New York City New Deal...

Brooklyn Navy Yard

Frank da Cruz, Bronx NY, June 2018
Most recent update: Sat May 20 12:32:07 2023
Part 1: Gallery...
Shipyard and buildings   People   Shipbuilding   Diorama   WPA construction   PWA ships   Other ships

Part 2: Research...
PWA projects   USHA projects   NYA projects   WPA projects   References

Brooklyn Navy Yard — also known as New York Navy Yard and United States Navy Yard — dates back to the 1600s. It was designated a United States Navy shipyard in 1801, thus it cannot be said to be a New Deal project. However, at least four of the ships built there during the New Deal were paid for by Public Work Administration funds, thousands of its workers were on the WPA payroll, and a great deal of building and infrastructure work essential to its mission was done there by the WPA (see table). Read about New Deal assistance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and shipbuilding below the thumbnails.

On a personal note, in the Army I sailed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to Bremerhaven, Germany, on the USNS Geiger in 1963 and three years later sailed back to the Yard on the same ship to be released from the Army at nearby Fort Hamilton.

Part 1: Gallery

  (Click on any photo to enter)

Shipyard and buildings

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Shipuilding and repair

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Brooklyn Navy Yard diorama

Brooklyn Navy Yard World War II diorama at the SUNY Maritime College Nautical Museum, Throgs Neck, Bronx NY.
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WPA construction

All the images in this section are from Public Works of the Navy, Bulletin No.39, June 1937[7].
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More WPA construction

Photos from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archive, now at the US National Archive and Records Administration, Northeast Region, NYC, Record Group 181. This collection includes hundreds of images, of which 30 or 40 were explicitly marked "Works Progress Administration", most of which are included here. Some others are also included that might be WPA projects even though the photos were not marked as such.

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PWA Ships

The Public Works Administration paid for (at least) six warships built in New York City, including these four built at Brooklyn Navy Yard: USS Brooklyn, USS Erie, USCGC Alexander Hamilton, and USCGC John C. Spencer. But it might be argued that every ship built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard 1934-1945 was a New Deal ship because of the many ways in which New Deal funding and labor made their construction possible; see rationale below.
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Other Ships

Famous ships built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard include the battleships Arizona, North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri as well as the aircraft carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Arizona was launched long before the New Deal, but the others, even though they were not paid for by New Deal agencies directly, were built at a shipyard where New Deal funding and labor played an essential role in making their construction possible.  Shown below:  USS Arizona, one of FDR's "babies" from his Navy Department days; USS North Carolina, USS Iowa, and USS Missouri, which could not have been built without PWA funding and WPA labor to make a shipways big enough to accommodate them; it was on the deck of the Missouri that World War II ended. And finally the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, launched just days after FDR's death.
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What Is a New Deal Ship?

New Deal money and labor were involved in every aspect of the Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1933 onwards: Each ship built at the Yard during this period can therefore be said to have been created with varying degrees of New Deal assistance (these items are explained in the next section):
* When trainees "graduated" from NYA or WPA programs, they didn't go straight to BNY, but rather through either state welfare agencies or civil service procedures. I'm not aware of any way to track the number of NYA-or-WPA graduate trainees who wound up at BNY, but it's inconceivable that there were not hundreds or thousands of them.
** North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri could not have been built without the reconstruction and lengthening of Shipways No.2, a massive and expensive WPA project[12]. Also there is a more-than-even chance that the million-dollar Hammerhead Crane was financed by New Deal money.
*** The WPA hired unemployed architects and engineers and assigned them to many different projects, including at other Navy installations. This photo shows that WPA engineers were working at BNY too.

We might assign a "New Deal pedigree" score to each ship built at the Yard between 1934 and 1945 according to the combination of criteria that apply to it (summing the figures in brackets, but not exceeding 1.0). In every case except the New Orleans it will be greater than zero. Here is a table of the ships built at Brooklyn Navy Yard from 1933 to 1945[4], with some information added, plus a rough New Deal score. The scores go down towards the end as the New Deal was phased out after the war started.

