Edward N. Hurley



CERTAINLY some one, fifty years hence, will be better able to write a history of the tremendous effort required to create the American Emergency Fleet and with far more confidence, authority and plausibility than is possible at the present time even for those of us who know the facts at first hand. The best that I can do here is to show how we built up the greatest single industrial organization that the world ever has seen and in the shortest space of time, and how we adapted ourselves to the shifting fortunes of war.

Our ship-building experience was scant; our shipyards were entirely inadequate. Our resources, however, were almost incalculable and incomparable. The first step was to expand the Fleet Corporation by which the ships that were to win the war would have to be built. When the United States declared war against Germany the whole purpose and policy of the Shipping Board and the Fleet Corporation suffered a radical change overnight. From a body established to restore the American Merchant Marine to its old glory, the Shipping Board was transformed into a military agency to bridge the ocean with ships and to maintain the line of communication between America and Europe. Conceived as an instrumentality of peace, the Board became an instrumentality of war. Unlike other military agencies---the Army and Navy---it began with nothing---no ships, no officers, no crews, no organizations.

When the Fleet Corporation was formed, ten days after the declaration of war, it began business in three small rented rooms with a force of six employees. In six months we had developed an organization of more than one thousand employees, had established sixteen offices in various parts of the country, had assumed supervision of the building of 1118 vessels of divers types in 116 yards, and had begun disbursing money at the rate of over one billion dollars annually. In a year we occupied in the city of Washington alone twenty-one buildings, ranging from a remodeled livery stable to the best equipped office building in. the city and including such other structures as stores, clubhouses and residences. During the war, the organization of the Fleet Corporation was twice as large as the United States Steel Corporation, and its operating expenses were equal to the combined expenses of the Pennsylvania and Santa Fe railroads.

Originally it was supposed that the main function of the Fleet Corporation would be that of developing designs and placing contracts for ships. But all the yards were either busy in completing for the Fleet Corporation the 431 hulls which we had commandeered, or were clogged with orders for the Navy. The shipyard owners, found that they could not control the supply of either material or labor. Hence the Fleet Corporation had to step in and manage the yards.

Entirely new yards had to be built, at an expense so huge that it could not be defrayed by private companies. In the end the Fleet Corporation had to build the yards with government money and to act as their banker.

The total program of construction originally was as follows:

Class of Ships Number Deadweight Tons
Requisitioned Steel 431 3,056,008
Contract Steel 1,741 11,914,670
Contract Wood 1,017 3,052,200
Contract Composite 50 175,000
Contract Concrete 43 302,000
3,282 18,499,878


In undertaking to build an Emergency Fleet it was essential to decide upon the types of ships which we would require. We wanted not only ships that could carry supplies overseas economically, but ships of a kind that could be built with unprecedented rapidity. The first step of the Fleet Corporation was to survey the 431 hulls which had been requisitioned and to adapt them to our needs by changing the original designs, wherever that was possible. In making these changes and in deciding upon. the types of ships that ought to be built from our own designs we had the benefit of advice from such skillful practical ship operators as Mr. P. A. S. Franklin, Mr. Clifford Mallory, Mr. H. H. Raymond and Mr. J. H. Rosseter.

When it came to the building of entirely new ships in entirely new yards we boldly struck out on new lines. These new types readily fell into five classifications:(1) fabricated steel ships, (2) wood ships, (3) composite ships or ships built partly of wood and partly of steel, (4) concrete ships, (5) standard ships of prewar type.

The Germans were sinking vessels so fast that it became apparent we must adopt extraordinary methods. Theodore Ferris had justly earned for himself an enviable reputation as a naval architect, and to him must be given much of the credit for laying down the plans for the type of fabricated steel ship as well as for the type of wood ship that we adopted.

When Ferris joined the Fleet Corporation as naval architect it was distinctly understood that he was to be permitted to continue his private practice. A Congressional committee pounced upon this understanding and by adroit questioning tried to make it appear to be unethical. There was absolutely nothing in his conduct that was not honorable. Ferris was so hurt by the suspicion of malpractice engendered that he resigned in 1918, with the result that the Fleet Corporation lost one of its ablest technical advisers. He was continued, as a consultant. Mr. Daniel H. Cox, another distinguished designer, was directly in charge of the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering of the Fleet Corporation, and later of the Ship Construction Division. These two men, Ferris and Cox, either designed or passed upon the plans and specifications of about one thousand vessels of all types. Ferris work was so original that it became quite natural during the war to speak of "Ferris ships" whether they were of wood or fabricated steel. Besides Ferris and Cox, we had Professor Herbert C. Sadler who filled the chair of naval architecture at the University of Michigan.


Theodore Ferris would be the last man to claim credit for the idea of fabricating ships, although the Fleet Corporation owed much to him for carrying it into execution. By fabrication I mean something very different from building. For generations it had been the practice to build ships, from the keel up, in the yard. Every piece of wood or steel that went into the construction was shaped in the yard, and the shapes were extraordinarily complex. Instead of building ships we wanted to manufacture them, as automobiles, watches and locomotives are manufactured, according to one pattern. This would make it possible to roll, bend and punch shapes and frames in steel mills far inland, then to transport them to the coast, and there to rivet them together into finished hulls. Many structural steel and ridge shops were idle because their supply of steel had been cut off, and structural steel construction had greatly decreased. If ships could be built of fabricated steel these idle plants could be utilized in fashioning parts which could be sent to yards for erection into completed hulls.

The fabrication principle had been successfully carried out in building bridges and office buildings, but when it came to, applying it in. ship construction we encountered the difficulty presented by queerly curved ship members. Had it not been for the interest displayed by Mr. James A. Farrell and the officials of the American Bridge Company, we would have found it harder than we did to fabricate and assemble ships.

It seems likely that the first real step toward fabrication was taken by Mr. C. P. M. Jack and Mr. Max Willemstyn, engineering managers of the Chester Shipbuilding Company and of the Merchant Shipbuilding Company. During the winter of 1912 there was a sudden demand for oil tankers, while freight charters were low and cargo-ships plentiful. Almost anything that could be converted into an oil tanker was thereupon pressed into service. Jack conceived the idea of building and testing ashore vertical steel tanks which then were installed in ordinary cargo carriers. Two steamers were thus converted in 1912 and two more in 1914.(12) For the first time an essential part of a ship was built on shore by men who were not shipworkers. Here was the germ of the fabricated ship. It is certain that Mr. Henry R. Sutphen, Vice-president of the Submarine Boat Corporation, called to the attention of General Goethals the enormous saving in time, money and material that could be effected if cargo carriers were constructed of parts finished in bridge and tank shops and assembled in the shipyards; and certain, too, that the engineers of the Hog Island yard pointed to Jack and to Willemstyn as pioneers in this enterprise.

After several months of research and discussion the American Bridge Company decided to fabricate materials for two ships, but it would undertake to produce only the absolutely parallel portions of the midship body. About 60 per cent. of the total weight of our first two fabricated steel ships were thus manufactured. This was increased to 70 per cent. on the ships that followed. Finally bridge shops took contracts for 85 per cent. of the hull steel and even fabricated some of the difficult curved portions of the ship. A 100 per cent. fabrication job was possible but not practical because of the lack of bridge equipment. For example, there never were enough furnaces to bend frames and to bevel the angles.



