The BNY in the Inter-War Era                                            Labor History

The New Deal Yard, 1933 - 1937, Part 3
Navy Yards Climb Out of the Depression: The Vinson-Trammell Act
    Production Finally Picks Up
   Finding Labor
The Walsh-Healey Act
The Capital Ship Returns to the Brooklyn Navy Yard

    A Note on Lobbying
   The Civil Service Under FDR
   Growth of the Executive Civil Service
   Navy Department Employment Figures
   Building Schedule for the USS Brooklyn
   Brookyn Navy Yard Employment Figures: 1933 - 1937
   Vinson-Trammel Ship Allocations (includes outstanding cruisers)

Over the last two years of President Roosevelt’s first term the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s workforce doubled in size from what it was at the time of his inaugeration.  This growth is neatly framed by the laying of the keel of the appropriately-named cruiser, Brooklyn, in March 1935, which occurred simultaneously with the Yard’s first recorded topping of 5000 employees since 1921, and by the ship’s launch in November 1936, which occurred shortly after the Yard’s force had expanded to over 7000 workers.

Navy Yards Climb Out of the Depression: The Vinson-Trammell Act
While the PWA had jump-started the shipbuilding industry out of the doldrums it had languished in since 1922, the future of production at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as at other navy yards and for the private shipbuilding industry, was soon assumed for the foreseeable future, when on 22 January 1934, Representative Carl Vinson, of Georgia and chair of the House Naval Affairs Committee, reported to the House his committee’s bill to bring the total number of warships in the Navy up to treaty limits, in the process replacing all the fleet's overaged ships--by now, most all of its destroyers and submarines.  With the support of Senator Park Trammell of Florida and the administration, the bill passed both Houses and  Roosevelt signed the Vinson-Trammell bill on 27 March 1934.  The law authorized the construction of  65 destroyers, 30 submarines, one aircraft carrier, and 1184 naval airplanes, to be started over the next three years and completed by 1942.  The act included the provision that alternate ships be built in navy yards, and it mandated that government arsenals provide the necessary ordnance.  The bill also approved building the six cruisers still remaining from the 1929 program: four for 1935 and two for 1936.  (The BNY received the contract for one of the new cruisers, CL48, on 1 September 1934.)  Congress used PWA funds to get the first set of ships started immediately: two heavy destroyers; twelve light destroyers; and six submarines.  By fiscal year 1938 the navy finally reached treaty limits for its destroyers and submarines, and then began replacing its obsolescent vessels with the new ships.  (The private shipbuilding business was further aided by the passage of the Merchant Marine Act in 1936.)  [“An Act to Establish the composition of the United States Navy with respect to the categories of vessels limited by the treaties signed at Washington, February 6, 1922, and at London, April 22, 1930, at the limits prescribed by those treaties; to authorize the construction of certain naval vessels; and for other purposes.” Public, No. 135, March 27, 1934. Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1934; AR, FY 1935; AR, FY 1938. NYT, 31 January 1934; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1937. The Act also authorized impounding all private industry profits from the program over ten per cent.  “Information regarding naval construction, construction program, etc.,” Memorandum, by H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, 13 June 1934, and enclosed letter to Hon. John J Delaney, 14 June 1934; RG80; NA-DC.  On the politics of naval building, see: Levine, “Politics of American Naval Rearmament,” Ph. D. diss., Harvard University, 1972”; Hone, “The Evolution of the U.S. Fleet, 1933-41: How the President Mattered,” in Marolda, ed., FDR and the US Navy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); West, “Laying the Legislative Foundation: The House Naval Affairs Committee and the Construction of the Treaty Navy, 1926-1934” (Ph.D. diss., Ohio State University, 1980); Enders, “The Vinson Navy” (Ph.D. diss., Michigan State University,   1990). For a summary of naval building and its relationship to the private economy, see Saville, “The Naval Military-Industrial Complex, 1918-41,” in Cooling, ed., War, Business, and American Society: Historical Perspectives on the Military-Industrial Complex (Kennikat Press: Port Washington, NY, 1977).]

Production Finally Picks Up
Meanwhile, with only two destroyers underway and not expecting a new round of fleet maintenance to begin until the fall of 1934, the BNY needed to find repair work to tide it over for the summer.  The Eagle reported that going into the summer some 214 mechanics were on indefinite layoff, and this in a city where one in 5.3 families received home or work relief at some governmental level.  Later that summer the paper covered one story as to how New York City's political muscle could be flexed to obtain the Yard work.  "In a story worthy of being embodied in song and story” the Navy Department, having been suitably impressed by local interests of the desperateness of New York City’s unemployment situation, ordered a large, aging tanker, the Brazos, originally intended for the navy yard at Mare Island, California, into the Brooklyn yard for a major overhaul.  What effect losing the tanker had on the employment situation in the area around Vallejos, California, where Mare Island was located, the Eagle did not mention. [On the jobs situation in the BNY, see BDE, 21 January 1934; 22 January 1934; 27 March 1934; 31 May 1934; editorial, 1 June 1934; 22 August 1934. The Brazos story is in the Eagle for 12 August 1934.  See the Yard’s “Weekly/Monthly News Letter,” in this period for week-to-week ship-repair assignments. RG80; NA-DC. I did not come across any archival records to verify the Brazos story. The relief situation is covered in BDE articles from 5 November 1934; 6 November 1934; 10 November 1934; 9 December 1934.  The newspaper said relief was the city’s second largest industry next to tax collecting.  The average family on home relief got $38 per month, a little over one week’s wages for a Yard mechanic.]