Table 0: Brooklyn Navy Yard Ships 1933-1945[18]
Name Hull Type Tonnage Laid down Launched Score Fate
New Orleans CA-32 Heavy Cruiser 10,000 1931/03/14 1933/04/12 0.0 Scrapped 1959
Hull DD-350 Destroyer 1,395 1933/03/07 1934/01/31 0.1 Sunk in Philippine Sea 1944
Dale DD-353 Destroyer 1,395 1934/02/10 1935/01/23 0.1 Sold 1946
Erie PG-50 Gunboat 2,000 1934/12/17 1936/01/29 1.0 Torpedoed, beached, sunk 1942.
Brooklyn CL-40 Light Cruiser 10,000 1935/03/12 1936/11/30 0.6 Sold to Chile 1951, sunk 1992
Alexander Hamilton WPG-34 Coast Guard Cutter 2,000 1935/09/11 1937/01/06 1.0 Torpedoed and sunk off Reykjavik 1942
John C. Spencer WPG-36 Coast Guard Cutter 2,000 1935/09/11 1937/01/06 1.0 Scrapped 1981
Honolulu CL-48 Light Cruiser 10,000 1935/09/10 1937/08/26 0.6 Torpedoed and sunk near Iceland 1942
Helena CL-50 Light Cruiser 10,000 1936/12/09 1938/08/27 0.6 Scrapped 1959
North Carolina BB-55 Battleship 35,000 1937/10/27 1940/06/13 1.0 Museum ship since 1962 Wilmington NC
Iowa BB-61 Battleship 45,000 1940/06/27 1942/08/27 1.0 Museum ship since 2011 San Pedro CA
Missouri BB-63 Battleship 45,000 1941/01/06 1944/01/29 0.9 Museum ship since 1999 Pearl Harbor HI
Bennington CV-20 Aircraft Carrier 27,100 1942/12/13 1944/02/26 0.5 Scrapped 1994
Bon Homme Richard CV-31 Aircraft Carrier 27,100 1943/02/01 1944/04/29 0.5 Scrapped 1992
Frankin D. Roosevelt CV-42 Aircraft Carrier 45,000 1943/12/01 1945/04/29 0.4 Scrapped 1978
Kearsarge CV-33 Aircraft Carrier 27,000 1944/03/01 1945/05/05 0.4 Scrapped 1974
Oriskany CV-34 Aircraft Carrier 37,000 1944/05/01 1945/10/13 0.4 Sunk as artificial reef 2006
Plus two floating workshops (YR34-35) and eight LST heavy landing craft (LST311-318) of which six survived to land at Normandy Beach on D-Day. 27 ships in all. In the hull numbers, CL = cruiser; DD = destroyer; PG = gunboat; CV = carrier, WPG = Coast Guard cutter.

Part 2: Research

The Brooklyn Navy Yard reached its peak of activity, employment, and production during Roosevelt Administration, ultimately turning out about 20 military ships that saw service in World War II. However, "its primary responsibility was ship repair. More than 5,000 bomb- and-torpedo damaged ships from many Allied nations streamed into New York Harbor for repairs, and an additional 250 ships were converted from civilian to wartime use. By the end of the war, BNY was the largest shipyard in the world, employing over 75,000 workers."[14,p.83]  Countless projects proceeded at a hectic pace and it's not a simple matter to track down each project and its source of funding and labor. All I can say is that any estimate made here of New Deal contributions to BNY and its ships almost certainly falls far short.

PWA Projects at Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Public Works Administration specialized in financing large-scale work projects in order to increase employment, and later, also to better prepare for the oncoming war. The list below does not purport to be complete. There is no definitive source for this kind of information; much of it is lost and what remains is hidden away in archives at scattered locations, often only on crumbling paper or microfilm. But this list should serve to demonstrate PWA funding and assistance not only in shipbuilding, but in making it possible to build the kinds and numbers of Navy-financed ships required for the coming war.

NYA Assistance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The National Youth Administration ran a nationwide job training program to help young people get employment. As war loomed, the training turned towards war production. The NYA assisted the Brooklyn Navy Yard in two ways: (1) training young people in the skills needed for shipbuilding, and (2) machining parts for ships. NYA "graduates" worked in shipyards all over the country, but I haven't yet been able to find figures for Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  1. NYA Has Hundreds in Shipyard Shops New York Times, 5 Mar 1941, p.10.
  2. How the NYA Has Been Converted To Advance the War Program, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 25 Mar 1942, p.14: "[NYA] reports 16,000 machine shops in operation [in the USA], giving work training to 65,000 young men and 10,000 young women ... NYA reports that ... its large [machine] shop at Astoria, L.I., has turned out 32,000 parts for the Brooklyn Navy Yard in three months."
  3. La Guardia Lauds NYA Training Plan, New York Times, 19 Dec 1942, p.24: In Harlem, the mayor "watched a class of thiry youngsters operate machines turning out material used in the Navy Yard at Brooklyn, and then praised the NYA for its constructive work." Aubry Williams, national NYA administrator, declared that "NYA was turning out 10,000 trained youthful workers into war industry every month and that he would renew his request for the $60,000,000 appropriation now given by the Federal Government for the program."