Ferris produced the design of the fabricated ship which the Fleet Corporation built. Here was a design with practically rectangular midship cross-section, a deck that was flat, a bottom that was flat, a ship with sides so straight that there was scarcely any sheer, and a stern that was square. Straight lines and flat surfaces were called for wherever it was practicable to apply them. Old ship-builders, accustomed to the odd traditional shapes of which vessels were built, simply gasped. I have no doubt that Mr. Ferris' personal reputation as a great naval architect had much to do with the acceptance of the fabricated design. At all events, without his aid, yards in which fabricated ships were built hardly could have taken shapes rolled and punched in steel mills hundreds of miles away and assembled them into vessels which have not been surpassed in sea-worthiness and general utility. By saving a single rivet in the plate of a single ship similar rivets for similar plates were saved in dozens of identical ships assembled in the same yard. A plate so shaped that it was necessary to trim an angle meant a corresponding saving of labor in scores of similar plates. Thus, literally thousands of operations became unnecessary. The saving in labor and material was incalculable. That system could be applied only in yards devoted to the assembling of dozens of ships exactly alike in every respect. The principle of assembling a mechanism from interchangeable parts, a principle which had given us cheap good watches, locomotives and automobiles, was applied with brilliant success to the construction of ships.

Taken as a whole these fabricated ships were a brilliant success---a vindication of a new principle in ship construction and a monument to the ingenuity and skill of American engineers. The principle of assembling standardized parts not only simplified construction but repairs as well. When the Liberty Glo struck a mine, December 5, 1919, she probably would have been. abandoned as so much junk had she been an ordinary ship; for she had parted, and the forward section was lost. The after section was salvaged and berthed in Rotterdam. All the necessary material was sent abroad from this country to repair her, and she afterwards reëntered the service.


As I have pointed out in a previous chapter, the Shipping Board had committed itself to the building of wood ships under its first chairman and general manager. I therefore inherited the wood ship program from them. This I mention not to excuse the building of wood ships (I was in complete accord as to the wisdom of building them in view of the dire need of ships) but simply as a matter of record.

Denman has sought to emphasize the statement that the wood vessels were to constitute an auxiliary fleet of emergency character and has declared that the Board publicly announced in March and April, 1917, that its major plan was for a steel fleet, with wood ships merely supplementing it. He has said that the Board called the attention of the public to the purely war-purpose of wood ships and of the inability to compete with steel vessels in ordinary commerce. Further he has asserted that General Goethals was the first nationally known character to endorse the wood ship project; that his endorsement was the principal reason that moved the Board (and then the President) to accept it, and later led to General Goethals' appointment by the President as general manager of the Fleet Corporation.

At that time, the ship-building program definitely included only wood ships. The preliminary work of organization to build them had been done by Commissioner Brent and Mr. Eustis, whose agents selected the sites for new yards. Clothed with broad powers these agents, chiefly Mr. E. Eades Johnson and Captain A. F. Pillsbury, explored the Gulf and Pacific Coasts. So pressing was the need for ships that men who had little or no ship-building experience were encouraged to proceed with the laying out of new yards on the promise of contracts to be made out later.

The wood ship program originated in the thought that abundant lumber was available, while there was a question as to whether steel production would equal demands. While the Pacific coast yards made fair headway with wood ship construction, those on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts made only indifferent progress, for many reasons. To Mr. James O. Heyworth must be given a full measure of credit for having accomplished much in the face of baffling difficulties. He had had more than twenty years of experience in building wood barges, for which reason he was made manager of the Wood Ship Construction Department of the Fleet Corporation.

I doubt that any one who ever was connected with the Shipping Board or the Fleet Corporation believed that wood ships would successfully compete with steel vessels, but the situation was desperate. Even England built wood ships to offset losses caused by mines and submarines.

In this connection I recall the argument which Lloyd George made in the support of the policy of building wood ships. He told me of an incident which had occurred when the announcement was made that Great Britain. proposed the construction of a number of wood vessels. "A delegation of steel ship-builders waited upon. me," he said, "to protest against the proposed action of our Government or our Colonies in building wood ships. They sought to impress upon me the fact that such vessels would be utterly useless after the war and said that it would be a waste of money to build them. They urged me to cancel the contracts which had been made. I told them that I had great respect for their judgment as shipping men and appreciated their interest. I agreed with them that their statements were undoubtedly correct with respect to the lack of utility of wood ships after the war, but I said, 'Do you gentlemen think that these wood ships will be able to make one successful round trip?' They replied, 'Why, yes, without any question.' I then said, 'Gentlemen, we must build them. One trip of a number of wood ships might result in our winning the war; in order to win, we must have every kind and make of vessel possible to offset the losses of shipping caused by the German submarine.' "

He further said that no one could tell at that time how long the war would continue and that if it had lasted for another year he was certain that every one of the wood ships would have been sorely needed. Indirectly Lloyd George was as much responsible as any one in the United States for the wood ship program which we followed. He knew the situation on the battle front as well as the British and French generals. To his leadership and vigorous methods of prosecuting the war, particularly after he became Prime Minister, the whole world is deeply indebted. His statements as to conditions of the war, presented with such courage and force, inspired us to carry on. It was not a question of permanency of construction, but of keeping our lines of sea communication open. I am convinced that we were amply justified in building the wood ships, although no one wished to assume the responsibility for them because of the criticism and ridicule which they had received.


After General Goethals had left the Shipping Board, he was made Director of Purchases, Storage and Traffic Of the War Department, in which service his knowledge and ability were brought into very effective use. On Wednesdays we had Army War Council meetings at the War Department where the general situation was discussed, particularly with respect to the shipping of supplies to France. General Goethals was always clamoring for more ships; and sometimes it was not possible to provide them just at the moment his equipment was ready to go abroad. In one of these discussions about ship deliveries, when Goethals was particularly insistent, I jokingly said to him that if he did not moderate his attitude I would name one of the small wood ships that he and Denman had contracted for, "The General Goethals." This had the effect of quieting the General for the time at least.

Although the wood ships never could compete with fast steel cargo carriers in the trans-Atlantic trade, they made more than enough voyages to convince us that our policy in building them was not mistaken. They should have been regarded as a legitimate war expense, junked off and charged off, just as the Army sold millions of dollars of war supplies at any price and junked and charged off hundreds of miles of military railway track laid in France for the supply of our troops.


The "composite" ship was a wood vessel in which a certain amount of structural steel was incorporated to stiffen the hull. As a rule composite ships were designed by the builders, but the Fleet Corporation's naval architects made changes and rewrote the specifications. Like the wood ships, these vessels were conceived and planned solely as a war measure. Composite craft proved to be costly and difficult to build. It was not until August 28, 1918, that the first one was delivered. Because we became convinced that such vessels could not materially aid us in bringing the war to a speedy close, we did not embark on an extensive construction program so far as they were concerned.


No one in the Shipping Board or the Fleet Corporation ever favored the concrete ship. Senator McCumber was responsible, more than any one else, for the experiments that we made with this type. He had seen concrete buildings constructed with startling rapidity, and naturally he concluded that hundreds of ships could be produced in a short time simply by pouring cement into moulds. The best technical opinion was opposed to the concrete ship. It could not carry as much as a steel ship of equivalent size, because of its greater weight. It required one-third as much steel as a steel ship. There was also the objection that it was too rigid to withstand engine vibration.

Undoubtedly the fact which greatly encouraged the advocates of concrete construction was the building of the Faith. This concrete vessel was built by private capital in San Francisco. Its completion was heralded as the last word in ship construction. Because of the experimental character of the ship, we granted the request of her owners that she be exempt from our commandeering order. In consequence of this action she was allowed to carry cargos to any port in the world. She made several trips and because of conditions which then prevailed her owners received enormous freight rates. Earnings thus made helped materially to compensate them for their investment in this rather venturesome undertaking.

We watched the operations of the Faith very carefully. Our experts learned that, in building her, the engineers had failed to construct the centres of the upper decks sufficiently strong to make her sea-worthy when she was not loaded. It appears that when loaded with a capacity cargo, she was quite safe; but that when operated without cargo, she was likely to break in two on account of weak construction of her upper decks.

The Faith now is lying off a southern coast, a derelict entirely without salvage value, an example of war experiments.

