A reversal of the Burgess family fortune became good
fortune for the sailing world. It turned this Harvard
professor of entomology into the yacht designing genius
of the 1880's. The 1883 failure of B.F. Burgess and
Sons forced Edward Burgess to turn his passion for
mathematics and yacht design into a practical career.
The firm of Burgess Brothers was the result and Edward
went on to produce three America's Cup Defenders and
207 vessels in seven years.
Burgess had done some amateur design work and became
familiar with the British cutters during a season
on the Isle of Wight. Despite a lack of experience,
the firm promptly established a winning reputation
in the Boston area. Recognizing this reputation, and
tired of New York dominance of the Cup races, General
Charles J. Paine and J. Malcolm Forbes came to Burgess
looking for a narrow beam, deep draft "compromise
sloop" that would compete for the America's Cup.
The news that a Boston group was going to build a
yacht designed by a man who studied insects was treated
a something of a joke in the New York papers. The
joke was on them when later in 1885 an innovative
PURITAN with her heavy outside keel, large centerboard
and newer lines sang the virtues of her insect loving
designer as she sailed past the British Challenger
Burgess proved that the 1885 defense was no fluke
by winning the 1886 challenge over GALATEA with his
"better all around yacht" MAYFLOWER. He
improved on his own work still more, producing VOLUNTEER,
a boat superior to both PURITAN and MAYFLOWER that
went on to defeat THISTLE in the 1887 America's Cup
Edward's untimely death at age 43 robbed yachting
of a highly gifted designer at the peak of his abilities.
The Burgess genius lived on, however, in the designs
of Edward's son, W. Starling Burgess.