By early 1935 work settled down to a new and busier routine in the BNY.  The Yard had put down the keel for the Erie in Drydock One the previous December, a new departure for it from building ships on the slanted building ways.  In January, the Yard commissioned the Hull and launched its sister-ship, the Dale.  Work on submarines, reserve vessels, and an ocean liner helped keep the repair shops and crews busy well into the spring.  By February 1935, 809 more people worked in the Yard than had eighteen months previously, an increase of one-fifth, and the number on furlough had shrunk from about 600 the year before to 156.  The Commandant even predicted an imminent shortage of mechanics and also felt he could take credit for the jobs his CDO was creating in the other navy yards as well as in the economy at large.  Recently, for instance, the Office's staff had ordered almost ten million pounds of steel for one cruiser and eight destroyers. [The Erie, and later, the two cutters, laid down in Drydock Two were the first ships at the BNY to be built in drydock, a process which during World War II became the norm.  Boston and Puget Sound navy yards were also now building in drydock.  Doing so allowed the mechanics to use regular tools whereas on the building ways they needed special rigged tools to mark out the horizontal and vertical. Black, Charlestown Navy Yard; Reh, and Ross, NIPSIC to NIMITZ: A Centennial History of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, WA: Federally Employed Women, Inc., 1991).  See the "Weekly Newsletter" for BNY production in this period of time. Also, Letter, Chief of Naval Operations, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 25 March 1935; 23 April 1935; 26 June 1935; Letter, Swanson, to Stirling, Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 22 September 1934. All in RG181; NA-NY.  For Stirling's report, Letter, Commandant, to Chiefs of Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Engineering, 4 March 1935; RG181; NA-NY.]

A turning point was reached in March, when after months of pre-fabricating hull components, the Yard laid the keel for the Brooklyn, and the Yard’s workforce exceeded 5000 for the first time in fifteen years.  On 12 March some 1000 people braved a rainy day to witness the rite in which borough political, business, and civic leaders helped drive in the ceremonial “first” rivets.  And the ships now just kept on coming.  On 1 September 1935, the keel went down for CL48, now named Honolulu, on the building ways next to the one upon which the Brooklyn was rising.  This was followed the next day by the keel-layings of the two Coast Guard cutters side-by-side in Drydock Two.  The demand for labor in all the navy yards was such that in October 1935, the civil service commission authorized raising the age limit for hiring new shipfitters and loftsmen by ten years, to 55.  For all intents and purposes the positions became open permanently. [Coverage of the Brooklyn’s launch is in BDE, 12 March 1935. Memo, Dry Dock Officer, to Production Officer, 3 July 1935; Letter, ASN(SED), to Commandant(s of the navy yards), 5 November 1935; Both in RG181; NA-NY. Also see the BDE coverage: 16 June 1935; 7 July 1935; 12 September 1935; 16  June 1935; 7 July 1935; 12 September 1935.]

In mid-May 1935, the Commandant reported that the 2983 people engaged on new construction constituted a gain of over 1800 from the 1175 assigned to new work on 1 July 1933.  Looking at the employment numbers it is clear that repair and overhaul work contributed to pulling the Yard through the early New Deal years.  With so much new work in the summer of 1935 the Yard having little to no repair work berthed at its piers or sitting in its drydocks actually maintained the size of its overall workforce through the summer. [Comparing the employment reports closest to May 1935 and July 1933 and subtracting from these figures both the forces assigned to the new work and the IVb workforce, we get 1421 and 2228 workers left respectively, available for manufacturing in the shops and for repair work. Letter, from the Commandant, to the ASN(SED), 21 May 1935; “Report on Yard's Work,” 1 July 1933; Both in RG181; NA-NY; BDE, 5 May 1935; The “Weekly News Letter,” United States Navy Yard, New York, 7 May - 16 September 1935 shows no repair work for the summer months.]