There was far less excuse for building ships of concrete than of wood. The wood ship had behind it a success extending through centuries. The concrete ship had no such record, although a few barges had been built in Europe before the war. We declined to undertake their construction out of the funds which had been appropriated by Congress for the steel and wood ship program. Accordingly a special supplemental appropriation of fifty million dollars ($50,000,000) was voted by Congress for the purpose of building concrete ships. We decided to proceed very cautiously. The Bureau of Standards was asked to make some experiments with concrete formulas, but it was not until December, 1917, that a section of Concrete Construction was organized with Mr. R. J. Wig and Mr. L. R. Ferguson in charge.


One of the lessons we learned from the war was that the evils of wagging tongues are incalculable. The Germans proved themselves masters of the art of destructive gossip, more politely termed propaganda. Constant rumors that our ship-building program was not progressing satisfactorily had a very depressing effect upon the regiments we had sent to France, and upon the men in the cantonments at home. They seriously undermined the morale of our whole organization, and also affected public sentiment.

I sensed that our statements concerning the amount of tonnage we would build were not being taken seriously by certain Senators and Representatives, or by some officials of the Government in the Cabinet and elsewhere. I was daily explaining to the "Doubting Thomases" in detail just what our plans were; but with little success. I realized that something must be done quickly to counteract the vicious rumors in circulation and the growing sentiment that we could not build a sufficient number of ships to be materially helpful in winning the war. Accordingly, I determined to take the best means available to ascertain the facts. I wired for the Manager of Lloyds, the greatest shipping agency in the world, whose information upon ships and shipping is the last word on these subjects and is accepted as authoritative by the shipping world. I asked him to make a careful and complete survey of our potential ship-building possibilities and to tell me what, in his opinion, we might reasonably expect in the way of ship production with the equipment and resources at our command. I felt that if his report proved satisfactory it would be encouraging to the American public; and that if, on the other hand, it were unsatisfactory the Shipping Board would of necessity have to take steps to improve the situation.

Lloyds began the work of making a survey in September, two months after my appointment. They sent their best shipping men to all of our old and new yards. These men spent nearly a month in making the closest possible scrutiny of each yard's equipment, studied its management and made a most painstaking estimate of what could be accomplished. The report submitted was most gratifying. It was therefore with much pleasure that I advised the President of the conditions and what might be expected, which I did in a letter dated October 17, 1917, a copy of which is as follows:

Washington, D. C.

October 17, 1917.

Dear Mr. President:

I have some encouraging news regarding the building of ships which I know will prove interesting. I had Lloyds agency make a thorough investigation of the possibilities for the production of steel tonnage. And you will note by the attached statement they estimate that we will produce 3,712,000 deadweight tons of steel shipping during 1918. This is a conservative estimate. In addition to this we have 1,000,000 deadweight tons of wooden ships under contracts which are being built very rapidly. The entire program for six million tons is well under way. In 1916 there were about 520,000 deadweight tons of ships built in this country, and in 1917 there will be turned out about 900,000 tons. As the labor situation in our shipyards at the present time seems most favorable I am hopeful that our goal of six million deadweight tons of shipping for 1918 will be reached.

Very faithfully yours,

The President,
The White House.

Lloyds' survey proved very stimulating. Within a week after showing the report, in confidence, to the leaders in our own organization, there was a new spirit to win. Public sentiment changed in our favor when we started to believe in ourselves and our ability to do the job.

Notwithstanding the reassuring character of Lloyds' report, under conditions then prevailing it no doubt was somewhat hazardous to promise so huge a fleet. But we had to have an objective. When we entered the war, there were in the United States only thirty-seven yards (with 142 ways) building steel vessels, and twenty-four yards (with 73 ways) building wood vessels of over 3000 tons. About 75 per cent. of the steel-ship ways already had hulls for the Navy upon them. I am fearful that if I were not an optimist and had not had long experience and confidence in the American manufacturer and workman who really never know what they can do until they are put to the test, we might not have accomplished what we did.

The sums required for the expansion of existing facilities were so huge that few ship-builders could borrow them. Hence the Fleet Corporation advanced funds on contracts with permission, to apply them in plant construction. We could not advance money for the construction of new ship-building plants and the expansion of old ones without exercising strict supervision over every technical plant detail. Hence a Shipyards Plants Division was organized and to it was assigned the duty of examining and passing upon all plans for plants, dry docks, marine railways, storage yards, fire protection, installation of tools, in fact every detail imaginable. It was also the Division's duty to inventory and mark property at each plant belonging to the Fleet Corporation. The Shipyards Plants Division was established in August, 1917, with Rear-Admiral H. H. Rousseau as its Manager and Commander Reuben E. Bakenhus as Assistant Manager. These two eminent naval officers had been loaned to us by the Navy Department. Actual expenditures and net commitments for shipyard construction, housing, transportation, etc., amounted to $269,482,975. When the armistice was signed we had 341 shipyards practically completed with a total of 1284 launching ways---more than double the number of ways owned by Great Britain and the rest of the world.

Mr. R. B. Mauchan, a Scotchman who received his training as a ship-builder on the Clyde, and who was superintendent of the Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai, China, turned up in Washington to interest the Shipping Board in the possibilities of having vessels built in his yard with Chinese labor. It was decided that his yard could build satisfactory ships at a satisfactory price if we furnished the steel. Later I signed the contract in the presence of Wellington Koo, the Chinese Ambassador, and the leading officials of the Fleet Corporation. The signing of this Chinese contract meant more than adding to our fleet. It did much to cement the friendly relations between this country and China; or at least I judge so because of the decorations conferred by the Chinese Republic upon Mr. Robert Dollar, who aided in the negotiations. No finer ships were built than the four laid down in the Chinese yard. Dollar paid the highest possible tribute to their fine construction by buying them later.

I was, glad to talk to a man like Mauchan. If men had any ideas worth considering, we wanted them. Many came to the Shipping Board with apparently sincere arguments that this was their chance to show their mettle. Some had acquired extensive experience in operating ships. They were given a chance. Here was an opportunity for such men to demonstrate their love of country, or, if nothing else, their enlightened selfishness. How they rose to their opportunity, how they served their country in its blackest hour, is familiar to the public. My experience with would-be ship-builders gave me ample opportunity to note how common is an ordinary human trait, which in its cumulative effect may become a serious problem of administration. It would be superficial to dismiss the human failing that I have in mind with merely the word "selfishness." Such a designation would be neither adequate nor just. The situation was such that nearly every man who ever had seen a ship concluded that he could build one; that his services would be invaluable to the Shipping Board, and that if in building ships he made money, the profit was purely incidental. Since some one must make a profit, he felt that he might just as well be the one. Perhaps the reasoning was not wholly incorrect. Ships certainly were built by men who had not been professional ship-builders. The only points overlooked by most would-be ship-builders were either the value of personal experience in ship construction, or the necessity of engaging naval architects and engineers who had the experience.




SHORTLY after my appointment I discovered that if the Fleet Corporation were to function as efficiently as a private company, the obstacle of divided authority had to be swept away. The general manager of any large corporation is an appointive officer, to whom certain functions are assigned. He is not clothed with absolute power to do as he pleases---the condition that prevailed in the Fleet Corporation when I assumed office.

The original by-laws of the Fleet Corporation, as drawn by General Goethals and Mr. Denman, provided, with respect to the president of the corporation, merely that he should preside at all meetings of the stockholders and of the trustees; and that he should sign, together with the secretary, all contracts and papers in behalf of the corporation. In defining the duties of the general manager, the by-laws stipulated that:

"The general manager shall be ex-officio chairman of the Executive Committee. He shall have the general oversight of the business and affairs of the corporation, and shall have power to employ and discharge all clerks, employees and agents, determine their salaries and prescribe and define their duties."

These two provisions left the President of the Fleet Corporation with merely the duty of presiding at meetings and obligation of signing contracts. It gave him no power or jurisdiction over the business of the corporation, which was entirely in the hands of the general manager. Such an arrangement was obviously unworkable. It proved so, soon after the first attempt was made to conduct business under it.

