Frank da Cruz, Bronx NY, June 2018
Most recent update:
Mon Dec 28 11:45:05 2020
Four US Navy ships that served in World War II were built at New York
City shipyards in the 1930s with New Deal Public Works Administration
funds: the USS Brooklyn, the USS Erie, the USS Mahan, and the USS Cummings.
Plus (at least) two Coast Guard cutters: the USCGC Alexander Hamilton
and the USCGC John C. Spencer.
Photos: US Navy
New York City was home to numerous ship shipbuilding facilities in the 1930s
and 40s, and two of them each built "New Deal" ships; that is, ships
entirely paid for by the Public Works Administration (PWA). One, the Brooklyn Navy
Yard, operated as a Navy facility from 1801 until 1966. At
different times in its history it has been officially designated by the Navy
as: New York Navy Yard; United States Navy Yard, New York; New York Naval
Shipyard. The yard was decommissioned in 1966 and sold to Seatrain
Shipping, which continued to build ships there until 1979.
The other was United Dry Docks in Staten Island, which was formed in
1929 in a merger with Morse
Dry Dock and Repair Company and several other companies and lasted until
These shipyards built warships under the National Industrial
Recovery Act of of 1933 (NIRA), which gave president Franklin
D. Roosevelt the authority to build ships and an agency, the Public Works
Administration (PWA)[2,3] to pay for them.
Brooklyn Navy Yard
There was some political horse-trading and funds-shuffling with the
, but at least it started out as a PWA project.
United Dry Docks
Numerous other Navy ships were built at Brooklyn Navy Yard during the New
Deal. These include the light cruiser Honolulu CL48 (1938), the light
cruiser Helena CL50 (1939), the
Carolina BB55 (1941), the battleship Iowa BB61, and the battleship
BB63 (1944). I would say that every single one of the 27 ships
built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1933-1945, could be called a New Deal ship
because BNY, unlike private shipyards, benefitted from massive amounts of
New Deal funding and/or labor essential to the construction of these ships.
Other shipyards in NYC that built warships in the 1930s and 40s include:
- Consolidated Shipbuilding Corporation, Morris Heights, Bronx.
- Henry B. Nevins Shipyards, City Island, Bronx.
- Dekon Shipbuilding Corporation, Brooklyn.
- Liberty Dry Dock, Brooklyn.
- Sullivan Dry Dock and Repair Corporation, Brooklyn.
- Robbins Dry Dock and Repair Company, Brooklyn.
- Todd Shipyards Erie Basin plant in Brooklyn.
- Wheeler Shipyard, Brooklyn.
- Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company, Mariners Harbor, Staten Island.
- Brewer Drydock Company, Mariners Harbor, Staten Island.
- Caddell Dry Dock and Ship Repair, Staten Island.
Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), Wikipedia (accessed 17 July 2017)...
“a law passed by the United States Congress in 1933 to authorize the
President to regulate industry in an attempt to raise prices after severe
deflation and stimulate economic recovery [and that established] a national
public works program known as the Public Works Administration (PWA)...”
- McBride, William, Technological Change and the United States Navy, Johns Hopkins Studies in the History
of Technology, Johns Hopkins Press (2011): "Within three weeks of his
March  inauguration, Roosevelt was encouraging naval rearmament as
part of public works since approximatley 85 percent of shipbuilding costs
went to labor ... In a complete break with precedent, naval construction
now would be at the discretion of the president and begin by executive
order. NIRA gave the president carte blanche to construct ships and procure
aircraft as allowed under the terms of the naval treaties ... thirty-two
ships [were] contracted by Roosevelt under NIRA..."
- Ickes, Harold, Back To Work: The Story of the PWA, The Macmillan Company (1935).
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Executive Order 6174 on
Public Works Administration, June 16, 1933: “During the ensuing 30
days the Federal Emergency Administrator of Public Works shall have
authority to allot [a] sum ... not to exceed $238,000,000 to the Department
of the Navy for the construction of certain vessels”.
- Federal Works Agency,
Millions for Defense: Emergency Expenditures for National Defense, 1933-1940,
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (1940).
the Navy's Bases in World War II: History of the Bureau of Yards and Docks
and the Civil Engineer Corps, 1940-1946, Part II, The Continental Bases,
Department of the Navy Bureau of Yards and Docks. The quotation above is
just a sample, it's a massive document that deserves a thorough reading.
- 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”, letter of 20 September 1933 to commandants of the Navy
yards, RG181; National Archives, Northeast Region, New York, which lists
each ship that was to be built and at which yards (CL = cruiser;
DD = destroyer; PG = gunboat; CV carrier):
- Public Works Administration, America Builds, the Record of the PWA, US Government Printing Office,
Washington DC (1939), 298 pages. This book is a kind of final summary
report of the PWA, noting opposite the title page that "Since this report
was prepared for publication, the Public Works Administration on July 1,
1939, in accordance with the President's reorganization plan, was
transferred to the Federal Works Agency, headed by John M. Carmody,
Administrator". Nevertheless, the PWA continued to operate under the FWA
until June 30, 1943. In Table 20 at the end of this book (p.290), it notes
that as of the end of February 1939 the PWA had financed 60 naval
ships and 99 Coast Guard vessels.
for the cruiser Brooklyn, Stobo, Op.Cit.
- Stobo, John R.,
Ships Constructed at
the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Aug 2004 / Feb 2010.
- Stobo, John R.,
The Use of
Non-Civil Service Workers in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, March 2010, which
describes TERA, FERA, and CWA paying for labor in 1932-34 until the WPA took
over authority for relief projects in 1935; by mid-August there were a total
of 1782 WPA workers "allowing the the Yard to make good on some of its
plans, now drawn up by WPA draftsmen". Numerous sources are cited.
- Gustafson, Andrew, "The Many
Names of the Brooklyn Navy Yard", Turnstiletours.com (accessed 25 May
- WPA Writers' Project, A Maritime History of New York,
by Barbara La Rocco. She says that besides the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
there were 39 other active New York City shipyards during the War. I found
most of the ones in the list in the NY Times archive.