The vagaries of the production schedule still hampered the trades’ stability, though.  For instance, in late June 1935 the electrical shop had almost no work except for fabricating switchboards for the two gunboats.  The Dale had recently been passed on to the Navy, none of the other vessels were advanced enough for any installation work, and no ships needed electrical repairs.  As a result, the shop laid off about three-quarters of its personnel.  There was work for only about two-thirds of the remaining electricians but yard management considered them too skilled to risk losing them while they were on layoff and instead placed one-third of them on a weekly rotating leave.  Only the shop master and three to four essential others were kept on full-time.  Congressman John Delaney, asked to intervene, suggested that more electricians be kept more on through expanding the layoff rotation pool.  The Yard denied his appeal as impractical, arguing that it had to maintain a crucial pool of experienced workers. [Memorandum, Production Officer (T.B. Richey), to Manager, 27 June 1935; Letter, Dunn, to Captain Wyman, Secretary's Office, SED, 1 July 1935. Letter, Commandant, to Hon. John J. Delaney, 28 June 1935. Both in RG181; NA-NY.]

The Brooklyn Navy Yard topped 6000 workers before the end of 1935 year and exceeded 7000 three quarters later.  The Yard “launched” the Erie in January 1936, opening the gates in the drydock’s caisson and allowing water to enter and float the ship.  Shortly thereafter it received the contract for another cruiser, CL50, the Helena, in the second-year’s awards from the Vinson-Trammel building program, and Loftsmen began laying out its lines in March.  By the summer of 1936 the gunboat was commissioned, and the cutters and the Honolulu half-complete.  In addition, Yard workers performed a major overhaul on the Indianapolis, and one on the New Orleans when it returned home for three months that fall.  Plus, in late summer three destroyers built in private yards came into the Yard for their fitting out in advance of commissioning.  And the shore station itself was being overhauled as a major public works project of the WPA.  At one point, some 3970 men worked just on these projects.  On 30 November 1936, Mayor LaGuardia sat with an audience of 12,000 to watch the launch of the Brooklyn.  In a ceremony presided over by the Chief of Naval Operations, the 600-foot light cruiser, with a complement of fifteen six-inch and eight five-inch antiaircraft guns, slipped into the East River.  Later that night, as per custom, the Yard mechanics hosted a party, that among it 1500 guests included local labor leaders and politicians.  A week later the Helena’s keel was laid on the spot just vacated.   Now with all the work, waiting for a ship to proceed from authorization to pre-assembly no longer presented an employment problem for the BNY, the year’s gap for the Honolulu and the ten month gap for the Helena passing with no decrease in force numbers.  All in all, it seemed a rosy picture as 1937 dawned. [NYT, 6 July 1936; 23 August 1936; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1936; Letter, Chief of Naval Operations, to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 27 July 1936; 26 August 1936; RG181; NA-NY; Pamphlet, “Actual and Predicted Shipbuilding Employment at the site for the Navy Yards and the Private Yards together with other employment at the Navy Yards in Manhours per day,” Navy Department, Shore Establishments division, 15 February 1937; RG181; NA-NY.  All navy yards, including those previously assigned to repair work were building vessels by the end of the 1937 fiscal year. NYT, 1 December 1936; also, BDE, 30 November 1936.]

Finding Labor
By as early as mid-1935 the problem now confronting the Yard was more likely to be a shortage of labor.  Reviewing reports, H. Roosevelt noticed that the shore establishments had too many temporary workers on the rolls, that is, people with the minimal job qualification brought on to work until civil service registers could be established.  He assumed this was due to sluggishness on the part of local Labor Boards and ordered them to immediately work with their local civil service districts to speed up the procedure.

Setting up navy yard registers often proved to be a lengthy process.  As the Production Officer informed the Master Mechanics at this time, it took about six months to establish a formal register after a job notice was first published.  Presently, the Board was setting up a dozen registers, four of which were expected to take yet another three months to compile.
However, there may well have been another possible reason for the delay in the BNY’s case: its willingness to take advantage of the Depression labor market by accumulating huge pools of applicants before drawing up a register.  In one week in mid-February 1935 when 15,000 men showed up to apply for helper positions, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that the Manager thought this a favorable situation in that it allowed him to draw from the largest “reserve force” possible. [Circular letter, ASN, to AN&MCAC, 9 April 1935; RG181; NA-NY; BDE, 24 February 1935; “Notice to All Master Mechanics,” Production Officer, 1 May 1935; Letter, ASN (SED), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 26 July 1935; Both in RG181; NA-NY. It seems that the Department as a whole was guilty of this practice.  For instance, the number of civilians hired by the Department in fiscal year 1937 was 7248, but the aggregate increase in the force for the year was only 626, indicating a huge turnover of new hireds.  See.]