In order to enable the Fleet Corporation to make any progress, it was necessary to concentrate all authority in the hands of one man and make him wholly responsible. Accordingly, on November 15, 1917, the by-laws were amended by eliminating the paragraph with reference to the duties of the president and also the one prescribing the duties of the general manager, and adding the following paragraph:

The president shall preside at all meetings of the stockholders and the trustees and he shall, together with the secretary, sign all contracts and other instruments on behalf of the corporation. He shall have the general oversight and management of the business and affairs of the corporation, and shall have the power to employ and discharge all clerks, employees and agents, determine their salaries, and prescribe and define their duties.

This action not only placed full authority and responsibility in the hands of the president, the same as in the ease of any private industrial organization, but also gave him jurisdiction over all employees from the general manager down, and over the director-general when in the development of the organization it became necessary to appoint such an official. The authority which thus was placed in the hands of the president he was empowered to delegate to subordinate officials, as the necessities of the situation might dictate. Such authority I delegated to the general manager, and later to the director-general, without at any time relinquishing either responsibility or authority.

After this drastic change in organization was made by amending the by-laws, there was no possibility of dodging responsibility. The president of the Fleet Corporation, whoever he might be, had to assume it; the general manager, the vice-president, and the director-general reported directly to and received orders from the president of the Fleet Corporation.

Admiral Capps resigned on December 3, 1917, soon after the duties of the general manager were defined and he was placed directly under the orders of the president of the Fleet Corporation. There was a hint in testimony given before a Senate Committee(13) that Admiral Capps did not approve of the change in administration which made the general manager of the Fleet Corporation directly responsible to the president of the Corporation; but I am convinced that ill-health was the reason for his retirement. His patriotism and his loyalty would have caused him to remain at his post, no matter what the conditions of his employment were, but he felt that a man in better physical condition should assume duties which often had kept him at his desk until long after midnight.

When Admiral Capps resigned, I requested Secretary Daniels to recommend a naval constructor to succeed him. Friends of Rear-Admiral Frederic R. Harris had urged his appointment and he was given the assignment. He accepted the post and immediately took charge of ship construction. I explained to him the change that had been made in the by-laws of the Fleet Corporation, which placed complete power in the hands of the president of the organization. I told him that he would be given full opportunity to carry out our ship-building program; but that inasmuch as I had been clothed with full authority, and had the responsibility, I insisted that he must keep me in close touch with the situation, and that I be advised on all important matters. In this he concurred.

Admiral Harris had been with the Fleet Corporation only about ten days when he stated to me that one of his men was in Philadelphia, looking for an office building to which the Fleet Corporation's executive offices might be removed; and that he intended to sign a lease the following day. I told him he should ascertain all the facts regarding leases and have the proposal formally approved by the Board. I said this should be done as a matter of courtesy to the Trustees, if for no other reason. The Admiral strongly resented this suggestion and said his understanding was that he had full authority to act on all such matters. I was much surprised at his attitude, in view of the frank and thorough understanding which he and I had at the outset.

That afternoon, the Admiral came to my office and asked me to sign a number of contracts for new ships. When we were alone, he started to walk the floor in front of my desk, and said: "Mr. Chairman, I am very much perturbed over your suggestion to-day that before I enter into any lease for an office building in Philadelphia I should present the matter to the Board of Trustees of the Fleet Corporation. I want to assure you that if I have to continue to get approval in advance on matters of this kind I shall go back to the Navy."

I endeavored to placate him by stating that there were certain courtesies which ought to be extended to the Trustees, who had not been advised of his desire and purpose to move the Corporation to Philadelphia. I told him that it would require only a few minutes to submit the matter, that I was personally in favor of the proposal, that doubtless the Board would approve of it, but that the members were entitled to be consulted. He was somewhat blustering in his manner, showed a feeling of irritation, and again talked about returning to the Navy. It was the old story of authority. I determined that he should be given an opportunity to carry out his threat.

As soon as he left my office, I dictated a letter to him, outlining our conversation and saying that he would no doubt be happier in the Navy; that I acquiesced in his desire to return to that service, and that I therefore accepted his resignation. I also wrote to Secretary Daniels, enclosing a copy of the letter I had sent to Admiral Harris. Upon receipt of my letter, Admiral Harris immediately came to my office. After discussing some general matters he said: "Mr. Chairman, I received your letter accepting my resignation. I had no intention of resigning. I did say, I would go back to the Navy unless I had full authority, but I did not think you would take the matter so seriously. You have misunderstood my position and I hope you will withdraw your letter." I replied: "Well, Admiral, I am sure I did not misunderstand you; for you emphasized your statement that you would return to the Navy unless you had full authority. I know you want to be of service and feel that you can render greater service in the Navy than here. I have notified Secretary Daniels that you have expressed a desire to go, back and that I have concurred in your request. It is a closed incident so far as I am concerned."

Admiral Harris subsequently made some attacks on the Board through the press, charging that I lacked a knowledge of ships. A short time afterwards, Senator Warren G. Harding, of Ohio, offered a resolution in the Senate for an investigation of the Shipping Board. The resolution was adopted and the hearing was set for December 22nd.


I had worked very hard during the preceding four or five months and was beginning to f eel that some results were being accomplished. Nevertheless, I was very much concerned about the investigation. The thought of appearing before an investigating committee of Senators who might ask me many technical questions to which I might not have been able to give satisfactory answers caused me great anxiety. Occupying an official position in Washington, one always is seriously handicapped unless he enjoys the confidence and support of the President. I shall ever remember that a day or two before the senatorial investigation President Wilson called upon me in person at my office. The real purpose of his visit was to show the country and the committee of the Senate that he really was supporting me.

He came to my office several times subsequently, and our force in the building always was in a fervor of excitement when he entered. He usually walked from the White House, accompanied by two secret service men, and entered like any other caller. He never gave any advance notice of his visit. He called at my office at least twice during my absence.

The Senate Committee hearing was an open one and there was a large crowd in attendance. I was very nervous when I began my testimony. I had not slept a wink the night before.

To make the record complete, Senator Fletcher, Chairman of the Committee, asked me my name, how long I had been on the Shipping Board and what had been my previous government positions. I stated that I had been a member of the Red Cross War Council, the War Trade Board and had been Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. All the time I had a feeling that some Senator would ask me some question that I could not answer regarding the construction of ships. That was my chief dread!

When Senator Fletcher inquired what my occupation had been before I entered the Government Service, I suddenly thought of the importance of my pneumatic tool business to the building of ships, and I said: "Senator, I originated and developed the pneumatic tool business in this country and in Europe. I personally drove the first rivet that ever was driven by a pneumatic hammer in a ship plate on the Clyde."

I could see the surprised expression of interest on the faces of the Senators sitting around the table. This encouraged me. I continued by explaining that a three-quarters inch or seven-eighths inch rivet, when heated and inserted in the hole of two plates of the size used in old style ships, could be driven by hand and the space filled quickly with the hot metal. In the case of an inch and a quarter or an inch and a half rivet now necessary in building modern ships, when driven slowly by hand it would leave the head of the rivet appearing perfect, but the holes in the plates would not be filled with the hot metal. The result would be that with this lost motion of the rivet in thousands of the plate holes, when the ship went to sea the large steel plates would be likely to shear off the rivets and drop into the water. Such an instance actually had happened in the ease of the old Oceanic. When these large rivets are driven by pneumatic hammers, the rapidity and force of the blows on the hot rivet quickly fill the holes in both plates with hot metal, thereby making the plates rigid and free from any lost motion. The riveting of a ship gives the hull its watertightness, strength and safety. I also said, that without the pneumatic hammer we could not be building the big ships, with the very large rivets that we were then using.

