New York City New Deal Navy and Coast Guard Ships

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.
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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[10][12]. 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 1963.

These shipyards built warships under the National Industrial Recovery Act of of 1933 (NIRA)[1], 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 Brooklyn, but at least it started out as a PWA project[9].

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 battleship North Carolina BB55 (1941), the battleship Iowa BB61, and the battleship Missouri BB63 (1944)[10]. 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[13]:

  1. National 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)...”
  2. 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 [1933] 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..."
  3. Ickes, Harold, Back To Work: The Story of the PWA, The Macmillan Company (1935).
  4. 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”.
  5. Federal Works Agency, Millions for Defense: Emergency Expenditures for National Defense, 1933-1940, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (1940).
  6. Building 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.
  7. 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):

  8. 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.
  9. Lobbying for the cruiser Brooklyn, Stobo, Op.Cit.[7]
  10. Stobo, John R., Ships Constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Aug 2004 / Feb 2010.
  11. 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.
  12. Gustafson, Andrew, "The Many Names of the Brooklyn Navy Yard", (accessed 25 May 2018).
  13. WPA Writers' Project, A Maritime History of New York, Epilogue 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.

Created by Photogallery 3.07 December 28, 2020