Yard management's initial response to the Department's order was to ask that an exemption be made for it.  Nearly a year earlier, the Yard realized that by April 1935 it would need to hire new people for its machinists’ shops.  It had not taken applications for these positions since 31 December 1930, and in anticipation of a rush had told the Labor Board to post the notice in the summer of 1934.  During the ten-day open period 700 people applied and as expected, it took the Board eight months to establish a register.  Meanwhile, the shops examined 413 men and brought 128 on as temporaries and by May 1935 they now averaged 4.5 months in seniority.  Civil service regulations now required the Yard to let these men, trained at Government expense, go within the next thirty days.  The Commandant complained to the Department that the time and expense of their training would be lost and production hampered.  Could he tweak the rules?  Of the 128 on the job the names of about 100 lay in the upper 500 of the new register.  Could he not receive permission to maintain these men as probationals, as if they had indeed been called off the list? [Letter, Commandant, to ASN (SED), 6 May 1935; RG181; NA-NY.]

The Department acknowledged that the Civil Service had approved such an option in World War I, but even then it was acknowledged as being extralegal, and it was formally cancelled in 1930.  Swanson therefore denied the request, but allowed the Yard to grant some of the machinists who had a special expertise an extra thirty days' extension.  In the meantime, the Civil Service told the Yard to start hiring machinists off the new register.  A few months later, though, the Civil Service allowed the Yard to create a "preliminary register" after the job posting had been open for ten days and bring in temporaries off of that list.  It was hoped that would maintain regulatory discipline and also force a more expeditious grading of the applicants. [Letter, Secretary of the Navy, toCommandant, Navy Yard, New York, 14 May 1935; Memo, Sr. Member, Labor Board, to Manager, All members of the Labor Board, 22 May 1935; Memo, Production Officer, to Recorder, Labor Board, 6 November 1935. All in RG181; NA-NY.]

At approximately the same time the Civil Service proved amenable to revising another of its regulations when it pointed out that it interfered with Yard production: in this case, the reinstatement rule.  This regulation gave a laid-off worker one year's eligibility to be rehired before being stricken from the reinstatement registers (where they were listed in order of last efficiency rating) and having to reapply for a navy yard job from scratch.  Certain specialized Yard positions, such as patternmakers in this specific instance, were augmented as necessary by bringing in people off the top of the reinstatement list and then releasing them when the work was completed.  If a trades worker lost eligibility because nothing opened up in a year and then after that the Yard needed workers in that trade, it would have to draw from further down on the reinstatement list for a worker with a lower efficiency rating. Management argued that this was an inefficient use of talent and asked the Navy Department to intercede with the Commission.  In October the Department responded that the civil service had modified the rule universally and that eligibility would hence extend to the next re-opening of the list in each trade. [Letter,Commandant, to the Secretary of the Navy, 13 May 1936; Memo, Commandant, to HDDOECP, 26 October 1936. Both in RG181; NA-NY. This situtation of a worker with a seemingly lower efficiency rating being laid later than one with a higher rating and therefore keeping his status on the reinstatement list longer is due to the peculiarities of the rating system.  Layoffs came in reverse order of a worker's rating, but after a layoff all remaining workers were regraded on a sliding scale and the last person on the rating list would now be given the lowest grade in the shop.  If there was another layoff that person would likely have a lower rating now than the last person laid off the first time and be placed lower on the reinstatement list.  It must be remembered that the efficiency ratings were relative ratings and not necessarily a true marker of workers' abilities.  They caused government workers no end of grief. See.]

The Walsh-Healey Act
In 1935 the Supreme court declared Title I of the NIRA, and with it its subsequent codes, unconstitutional.  No longer able to regulate the private business sector as a whole, the government retreated to enacting laws to regulate conditions under which it would award its own contracted work.  In August 1935 Congress reinstated the Davis-Bacon Act, this time with a minimal ceiling of $2000 for its provisions to come into effect.  The following year Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins successfully pushed for a bill that she and her staff wrote, and on 30 June 1936 Roosevelt signed the Walsh-Healey Public Contracts Act into law, named after the Massachusetts Representative and Senator who sponsored it.  On government contracts worth $10,000 or more the law fixed wages to prevailing standards, mandated overtime pay for working over eight hours in one day or over forty in a week, forbade child and convict labor, required all work to be performed in sanitary and safe working environments, and capped profits.  The Navy had a powerful role to play in this new policy as it was the largest single purchaser among government departments.  For example, it bought 36 per cent of the government’s total purchases of steel.  At first the Department thought that businesses would be unwilling to supply goods under the new law, and initially Swanson was proven right, as the major steel companies initially refused to bid on government orders for steel.  But by March 1937 they gave up the fight and began bidding on the first installment of a $25 million order, under Walsh-Healey rules. [They may have been helped to change their minds by the Secretaries of the Navy and Army announcing they were considering reopening the large government-owned steel plate factory in Charleston, West Virginia.  It had been started during World War I by the previous Democratic administration, angry at Big Steel’s collusive bidding processes, but had not been completed by the time Harding assumed office and he shut it down. Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1937; NYT, 25 February 1937; 23 March 1937; BDE, 2 April 1937; Bernstein, A Caring Society: The New Deal, the Worker, and the Great Depression (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1985); Vittoz, New Deal Labor Policy and the American Industrial Economy (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1987). The revised Davis-Bacon Act is Public No. 403, August 30 1935, and Walsh-Healey is Public No. 846, June 30, 1936.]