I told the Committee that after my experience in Great Britain I bad travelled through the shipyards of America, carrying my hammers and drills, urging shipbuilders to install compressed air so that they might be prepared to build larger ships; but that it had required several years to impress upon them the advantages afforded by pneumatic tools. I was satisfied, however, that my efforts had been worth while, because at that time my pneumatic tools were in use in every shipyard in the world. I could feel that the Senators, the newspaper men and others present were keenly interested in my story, and that their attitude was most friendly. The question which had caused me so much concern: Hurley, what do you know about ship-building?" had been answered in advance.

Many other questions were asked, but I had "sold" myself to the investigating committee and to the newspaper men, as one who knew something about ship-building. I was informed that when some of the newspaper correspondents who followed Senator Hiram Johnson from the Committee Room asked him what he thought of the investigation, his reply was:

"This is a ratification meeting for Hurley." He was always just and fair---a man of forceful character and integrity of purpose.

After the hearing, Senator Warren G. Harding shook hands with me, saying, "Hurley, I want to congratulate you on the way that you satisfied the Committee. Here are some technical questions written by a Mr. Manson, which he gave me to ask you. I did not present them for fear of embarrassing you." This was just like Senator Harding, a kind-hearted, generous man. I distinctly remember a meeting with him at the White House, after he became President, and his reference to the incident which I have just recited. When I entered his office he greeted me by saying, "Hello, Ed, I am glad to see you."---He then apologized for calling me by my first name.---I replied, " Mr. President, I am greatly honored that the President of the United States should call me by my given name." "Well," he said, "I'll tell you I never called at your office during the war that you did not receive me in the most cordial manner, and I don't forget those who were kind to me then." I responded, "Well, Mr. President, I have held a warm spot in my heart for you, because during one of the most trying experiences I ever had you did the most generous thing, and saved me from what might have been embarrassment and possible ridicule before the Senate Committee and before the country." I then recalled the trick questions which had been handed to him by Manson---who chronically had a grievance against the Shipping Board.


In order to prevent further friction, dispute and uncertainty in the Fleet Corporation's fundamental organization and to install a management which would be the equal of that to be found in any successful private industrial enterprise, I had to turn to a man who knew how corporations are conducted and who had made a record as an executive of ability. I found my man in Mr. Charles Piez.


Piez was an engineer with a national reputation. I had originally made him Chairman of a Committee with two other distinguished engineers, Mr. Charles Day and Mr. Arthur J. Mason, to report on the conditions of the wood shipyards. His reports and recommendations were clean-cut in their exhaustive consideration of the technical facilities at our disposal. At my suggestion he was elected Vice-president, on November 11, 1917. With the unlimited power conferred upon me by the by-laws, I personally appointed him General Manager of the Fleet Corporation, on December 15, 1917. 1 was subjected to criticism for naming Piez; instead of a ship-builder. But I knew that Piez could employ naval constructors, naval architects, engineers and ship-builders, and work out a better organization than could be done by having in charge a ship-builder who lacked his organizing ability.

Piez and I differed on many questions, probably as much as had Denman and Goethals. But, in spite of our differences we worked effectively together, throughout the war and after. If any additional evidences were needed that the original organization of the Fleet Corporation was faulty, we have it here. The Fleet Corporation had an organization which was the exact duplicate of that to be found throughout American industry---an organization based on the idea that authority must be centralized, and that the doing of the job is of far more importance than the personal feelings or opinions of any man in the organization.

To Piez I delegated executive control of the Fleet Corporation, with full charge of construction of both shipyards and ships. He fully understood that he was exercising delegated authority; and that direction and responsibility, as provided in the amended by-laws, rested with the president of the corporation. No man displayed greater constructive energy and resourcefulness in meeting the constantly changing conditions with which we were faced.

Briefly summarized, the principles which guided me in reorganizing the Fleet Corporation, an organization which constantly was, growing and exhibiting new branches and twigs, were these: Service and helpfulness to the ship-builders; geographical decentralization to avoid long delays in arriving at decisions; alignment of the Corporation's organization in the Home-office to conform with a changing of policy and administration; provision for a designing, guiding, controlling and policy-determining organization in the Home-office and a supervisory, general service and local management agency in the field. This plan was not conceived and carried out overnight. It was the result of the Fleet Corporation's development. What that development was, we shall see in the growth of the Corporation from an agency by which enemy ships were taken over and repaired, into the largest constructive organization that the world ever has seen.


Fortunately for the Allies, the submarine was not a formidable craft until 1916. The submarine of 1914 could not stay at sea for long periods and therefore was unable to act effectively as a commerce destroyer. Between August and December, 1914, only three vessels bad been torpedoed, while forty-two were destroyed by mines or raiders. Far more tonnage was sunk in the first ten months of 1917 than in the previous thirty months of the war. Sir Percy Scott was probably the only high naval or military official of the belligerent countries who realized, at the outset, the dreadful potentialities of Germany's chief offensive weapon. He freely predicted that Great Britain's commerce might be swept from the seas, and even went so far as to advocate the most intensive use of the submarine as a commerce destroyer long before Von Tirpitz became rabid on the subject. The Germans were not slow to appreciate the possibility of its true worth. Just as Napoleon saw that, however successful his armies might be, his downfall was inevitable so long as England was able to blockade his ports, so Germany concluded that England could be reduced only by preventing her from obtaining supplies from overseas. An intensive technical development of the submarine began. By 1916, the submarine was able to prey upon commerce even in the Mediterranean. In 1917, one British ship in ten that passed the Straits of Gibraltar never returned. When the submarine was armed with guns, and had become larger and more seaworthy, the Allies were in a desperate position.

Germany announced her intention of sinking ships mercilessly on sight, without warning or search, on February 1, 1917. In the first three months following this announcement, 470 ocean-going ships (including all classes of ships, the total was 1000) were sunk. In the month of April, when the United States declared war, over 870,000 gross tons were sunk---a terrific inroad, especially when it is remembered that the world's total of merchant steamers of one hundred gross tons and over (excluding the fleets of Germany, Austria and Turkey) was only about 36,300,000 gross tons. During a single fortnight in April, 122 ocean-going vessels were lost. The rate of the British loss in ocean-going tonnage during this fortnight was equivalent to an average round voyage loss of 25 per cent., one out of every four ships leaving the United Kingdom for an overseas voyage being lost. At this rate the Allies might well have been forced to surrender, perhaps unconditionally.(14)

By the end of 1917, Great Britain, France and Italy had at their disposal a total mercantile marine amounting to 18,000,000 gross tons as compared with 24,500,000 tons before the war, and of this reduced tonnage they were employing 5,500,000 tons in direct war service. Every month the demands of the combatant armies were increasing, and the pressure on the diminishing margin of the supplies required for civilian life and for the manufacture of munitions was becoming more and more grave. England launched in 1917 only 1,160,000 tons, while her average output for 1915 and 1916 was in the neighborhood of 640,000 tons. The ship production of the world, outside of Germany and her Allies, was only 1,688,000 tons in 1916, and at this rate only about one-fourth of the losses were being replaced. At that time the shipping available for British requirements was 300 vessels below normal; and the British Isles were facing possible starvation. When, in the face of this appalling shortage of tonnage, it was proposed to send an army of millions from the United States to Europe with clothing, food, munitions, transport trains, and railway supplies, no wonder many voices declared the task to be impossible.


Almost every distinguished foreign visitor who was in a position to speak insisted upon the importance of shipping. Thus, Lord Northcliffe, when he called on me in Washington at the end of October, 1917, impressed upon me the gravity of the Allied position and urged the need of ships to maintain an American army in France. Although he could give no accurate figures he strengthened my conviction that without ships there would be little use in sending our soldiers abroad; we could not maintain them adequately, neither could the Allies. Northcliffe was more interested in seeing thousands of airplanes built than in ship-building, yet he recognized that without ships, his airplanes and the supplies required by a large American army in France never could be transported overseas.