USHA Assistance to the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The United States Housing Authority (USHA), created under the Housing Act of 1937, built the Wallabout Houses, a 13-story complex of 200+ apartments for Brooklyn Navy Yard workers just two blocks from the Cumberland Street yard entrance; it still exists today (see Google aerial view). From 1939 USHA fell under the Federal Works Agency (FWA).
  1. Orders Defense Housing, New York Times, 11 May 1941, p.35: "USHA Signs for Apartment Building Near Navy Yard Here".
  2. U.S. Not 'Bluffing,' La Guardia Says, New York Times, 4 Dec 1941, p.6: "...Wallabout Houses, the city's first defense housing project, erected in the shadow of the Navy Yard in Brooklyn. ... built by the New York City Housing Authority acting as an agent for the Federal Works Agency."
  3. Homes Available for War Workers, New York Times, 28 Dec 1941, pp.73-74: "...The public defense housing program for the New York area, developed to meet that portion of the need not being met by private enterprise, is summarized as follows: ... Brooklyn—Two hundred and seven dwellings are being constructed by the United States Housing Authority for enlisted employes of the Navy Yard under Public Act No.849, the Lanham act, at an estimated cost of $901,854. The site is at North Elliot Place, Park Avenue and North Portland Avenue. Construction, begun in June, is now virtually complete, and the project is 70 per cent occupied."

WPA Projects at Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Works Progress Administration specialized in putting people to work directly, rather than by hiring contractors. Table 1 shows nine WPA projects at Brooklyn Navy Yard, according to the DoD's 2009 inventory, totalling $5,550,015.00 in 1930s dollars, equivalent to about $100M in 2018. The WPA did not take direct part in shipbuilding because this was not allowed by law[1,p.16]. The following is not a complete list, for the reasons given in previous sections. Some of these items might coincide with the ones shown in the WPA Construction gallery above, there's no way tell without a trip to the National Archives.

Table 1:  WPA Projects at Brooklyn Navy Yard[2]
State County City Location Description of Project O.P. Number Total All Funds Sponsor
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Construct and improve buildings, structures, and facilities. 109-3-97-14 1,515,000.00 Navy Dept. - Bureau of Yards and Docks
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Construct and improve buildings, utilities, structures, and facilities. 109-3-97-27 75,000.00 Navy Department, Bureau of Yards and Docks
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Construct and improve buildings, distributing systems, waterfront structures, tracks, pavements, and transportation facilities 665-97-2-3 300,000.00 Commanding Officer, Brooklyn Navy Yard, U.S. Navy
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Improve and rehabilitate buildings, facilities, and utilities, including distributing systems, tracks, pavements, transportation facilities, and shop and storage facilities, reconstructing Structural Shop and Pattern Shop floors and irrigation systems, extending electrical services to piers 709-2-38 700,000.00 Navy Department, Bureau of Yards and Docks
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Make improvements at the Navy Yard, including construction of turret assembly facilities, improving outside electric distribution system and shipbuilding ways No.2 709-2-9 1,072,000.00 Navy Department, Bureau of Yards and Docks
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Rehabilitate and improve buildings, facilities, grounds, and utilities 765-97-2-11 365,200.00 Commanding Officer, Brooklyn Navy Yard, U.S. Navy
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Underpin buildings, reconstruct pavement, and rehabilitate buildings. 0X-3-97-XX 30,000.00 U.S. Navy Department
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Renovate and improve buildings and facilities and improve grounds 65-2-97-50 968,115.00 Commandant, Brooklyn Navy Yard, U.S. Navy
NY Kings New York Brooklyn Navy Yard Underpin buildings, reconstruct pavement, and rehabilitate buildings. XX-X-97-12 524,700.00 Navy Department, Bureau of Yards and Docks

Other WPA projects are shown in two WPA gallery sections above. Still other WPA (or in a few cases FERA, CWA) items that may or may not coincide with items in Table 1 are found in the newspaper archives... Like the other lists, this one does not claim to be complete:


  1. Report on Progress of the WPA Program, Work Projects Administration, 30 June 1940.
  2. Nationwide Context, Inventory, and Heritage Assessment of Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps Resources on Department of Defense Installations, Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program, Project Number 07-357, July 2009.
  3. Government Construction Jobs to Spread Employment, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 28 Oct 1934, Section D, p.1: "About $100,000,000 to Be Spent on Projects for Locality Will Provide Employment for Great Army of Workmen ... construction of new vessels at Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4,013,000; 40-foot channel to Navy Yard, $1,456,000 ... general Navy Yard improvements, $1,005,970; reconditioning ships and pier improvements, $1,005,970..."
  4. Stobo, John R, The New Deal Yard, 1933-1937, Part 2, John R. Stobo, Columbia University, October 2004, which quotes from Thompson, H.I., Inspector of Naval Materiel, “Ships Under NIRA”, "Ships Under NIRA," in Letter, from Inspector of Naval Material (H.I. Thompson), to Commandant (s of the navy yards), (and others), 20 September 1933; A1/NIRA; E322/1932-34; RG181; NA-NY, which lists each ship that was to be built (by hull number only) and at which yards In this section, Stobo refers repeatedly to CWA and WPA draftsmen, but the references are bit hard to chase down. See the Thompson letter HERE (PDF).
  5. Brooklyn Navy Yard Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form 10-900, 7 April 2014. Sec 8, p.32-41:
    The 1933 inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt ... Within his first "hundred days" Roosevelt, a former assistant secretary of the navy, earmarked $238 million under the National Industrial Recovery Act for warship construction. ... Naval public works appropriations through the National Industrial Recovery Administration, the Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the Public Works Administration put thousands of people back to work and did much to rehabilitate the yard. In addition to building ships, men were hired to construct a new garage (Building 50/50A, 1936), a garbage incinerator (Building 51, 1939), a coal plant office (Building 52, 1938), lay down extensive paving and railroad tracks, an d repair waterfront seawalls and waterfront construction. 126 By 1938, one-third of the yard;s 10,000 employees were being paid by the WPA. ... Just prior to the defense buildup the navy was operating eight yards. ... Of all the navy yards, the Brooklyn Navy Yard underwent the most complex reconstruction program. 129 The navy essentially had to reconfigure its small site, at that point broken up into pieces due to the Wallabout Market, and make it into a first-class, state-of-the-art navy yard within an incredibly short amount of time. These changes constituted the most significant physical changes to the site since it was established in 1801 and it is this period that is most evident at the navy yard today. ... The Brooklyn Navy Yard boomed during the war years. By the time of the Japanese surrender, signed on the deck of the yard-built American battleship USS Missouri, the Brooklyn facility was the world's largest shipyard, employing over 75,000 workers and sustaining a monthly payroll over $15 million. ... [towards the end of the war] battleship contracts were re placed with aircraft carrier orders. One of these, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, was christened by Eleanor Roosevelt on April 29, 1945, just seventeen days after the president's death.
  6. Millions for Defense: Emergency Expenditures for National Defense 1933-1940, US Federal Works Agency, Washington DC (1940).
  7. Public Works of the Navy, Bulletin No.38, May 1937, US Government Printing Office (1937).
  8. Public Works of the Navy, Bulletin No.39, June 1937, US Government Printing Office (1937).
  9. Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Volume I (Part I), Department of the Navy, Bureau of Yards and Docks, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC (1947).
  10. Building the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Volume I (Part II), Department of the Navy, Bureau of Yards and Docks, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC (1947).
  11. First Women Hired in Navy Yard Shops, New York Times, 14 Sep 1942, pp.1,19. "When the United States Civil Service Commission announced that women could take an examination for prospective mechanics, 20,000 applied."
  12. Boro Yard Set to Lay Super-Battleship Keel, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 25 May 1940, p.3. The PWA-WPA project to lengthen BNY's Shipways No.2 for the construction of the battleships North Carolina, Iowa, and Missouri.
  13. Navy Yard, Fort Jay and Army Terminal Played Major Roles in Nation's History, New York Times, 20 Nov 1964. In World War II the Brooklyn Navy Yard "repaired more than 5,000 ships, converted some 250 others and built the battleships North Carolina, Iowa and Missouri and the aircraft carriers Bennington, Bon Homme Richard, Kearsage and Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the peak of the war, more than 71,000 civilian and naval workers were employed."
  14. Berner, Thomas F., The Brooklyn Navy Yard, Arcadia Publishing (1999).
  15. Pitsch, Howard, Fort Greene, Arcadia Publishing (2010).
  16. New York Navy Yard Shipworker, Brooklyn NY, Vol.III, No.10, January 29, 1944: "Workers, Few Guests to Witness Launching of USS Missouri, Iowa-Class Battleship. In the right-hand column it says "The first of her history-making class — the New-York-Navy-Yard-built USS Iowawas launched from the very same ways seventeen months ago." See this page for details.
  17. Yard Guardian: The 350-ton Hammerhead Crane, (accessed 14 June 2018): "It is interesting to note that the construction of the crane predates Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. She was built in response to a Congressional authorization to modernize the US Navy and increase fleet size by 20%. The program was begun through an appropriation of $20 million dollars of public works funds through the Naval Appropriation Act of 1938, and was continued through the end of WWII. By war's end the total expenditure on naval modernization reached $590 million."
  18. Ships Constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, John R. Stobo, Columbia University, October 2004, August 2004; February 2010.
  19. Egan, Jennifer, Manhattan Beach, Scribner (2017). A novel about the Brooklyn Navy Yard in World War II.
  1. A Better New York City (WPA, 1937), shows WPA road and warehouse construction at the Brooklyn Navy Yard starting at 1:10.
  2. Hitchcock, Alfred, Saboteur, film, 1942. Includes footage of the wartime Brooklyn Navy Yard.
  3. Kelly, Gene, On the Town, film, 1949: some footage of the postwar Brooklyn Navy Yard (see NY Post story).

Created by Photogallery 3.07 December 28, 2020