The Capital Ship Returns to the Brooklyn Navy Yard
With the end of 1936 came news that soon changed the pattern of construction in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, once again returning it to its old role of creator of the greatest of warships.  In the winter of 1936, negotiators in London failed to agree on a disarmament treaty that the Japanese government would sign, thus opening the way for the Western nations to commence construction of battleships, although for the time being at the old treaty limit of 35,000 tons.  Upon hearing that Great Britain was to start building, the New York Times reported that Roosevelt in turn would use the authorization recently granted him by Congress to order two new capital ships, at an expected cost of $50 million each.  The exact configuration and design of the ships, especially as to whether the Navy would upgrade their main guns from fourteen to sixteen inches, was yet unclear.  Talk of introducing new versions of these vessels to the fleet also intensified the ongoing debate as to the viability of the dreadnought in the age of the airplane.  A considerable proportion of the navy, Congress, and supposedly FDR himself, according to one reporter, believed the vessels invulnerable to air attack and thought that new battleships should have a prominent place in the new American armada.  The formal notice from Roosevelt to initiate construction came in the first week of 1937.  Claiming that other countries had begun work on eleven capital ships, the president carefully announced that the American move was only a “partial” beginning in that as the two new vessels would replace three overage battleships, each averaging over twenty-six years--long obsolescent technologically, its actions should not be seen as initiating an arms race. [NYT, 1 December 1936; 9 January 1937. For a critical analysis of the revival of what many at the time thought an obsolete warship, see the somewhat melodramatically titled chapter “Vampires of Seapower,” in O’Connell, Sacred Vessels: The Cult of the Battleship and the Rise of the U.S. Navy (Westview Press: Boulder, 1991).  O’Connell is listed as a Senior Analyst at the U.S. Army Intelligence Agency and wrote this book just after the Missouri had once again seen service in the first Gulf War.]

Lobbying for a Brooklyn battleship became frenzied when the Navy Department announced a few weeks later that just one of the vessels would go to a navy yard.  The Eagle had already started the ball rolling a few days after the Brooklyn's launch, when it editorialized that although the ceremony was a great day for the borough, it was only a matter of time before the ship’s completion would again threaten the prospect of mass layoffs.  The editors agreed with the Yard’s Commandant that when “better battleships are built the Brooklyn yard will build them.”  Local politicians too joined the fray.  The more employees the Yard hired, the more imperative it became for the BNY to secure large contracts to keep them on the rolls, and so eventually most all of New York City’s political leadership became involved in lobbying for a battleship.  Representative William Barry, of Queens, let it be known that he had received “indirect assurance” from the president that Brooklyn would get one of the ships, although a rumor was also floating that the lucky yard would be Philadelphia's.  Speculation was heightened in April when Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison visited Brooklyn and declared that a “first-class” warship could indeed be built there.  The Alderman for the navy yard district, Joseph T. Sharkey, took the opportunity to present Edison with 100 resolutions passed by political and civic groups urging one of the giants for the borough.  A few days later, as bids were formally solicited for the second battleship, a delegation of Brooklyn officials, labor leaders, and citizens further pleaded with Edison not to increase local unemployment by failing to award the first ship to Brooklyn.  On 17 June 1937, the bids of the three companies competing for the second ship, Bethlehem, New York Shipbuilding, and Newport News, were opened and found to be excessive as compared to the estimates that the New York and Philadelphia navy yards had submitted.  As a result, on 24 June 1937, the two navy yards were each awarded one battleship, each representing four years of work for its yard, much to the delight of most New Yorkers, and especially to the work force at the Brooklyn yard.  The Yard's workers assumed that the new work would also help cure the insistent layoff problems and put the 500 people then on layoff or furlough back on their jobs shortly.  Brooklyn received BB55, soon to be named the North Carolina; it would be the first battleship completed in the Yard since the Tennessee in 1920.  The Philadelphia Navy Yard received the other, BB56, the Washington. [NYT, 15 January 1937; BDE, 7 December 1936;  NYT, 15 December 1936; 13 January 1937; 17 February 1937; 20 February 1937; 3 April 1937; 16 April 1937; BDE, 13 December 1936; 27 December 1936; 11 January 1937; 17 January 1937; 16 February 1937; 19 February 1937; 22 February 1937; 24 February 1937; 25 February 1937; 28 February 1937; 1 April 1937; 2 April 1937; editorial, 5 April 1937; 15 April 1937; 16 April 1937; 30 May 1937; 5 June 1937; 16 June 1937; 22 June 1937; Secretary of the Navy, AR, FY 1937. That Brooklyn would get a battleship was actually leaked by Representative  Delaney on 21 June. BDE, 21 June 1937; 22 June 1937. On the design of the North Carolina, see Sumrall, Iowa Class Battleships: Their Design, Weapons & Equipment (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1988).]