The speech of Lloyd George drove home to us the importance and magnitude of our work. "It (shipping) has never been so vital to the life of the country as it is at the present, during the war," he said. "It is the jugular vein, which, if severed, will destroy the life of the nation." Soon after came the ringing appeal of President Wilson. In his address to the people of the country he declared: "We must supply ships by the hundreds, out of our shipyards, to carry to the other side of the sea, submarines or no submarines, what will everyday be needed there." It was our duty, he said, to supply materials, "not only to clothe and equip our own forces on land and sea but also to clothe and support our people for whom the gallant fellows under arms can no longer work; to help clothe and equip the armies with which we are cooperating in Europe; and to keep the looms and manufactories there in raw material. We must send coal to keep the fires going on ships at sea; steel out of which to make arms and ammunition, both here and there; rails for worn-out railways back of the fighting fronts; locomotives and rolling stock to take the place of those every day going to pieces; mules, horses, cattle for labor and military service; everything with which the people of England, and France, and Italy and Russia have usually supplied themselves but cannot now afford the men, the material or the machinery to make. "


After the United States entered the war President Wilson sent the House Mission to Europe. A conference was held with the British War Cabinet on November 20, 1917, which was opened by Lloyd George with an address which dramatically revealed what was expected of us. "After a good deal of consultation with my colleagues and our naval and military advisers, I should put man-power and shipping as the first two demands on your consideration," said Lloyd George. "I am not quite sure which I will put first. I am not sure that you can put either of them before the other, because they are both of the most urgent importance."

Russia had utterly collapsed. Italy with half of her equipment and between 200,000 and 300,000 men lost, France much exhausted and facing the probability of being overwhelmed with 600,000 additional German troops---both were on the verge of defeat. Hence Lloyd George's plea for American troops. But he coupled that plea with a demand for ships. "It is no use having men and guns and equipment unless there are ships to carry those men and their supplies across the ocean."




FABRICATED ships could be built most efficiently in new assembling yards. To build and equip such yards was beyond the financial means of most private companies. Moreover, I was convinced that the building of ships was essentially the country's business---a business involving direct government ownership and operation of the yards, during a war crisis. I have been a steadfast opponent of government ownership; it means inefficiency and waste, as a rule. It so happened that the Emergency Fleet Corporation, although a government agency, was organized and managed as if it were a private enterprise. We therefore had the mechanism of a private enterprise, and yet government control. For this reason it became feasible to assume direct charge of yard-building and ship-building, for war purposes only.

The contracts placed with the four government-financed fabricating yards amounted to 25 per cent. of the steel-ship contract program. Since these yards were of primary importance, particularly that at Hog Island, I will discuss them in some detail. These were the "agency yards," to which I have already referred, and comprised the Hog Island yard of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation, the Bristol yard of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation, the Newark yard of the Submarine Boat Corporation and the Wilmington yard of the Carolina Shipbuilding Company. These four yards had a total of ninety-four ways, and when in full operation could build more tonnage in a year than ever was produced in any country before 1918.

By far the largest of the yards in which fabricated ships were assembled was that built at Hog Island by the American International Shipbuilding Corporation. Hog Island originally was a dreary swamp. In accordance with a contract dated September 13, 1917, this swamp was almost miraculously transformed into the world's largest ship-building plant. By February 12, 1918, despite the rigors of a terrible winter, the Hog Island yard was half completed and the first keel laid ---the keel of the Quistconck. Hog Island was projected by the well-known firm of Stone and Webster, contracting engineers. The grandiose lines on which it was planned by them testify to their imagination and vision. Despite the severe criticism to which the Corporation was subjected, I firmly believe that it was inspired by the highest patriotism when it laid before the Shipping Board its plan for building ships by the hundred. I had many dealings with Charles A. Stone, and I conceived for him the highest respect as an engineer and an honorable business man. Had it not been for his courage and wisdom Hog Island would not have become the greatest ship-building plant ever constructed.

We had studied thoroughly the possibilities of building fabricated ships in a fifty-way yard to be located on that site and had come to the conclusion that the proposals of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation, headed by the ablest and most experienced steel-construction men to be found in the country, were thoroughly sound. The choice of the site was governed by many factors. Facilities had to be available for receiving 300 carloads of material a day. Abundant electric power and fresh water had to be on tap, in quantities sufficient for a city of the size of Providence or Minneapolis. A water front of two miles was required, and the water had to be deep. Again, the yard had to be sufficiently distant from the ocean to make bombardment by hostile vessels impossible. On the whole Atlantic Coast, Hog Island seemed to its projectors to be the only site which met these requirements and which presented the fewest of disadvantages.

For a time it seemed as if the Hog Island project would be abandoned. The yard was to be built with government money, and the Denman-Goethals controversy caused the projectors to conclude that it would be inadvisable to contract for the building of fabricated ships on an unprecedented scale with a government agency which was not dominated by a single responsible head. Our need of ships was so great, the Hog Island project had much in its favor and had been thoroughly studied by Ferris. At the suggestion of Admiral Capps I telegraphed to Harris D. H. Connick, Vice-president of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation., to come to Washington. Admiral Capps and I discussed the details of the Hog Island plan with Mr. Connick. We signed a contract on the fee basis, which made the Hog Island yard a reality.

The cost of constructing the Hog Island plant, with its piers and shops, was approximately $65,000,000 (contract price). The yard covered 846 acres and comprised 250 buildings. It had 80 miles of railroad track; 3,000,000 feet of underground wiring; a hospital; Y. M. C. A., hotel, cafeteria, trade school, 12 service restaurants and 5 mess halls. Twenty locomotives, 465 freight cars and 165 motor trucks hauled material within the yard. Hog Island's telephone traffic was equivalent to that of a city of 140,000 inhabitants. The 50 ways of the yard extended about a mile and a quarter along the Delaware. Altogether there was a water frontage of 20,000 feet. Fifty ships could be built on the ways while 28 were being fitted out at the piers simultaneously, making a total of 78 ships under construction at one time. There never before had been conceived or executed a plan for the fabrication of ships on such an enormous scale. At the peak of its activity, 34,049 men were employed at Hog Island.

To achieve its purpose the yard had to assemble this army of ship-builders, almost twice the number employed in normal times in the whole Delaware River district; and the men had to be obtained at a time when in and around Philadelphia, near which the yard was located, two billion dollars worth of war contracts had been placed.

Hog Island laid its last keel on December 8, 1919. At the height of its production a keel was laid on an average of every five and one-half days. During the fiscal year 1920-1921, 31 ships of 238,500 deadweight tons were completed, including 11 troop transports of 8800 deadweight tons, delivered to the Army and one ship of 8000 deadweight tons to, the Navy for conversion into an aircraft tender. The original program provided for the construction of 110 cargo carriers and 70 troop transports, totalling 1,385,000 deadweight tons; but 58 of the troop transports were cancelled, on account of the armistice, leaving an active program of 110 cargo vessels and 12 troop transports. The last ship of the 110 was completed on January 21, 1921, and construction work then was suspended.

Fabricated ship parts for Hog Island had to be hauled from thirty-eight mills to eighty-eight fabricating plants, as far west as Kansas City and St. Paul, and as far north as Montreal, because there were not enough steel fabricators in the east. It was no mean performance on the part of the Emergency Fleet Corporation to transport this steel in the proper sequence at the proper time to Hog Island, all the more so since the performance had to be duplicated for many shipyards. All the material shipped to Hog Island was carefully classified and located. Thus, one of the yards at Hog Island, known as the "C" yard, was used for storing some of the immense amount of material that was received almost daily. There were approximately three thousand locations on that yard, each of which received a number to. correspond with one on a map of the yard. Each piece of material, as it arrived, was placed on a specific location, and that location was designated on the map. Hence it was easy to, find the piece when it was wanted. This shows how the work of assembling fabricated parts was systematized so that a predetermined schedule could be followed. In another yard at Hog Island (the "A" yard) there were about nine thousand different locations for storing hull steel.

