navy as an engineer in the Special Services Division, Bureau of Aeronautics, with the anti-submarine development detachment at the Naval Air Station, Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and later at the Coast Guard Patrol Base, Port Everglades, Florida. There he designed devices for use in anti-submarine warfare.

After the war, Burgess worked in damage control research for the Navy’s Office of Research and Inventions at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey. While engaged in this work, he died unexpectedly on March 19, 1947.

Burgess was a member of the New York Yacht Club, the British Institute of Naval Architects, the Early Birds, and the American Legion. In 1915, he was awarded the Robert J. Collier Trophy for his contributions to aeronautics. Burgess was married five times: to Helene Adams, Rosamond Tudor, Elsie Janet Foss, Nannie Biddle, and Marjorie Gladding Young, a naval architect and his assistant, who survived him. He had five children, three sons and two daughters.


35 boxes

Language of Materials