Following this cautious move into post-treaty construction, the Navy Department decided in July that except for the turrets, which would be designed by the Philadelphia Navy Yard, that the BNY would handle all plans and material orders for the two new battleships.  Consequently, in August 1937 the Department ordered the Yard to abolish its Central Drafting Office and merge its Hull and Machinery sections administratively and physically into the Planning Division of the Industrial Department, becoming a constituent part of the Yard proper.  And in order to relieve the shortage of drafters at New York and Philadelphia, as well as at all the navy yards, the age limit for hiring in this profession was raised to 60. [“Yard Organization and Administration - Order Abolishing Central Drafting Office,” “Commandant's Order No. 13-37”, to All Concerned, 2 August 1937; RG181; NA-NY; NYT, 27 November 1937. Letter, ASN (Charles Edison), to Commandant, Navy Yard, New York, 13 July 1937; Letter, Bureau of Construction and Repair, to ASN, 14 July 1937; Letter, Commandant, to the ASN, 2 August 1937; All in RG19; NA-DC.]

The CDO had been of great service in the last eight years.  Established by the Bureaus of Engineering and Construction & Repair on 23 July 1929 as a separate unit within the New York Navy Yard, it drew up the working plans and order material for the cruisers New Orleans, Astoria, and Minneapolis, constructed respectively at the Brooklyn, Puget Sound, and Philadelphia navy yards.  The office then moved on to draw up plans for the Hull and Dale and two other navy yard destroyers built in the early 1930s, two more cruisers, the San Francisco and Brooklyn, and the two gunboats, Erie and Charleston.  After this, it was assigned all the navy-yard built surface ships under the Vinson-Trammell Act, modifying plans it received from private yards for use on the Philadelphia, Honolulu, and the Helena, as well as the thirty-three destroyers. [James H. West, "A Short History of the New York Navy Yard," ms., New York Navy Yard, February 23, 1941.]

The difference in attitudes between the Hoover and the first Roosevelt administrations as to the navy and its shore establishments was stark.  Hoover, continuing the path of his Rpublican predecessors and his Congressional allies, sponsored a policy of pacifism and parsimony, for peace and economy, and by 1933 in qualitative and quantitative terms the American navy had fallen behind that of the other major powers.  Roosevelt, in his turn, promoted a policy of naval growth in response to international tensions, and used naval building as a means of economic stimulation.

By the beginning of FDR's second term America, and especially New York City, was still beset by the ills of the Depression; not as deeply as in the winter of 1933 perhaps, but recovery remained sluggish and unemployment had only diminished to 14.3% by 1937.  It would increase once more the following year, to 19% before making its inevitable disappearance in response to war production. [Hosen, The Great Depression.]  In terms of personnel policy the government and the Navy Department had circled from being a model employer at the onset of the Depression, to one which in the two-year period spanning the end of Hoover's and the beginning of Roosevelt's terms attempted to implement wage and benefit policies more like those prevailing elsewhere in the country, and then back again to being the model of a model employer, reflecting a sensitivity to public opinion that most private businesses of the era could afford to ignore.

For these gains the navy yard workers had mostly their allies in Congress, their union representatives, as well as their own actions to thank as it was mostly from them that the initiatives to restore wages and benefits came.  There were certainly less positive variations on the theme at the Departmental level, where when production push came to production shove the Navy generally got what it wanted despite whatever civil service regulations and laws might ostensibly stood in the way, and internal shop struggles, especially over recognition and efficiency ratings kept workers on edge.  But compared to most of New York City it was a bountiful time for the BNY, with plenty of work and without the near-authoritarian production and administrative pressures of wartime.  Little might Yard employees have perceived at that time that they and their good, government jobs were part of a historical chain of events that would bring the world once again to war.


A Note on Lobbying
A final but important note: As has been seen by now many outside interests, continually intervened on behalf of the BNY and its workers, forming a potent lobbying force.  Local businesses, chambers of commerce, civic associations, political clubs, and newspapers all pleaded for and passed resolutions on behalf of the Yard.  Newspapers editorialized, individuals and organizations wrote to the navy yard, to the Navy Department, to Congress, and even directly to the President.  Federal employees complained through their unions over matters such as the vacillating schedule of hours and wages in the first year of Roosevelt’s first administration, over the application of efficiency ratings, and over the issue of union recognition itself.  But by far, their grievances concerned preserving old, and acquiring new, jobs through having ships, or components thereof, assigned to the navy yard for construction or repair.  Not only did Representatives and Senators take an active involvement well beyond that called for by their legislative responsibilities, but together these two bodies formed, as noted forty years ago in Hugh Aitken’s study of the Watertown arsenal, an unofficial representative body when it came to making worker’s wishes known to the Navy and War Departments and the President’s office.  It is difficult to quantify what exact effect such lobbying had but the political pressure on the navy yards to provide jobs was tremendous, and such professional arm-twisting did bring about results.