Mr. George O. Muhlfeld was largely responsible for organizing the Hog Island enterprise in accordance with the vision of Mr. Charles A. Stone. Muhlfeld worked night and day with several hundred men of the Stone and Webster organization to create the nucleus of a competent personnel. He freely gave us the benefit of his wide experience. Muhlfeld was one of the few important executives who remained with the Hog Island organization from its inception to the end of the war. He was Vice-president of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation until after the armistice was signed.

The first president of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation was Mr. Dwight P. Robinson. He was fortunate in having unusually able and devoted assistants---men like Mr. Robert E. Hamilton, Mr. Walter Goodenough, and Mr. I. W. McConnell. Hamilton was the man who successfully directed the purchasing of the enormous quantities of structural material required by Hog Island. Goodenough, another assistant to Robinson and Muhlfeld, threw himself with such self-sacrificing enthusiasm into the work of building ships at Hog Island that he broke down physically after a year and a half of strain, and was succeeded as general manager by the equally competent McConnell. When Robinson resigned as President his place was taken by Mr. Frederick Holbrook. The latter was shortly afterwards succeeded by Mr. Matthew C. Brush.

Brush, came to Hog Island as President of the American International Shipbuilding Corporation after most of the grief and trouble which we had experienced in. laying out and establishing the plant was over and it was equipped for the production of ships. His dynamic personality was needed at that time to capitalize the early efforts of the organization in building the yard. It required only a few weeks, with him in charge of Hog Island, to satisfy the Shipping Board that he would deliver the ships which were so sorely needed.

We used Hog Island for a year and a half as a splendid example of what American initiative would do in a national crisis, with the result that the eyes of the whole world were focused upon it. Dozens of distinguished foreigners inspected Hog Island, and could "hardly believe their eyes."(15) Typical of their comments is that of Lieutenant Wiezbicki, of France: "This, Hog Island, is one of the two most important places in the world to-day. The other is the River Marne. "Eighth wonder of the World" was the title of an article on Hog Island written for Le Journal of Paris by Jacques de Marsillac. Colonel T. Yoshida, head of a Japanese military mission said: "We came, we saw, and were amazed; we never thought there was anything so big in the world. I am amazed at the size and speed at which it was constructed." Some of the distinguished foreigners were decidedly pro-German in their sympathies. The moral effect of what they saw at Hog Island was of incalculable benefit to the American cause. They sent accounts to Germany which must have presented a very discouraging picture from the German point of view.

Most of the Latin American countries were loyal to the Allies throughout the war. There was a feeling, however, that some of them entertained a more or less degree of sympathy for Germany. The ambassadors and ministers representing these countries in Washington were brilliant men, and highly skilled diplomats. We came in contact with them frequently, especially because of the requirement for ships needed to import many of the raw materials which we purchased from Central and South America; and because, in return, it was necessary for us to supply their economic needs for manufactured goods, and coal.

We wished to impress them, for the effect which it would have on their Governments at home, with the supreme effort which the United States was making in support of the Allies, and the magnitude of that undertaking. I suggested to President Wilson that we might more effectively help to do this by having the State Department invite all of the Latin American representatives in Washington to visit the Hog Island Shipyards as guests of the United States Shipping Board. He agreed with me, and directed that the State Department extend such an invitation to all of these diplomats. The invitation was accepted by all, without exception. I accompanied the delegation on a special train from Washington. Before inspecting the plant, we arranged to take the diplomats aboard a boat and allow them to get their first impression of the yard by viewing the piers, docks and fifty shipways along the river front. I never shall forget the astonished expression upon their faces as we steamed along the Delaware and they beheld fifty huge ocean-going vessels in different stages of construction upon as many different ways, and a score or more of other vessels being fitted out at the docks. They found it quite impossible to understand how this, the largest shipyard in the world, had been established in so short a time. They knew that we had built, or were building, more than a hundred others, although none approaching Hog Island in magnitude. If there ever had been any doubt on the part of these Latin American representatives as to the ability of the United States to maintain a sufficient army in France to encompass the defeat of Germany, I am sure that this doubt was effectively dispelled when they came to appreciate the enormous scale upon which we had undertaken the production, of ships to keep our army fully equipped with necessary supplies.

We entertained the guests at luncheon in the restaurant at Hog Island yard. I took occasion to outline our entire ship-building program and to discuss the closer commercial relations which would develop, after the war was won, between the United States and our sister republics of South and Central America, explaining that we hoped to be able to use these ships they had seen in the course of construction, and others, in our trade with their people. The moral effect of this junketing trip was very salutary.

It should be borne in mind that the investigations which were made were begun while the plant at Hog Island was still under construction and before a keel had been laid; at a time when it still was possible to correct any mistakes. In the end, Hog Island turned out ships efficiently, and with a rapidity never achieved before; and these ships were classed not only as among the best produced but also as those which demonstrated their soundness, economy and efficiency in practical operation, on the seven seas. I am glad to record that the investigation, which was made at my request by the Attorney General, to find out how the sixty-five million dollars we had invested in the plant had been spent, revealed no fraud nor financial misdeeds on the part of the American Shipbuilding Corporation; but only some waste, of which rumors had reached me. Looking back at Hog Island after an interval of years, I cannot defend it as a peace undertaking. But I firmly believe that under the extraordinary pressure of war ---with submarines sinking ships at the rate of several hundred thousand tons a month and with the Army becoming more and more insistent in demanding ships and more ships---the assembling of fabricated parts on an unprecedented scale by such a plant as that built at Hog Island was justified. I know that P. A. S. Franklin, a man whose whole active life has been spent in the shipping business and for whose opinion I have the highest respect, thought of Hog Island as a war plant. He said as much to a Senate Committee, in these words: "Our yards had to be expanded overnight; and the Fleet Corporation would have been seriously criticized if it had omitted to provide a yard like Hog Island. Moreover, Hog Island was of great value in helping to win the war, both in giving moral assistance to our allies and in alarming our enemies."(16)

Perhaps the strongest endorsement that Hog Island could have received came from the President and Mrs. Wilson. There was great enthusiasm in the yard when the first ship was ready to be launched. Mrs. Wilson had selected the Indian name Quistconck (17) for the first of the Hog Island ships. Consequently we all were very anxious that she should go to Philadelphia and have the honor of christening it. There was serious question, in view of the President's strenuous duties, as to whether he would be able to leave Washington for a day. I explained to him that in view of Mrs. Wilson's excellent service in selecting names for all of our contract vessels, the workmen in the yard and in the entire organization were very desirous that she christen the first of the 150 ships which Hog Island had contracted to build. He said that if I obtained Mrs. Wilson's consent and there was an understanding that he would not be called upon for a speech, he would endeavor to attend. Mrs. Wilson graciously accepted my invitation and entered into the spirit of the occasion.


Because it was the first vessel to be launched in Hog Island, many prominent business men and leaders from Philadelphia and New York were present. It was a gala event in the Hog Island yard. When Mrs. Wilson mounted the launching platform, accompanied by the President, one of the riveters who had been selected by his fellow workmen on the Quistconck., approached and presented her with a beautiful bouquet of roses. It had been purchased by five-cent contributions made by the men who had worked on the ship. The first lady of the land was deeply touched by this token of esteem. As she crashed the bottle of champagne over its prow and the Quistconck slid gracefully down the ways into the waters of the Delaware, the immense crowd broke forth with a resounding cheer. Following the launching the President remarked, after seeing the vast plant, "Hurley, I believe it was worth while."

The report of the launching produced a heartening reaction in. Great Britain and among the Allies, and carried alarm to the Germans. The British were particularly pleased. They felt that this ship was a forerunner for hundreds of ships. Their feeling was indicated by cablegrams which I received on the following day from Sir Joseph Maclay,(18) the British Minister of Shipping, and from Lord Northcliffe. The former said:


"Hurley London

Congratulate you heartily upon magnificent accomplishment, which is further guarantee of the defeat of the submarine. We rejoice in the absolute assurance that America's military effort, vast though it is, will not be hampered by the lack of tonnage. Maclay."

