Storms in California wreaked havoc along the coast this past weekend, via The Washington Post.
While the massive waves as a result of the weather claimed one life and significantly endangered another, a third tragedy has locals mourning the loss of a major chunk of history.
The S.S. Palo Alto, a massive tanker from World War I, was nearly cut in half at the hand of the 34 foot waves—a record high for the area.
The story behind the boat is pretty cool:
The boat had an unusual concrete hull, as well as an unusual origin story. As World War I progressed, and civilian and military vessels fell by the hundreds to German submarine torpedoes, ship builders worried about a shortage of steel. In 1917, the Emergency Fleet Corporation was formed under President Woodrow Wilson. The emergency fleet commissioned an order for 24 new ships built out of ferroconcrete. The material, concrete reinforced with steel, was cheaper to produce than steel and more readily available. It was also capable of producing boats that floated. In fact, the French inventor of ferroconcrete, Joseph-Louis Lambot, had created a concrete dinghy a half-century before; his small boat was displayed at the 1855 World’s Fair.
The Emergency Fleet Corporation’s choice for concrete ships was a move, as described in a 1918 issue of the trade journal Concrete, born out of emergency. The year before, a Norwegian engineer had built a 84-foot-long ship with a concrete hull. But larger tankers like the Palo Alto were yet untested. “Good engineering judgment puts the concrete seagoing ship idea on a sound basis,” noted the journal. “But it hasn’t been proved — that’s all.”
The capabilities of U.S. concrete ships would remain unproven during the war. By the time builders completed all 420 feet of the S.S. Palo Alto, at the Naval Shipyard in Oakland, World War I was over.
The ship has been a proud symbol of Palo Alto County for some time.