These alternative means of negotiation were well-known to all.  In early January 1935, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in an article reviewing such matters, told of the influence that individual unions, the Brooklyn Metal Trades Council, and the AFL, all had in Washington.  The columnist, giving no real proof, gave civilian workers credit for such matters as helping to create the Yard’s CDO in 1929 by pressuring the Department to appropriate the work from a civilian concern, guaranteeing that the Pensacola would be built in the New York Yard by coordinating a letter-writing campaign with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and during the last war, assisting in bring about the construction of a second building ways in the Yard, which allowed for increased economy (and jobs) at the BNY by allowing it to build two sister ships simultaneously. [BDE, 19 January 1935.]

[Note on first paragraph. The letters in the files are voluminous.  A sampling: On the issue of the work week, see: Letter, Frey, Secretary-Treasurer, Metal Trades Dept., AFL, to Colonel McIntyre, Secretary to President Roosevelt, 5 June 1933, and  Letter, from Frey, to Hon. Henry L. Roosevelt, ASN, 6 June 1933.  For a labor complaint on lack of repair work, see: Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, to Frank Hamilton, Recording Secretary, National Lodge 556, IAM, 10 April 1933. On getting the construction of boilers for the gunboat to the Yard, see: Letter, Markgraf, Secretary Lodge #23, Brooklyn, Boilermakers [Union], 8 July 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Congressman Stephen A Rudd, 13 October 1933; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Balleisen, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, 20 October 1933.  On the losing fight to maintain submarine diesel engine construction at the Yard: Letter, Rep. Celler, to Swanson, 10 August 1933; Letter, from H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, to John Hall, President, Evergreen Civic Association Inc., Queens, 6 September 1933. On concern about the assignment of adequate work and its efficient use in the face of Depression conditions, see: Letter, Swanson, to Farley, Democratic National Committee (and a Postmaster General), 15 August 1933; Letter, Standley, Acting SN, to Congressman Taylor, SC, 29 August 1933; Letter, Standley, Acting SN, to Congressman Boylan, 29 August 1933; “Information regarding naval construction, construction program, etc.” [in regards to a visit from Rep. John Delaney of Brooklyn], Memorandum, ASN; 13 June 1934. All in: “Work Load - Assignment of Work, vol.1”; E130/W;  “Ships - Construction Program of Work, Etc.”; RG80; NA-DC. Letter, Marcellus H. Evans, Representative, 5th District, NY, to Stirling, 29 April 1935; RG181; NA-NY; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, to McEwan, Recording Secretary, Maspeth Civic and Improvement Association, 14 October 1935; WL.  On the push to get a new cruiser begun as soon as possible, see: Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, ASN, to Murtha, Secretary, Theatrical Stage Employees, Local #4, Brooklyn, 13 September 1933; WL; Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Fernand P. DeGroof, Recording Secretary, Whitestone Boosters Civic Association, Whitestone, 3 October 1933; WL.  On concerns about layoffs/furloughs in general, see:   Letter, H.L. Roosevelt, to Farley, 30 October 1933; WL; about electricians, see Letter, Congressman Delaney, Committee on Naval Affairs, to Rear Admiral Stirling, 25 June 1935; RG181; NA-NY; Letter, Standley, Acting SN, to Senator Royal S, Copeland, copy to Manager, Navy Yard, New York, 2 July 1935; RG181; NA-NY; about crane operators, see Letter, from John Delaney, H.R., Committee on Naval Affairs, to Rear Admiral Stirling, 10 October 1935; RG181; NA-NY.  Hugh G.J. Aitken, Taylorism at Watertown Arsenal: Scientific Management in Action, 1908-1915 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960).]
The Civil Service Under FDR
As can be seen below, the Navy’s civilian workforce, as well as that of the civil service as a whole increased by almost fifty per cent over the course of Roosevelt’s first term, and this is not counting all the new, unclassified positions created to staff the Depression agencies.  So great was the increase in this latter group that whereas about eighty per cent of federal employees held classified positions at the start of the new administration, this percentage had declined to 60.5 by 1936.  After this point, various laws and executive orders began bringing the “emergency” agencies’ employees into the civil service fold.  Under Roosevelt, government service became alluring for many people, with its promises of decent pay and benefits, and job protection.  Whereas government agencies in 1929 had hired twenty per cent of their applicants for “original” appointments, by the end of fiscal year 1937 that percentage had dropped to 5.6 even as the number of appointments quadrupled.  Getting a government job was certainly seen as one way of finding stability during the Depression. [United States Civil Service Commission, Annual Report, Fiscal Year 1933; U.S.C.S.C., History of the Federal Civil Service, 1789 to the Present (Washington: GPO, 1941).]

Growth of the Executive Civil Service:
FY28  568,715
FY29  587,664
FY30  608,915
FY31  616,837
FY32  578,231 (35,710 loss due to removal of a class of postal employees)
FY33  565,432
FY34  661,094
FY35  719,440
FY36  824,259
FY37  841,664
FY38  851,926
FY39  920,310
FY40  1,002,820

Source: United States Civil Service Commission, Annual Reports.

Navy Department Employment Figures:
Fiscal Year Dept. (D.C.) Field (+ USMC) Total
1916   787   35,265   36,052
1929 1960   48,615   50,575
1930 2004   45,692   47,696
1931 2017   45,956   47,973
1932 2007   45,571   47,578
1933 1842   46,741   48,583
1934 2043   55,172   57,215
1935 2189   57,331   59,520
1936 2251   67,730   69,981
1937 2276   68,331   70,607
1938  2409   67,029   69,438
1939  3192   82,943   86,135
1940  3804 115,528 119,332
1941  8628 218,382 227,010
Source: Secretary of the Navy, Annual Reports.

Building Schedule for the USS Brooklyn
3 August 1933:  Assigned to New York Navy Yard as CL44
1 November 1933:  Re-assigned as CL40
11 November 1933:  Mold Loft starts laying out lines
1 May 1934:  C&R - 1.5% done
7 August 1934:  C&R - 5.3%
2 October 1934:  C&R - 5.8%
6 November 1934:  C&R - 6.9%; Eng - 1.0%
3 January 1935:  C&R - 10.6%; Eng - 4.0%
5 February 1935:  C&R - 17.6%; Eng - 5.1%
12 March 1935:  Keel Laid, Building Ways 2
16 April 1935:  C&R - 22.7%; Eng - 6.5%
6 August 1935:  C&R - 31.3%; Eng - 13.4%
12 January 1936:  C&R - 46.7%; Eng - 27.6%
12 June 1936:  C&R - 62.6%; Eng - 53.9%
30 November 1936:  Launched; C&R - 72.6%; Eng - 66.3%
17 February 1937:  C&R - 77.6%; Eng 77.4%
18 June 1937:  C&R - 86.4%; Eng - 87.8%
30 September 1937:  Commissioned
C&R = Construction and Repair; Eng = Engineering

Sources: first date: Joint Letter, Bureau of Construction and Repair, and Bureau of Engineering, to Commandants, all Navy Yards, et al., 10 August 1933; RG181: NA-NY. Second is from Secretary of Navy, AR, FY 1934. Other dates from United States Navy Yard, NY, NY, “Weekly/Monthly Newsletter,” RG80; NA-DC.  Final date from Yard’s ship-building list in West, "A Short History of the New York Navy Yard," ms., New York Navy Yard, February 23, 1941.

For photographs.

Brookyn Navy Yard Employment Figures: 1933 - 1937
Grade III Total
3/31/33: 1740 3538
6/30/33: 2096 4111
9/30/33: 1991 3870
12/31/33: 2081 4041
3/31/34: 1931 3900
6/30/34: 2033 4137
9/30/34: 2129 4284
12/31/34: 2305 4579
3/31/35: 2545 5079
6/30/35: 2704 5374
9/30/35: 3018 5878
12/31/35: 3317 6414
3/31/36: 3297  6480
6/30/36: 3512 6883
9/30/36:  3835 7231
12/31/36: 4038 7567
3/31/37: 3999 7487
6/30/37: 4137 7629
Source:  “Quarterly Report of Civil Force-Recapitulation.” RG181; NA-NY.

Vinson-Trammel Ship Allocations (includes outstanding cruisers)
Navy Yards
Brooklyn:   2 cruisers
Philadelphia:   1 cruiser; 2 destroyers
Norfolk:   7 destroyers
Boston: 12 destroyers
Mare Island:   1 destroyer; 4 submarines
Puget Sound:   5 destroyers
Charleston:   6 destroyers
Portsmouth: 11 submarines

Private Shipyards
NY Shipbuilding, Camden, NJ:   1 cruiser
Newport News, VA:   2 cruisers; 2 destroyers
Bethelem, Quincy, MA:   4 destroyers
Federal Shipbuilding, Kearny, NJ: 11 destroyers
United Drydocks, Staten Island:   2 destroyers
Bath Iron Works, ME: 11 destroyers
Bethlehem, San Francisco:   2 destroyers
Electric Boat, Groton, CT: 15 submarines

Source: Secretary of the Navy, Annual Reports.

John R Stobo        ©        October 2004