Lord Northcliffe's cable read as follows:


"Hurley London

Congratulations to you and to the workers at Hog Island on magnificent piece of war-winning.


Men like Holbrook (who literally died in harness), Hamilton and Goodenough of the Hog Island staff, and Mr. Peter O. Knight the efficient general counsel, gave services to their country which, in my opinion, deserve public recognition never fully accorded.

Although the other "agency yards" wherein fabricated ships were built were large yards, they were laid out on a scale which was so much less pretentious than that of Hog Island(19) that they were more easily controlled.

The yard at Bristol, Pa., was that of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation. Mr. Averill Harriman, the principal stockholder, and Mr. R. H. M. Robinson (a brother of H. M. Robinson of the United States Shipping Board), President of the Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation, proved to be able executives and energetic business men. They cooperated whole-heartedly with us in turning out good ships at high speed. Thanks to its energy and foresight the splendidly managed Merchant Shipbuilding Corporation gave us no trouble. A contract was signed with this organization by the Fleet Corporation on September 7, 1917, for the construction. of twelve ways for 9000 ton ships, with fitting-out piers and sufficient shop capacity to fabricate about 15 per cent. of the steel required in the ships. The yard, piers and shops cost approximately $12,000,000. The Bristol yard was ready to lay its first keel on February 16, 1918, about five months after the contract was signed. The original contract with this yard called for sixty cargo-ships of 540,000 deadweight tons. Cancellations after the armistice reduced the program to forty ships of 360,000 deadweight tons. The yard delivered its last ship on February 28, 1921.


The launching of a ship was an important event in any shipyard. The ship-builder and the employees made it a gala day, and hundreds of people would witness the christening. In order to develop a keen interest among the people of the interior of the country in our ship-building program we named ships after cities of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and other states. Frequently from such cities would come special delegations headed by the Mayor and the favored young lady of the town who was to have the honor of christening the ship.

Mrs. Woodrow Wilson at our request named all the contract ships built by the Fleet Corporation. Being a descendant of Pocahontas, most of the names she selected were of Indian derivation. Occasionally, when we desired to make a change we asked her permission, as when I personally requested of her that a ship be named in honor of Mr. George M. Cohan, to express to him the country's appreciation of his musical contributions during the war. Cohan's inspiring song "Over There" was being played or sung by every American soldier and also by the soldiers of the Allied armies. It was hummed and chorused by the hustling crews in our shipyards, and undoubtedly had something to do with stimulating the morale and with keeping aglow the fires of patriotism of the workers as they visioned the ships that won the war by sending the boys "over there." I met Cohan in Washington, told him of my appreciation of his great song, and said that as a slight testimonial of his services we should like to name a ship the "Cohan." He was most appreciative of the proposed honor but said he would prefer that the ship be named for his maternal grandfather, Dennis Costigan. I explained to him that it was our custom to confer only a single name upon a ship, and that the name "Costigan" without the "Dennis" would be appropriate. He agreed that this would be satisfactory.

Accordingly, when the time arrived, I went to the Merchant Shipbuilding Company plant at Bristol, Pennsylvania, where the launching of the Costigan was to take place. Usually I did not have time to attend launchings personally, but I felt that this was in the nature of a special occasion.

The affair was something unforgettable. There stood the great 9000-tonner, ready to glide down the ways into the sea. Standing on the launching platform, waiting for the signal to crash the bottle of wine on the prow of the vessel, was Mrs. Helen Frances (Costigan) Cohan. At her side stood her famous son, George. I was very much impressed by the marked devotion and attention which he showed to her. While last minute preparations were in progress, Mrs. Cohan reminisced a bit and related to me that the last time she had been in Bristol was some twenty-five years previous, when she and her husband, with George and his sister, Josephine (since deceased), were travelling through that section of Pennsylvania, performing at "one-night stands" and doing a skit which the father and mother played. As the ship started to move slowly down the ways I saw a tear launched simultaneously down her cheek.

"I christen thee 'Costigan,' " she said, in a voice which told much of what her mind was conjuring up, and indicated that in her memory she was re-living incidents of long ago. To the familiar strains of her son's popular song "Over There" the great ship slid gracefully down the ways into the waters of the Delaware.

Later she told me she had been thinking of all the Costigans and Cohans who had passed away. She said she was very proud that the name "Costigan" had been given to such a fine ship and expressed the hope that it would be the forerunner of a new and glorified American Merchant Marine to sail the seven seas, to enter all foreign ports and to stand at anchor at the roadsteads of the world as did the American vessels in the days of our forefathers.

As a further appreciation of Cohan's song, I wrote to Secretary of War Baker and urged that he recommend to the President that Cohan receive the distinguished service medal. Secretary Baker was most sympathetic toward the proposal but pointed out that the law forbade the conferring of a medal upon a citizen not directly connected with the service. However, were the matter of giving Cohan a medal left to the American soldiers, I am sure it would have been so awarded by their unanimous vote.

The contract for the construction of the Newark Bay Shipyard at Newark, New Jersey, was entered into on September 14, 1917. It was, made with the Submarine Boat Corporation of which Mr. H. R. Carse was president, and Mr. H. R. Sutphen was vice-president. Carse had had extensive business experience and was a very successful executive. Sutphen was a naval architect and engineer, and had a broad knowledge of ship construction. The Submarine Boat Corporation had been engaged for years in the building of submarine torpedo boats for the United States Navy, for Great Britain and, with the exception of Germany and France, for practically all other countries of the world having naval establishments. It had absorbed the Holland Torpedo Boat Company, which was the first to build and turn over to the United States Navy a practical submarine boat. The success of the Submarine Boat Corporation in the building of underwater boats convinced us that it would be highly advantageous to contract for the services of its experienced organization for the production of cargo vessels.

Prior to our entrance into the war, the Submarine Boat Corporation had completed for the British Admiralty 550 submarine chasers. These boats were built of wood, the hulls having been fabricated at the concern's shops in Bayonne, New Jersey, and shipped to assembling yards in Montreal and Quebec, Canada. This was done because at that time the "United States was neutral. The plan of fabrication was so successful and the chasers were so effective in hunting down submarines that the company had been engaged to build similar boats for France and Italy. The corporation, therefore, had a very effective working organization and a knowledge of fabricating ships even though they were wooden vessels.

Our contract with the corporation called for the creation of twenty-eight ways and the building of 150 five-thousand-ton ships, besides outfitting piers and shops for fabricating about 6 per cent. of the steel required. The yard cost seventeen million dollars. Because of the fact that its organization was established, the corporation was able to lay the keel of its first vessel on December 20, 1917. In all the history of ship construction, there is no record that compares with the speed made in this effort. Notwithstanding the difficulties of the extremely severe winter that followed the railroad embargo, and the shortage of men and materials, the submarine yard was completed so that its first ship, the Agawan, was launched on May 30, 1918, eight and one-half months from the time the contract was signed for the building of the yard.

For the depressing moral effect which an accomplishment of this character would have upon Germany, we made a special effort to let the news of the building of this yard, and the successful launching of its first vessel within record time, percolate through the lines to the German High Command.

All the work of the Newark Bay yard was completed during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1920. The last keel was laid on November 11, 1919, on the anniversary of the armistice, and the last ship was delivered June 11, 1920. All told, 118 ships were constructed for the Fleet Corporation by the Submarine Boat Corporation, aggregating 598,850 deadweight tons. The remaining thirty-two ships called for under its original contract were completed and taken over by the Submarine Boat Corporation for its own operation in the final settlement which it made with the Fleet Corporation.

There were other yards in which ships were built wholly or partly of fabricated parts. There were nine of these additional yards, with a total of fifty ways.


When the work of constructing shipyards was well under way we organized the Plant Protection Section of the Fleet Corporation and charged it with the duties of guarding yards against fire and possible attempts which might be made by "cranks" and enemies to destroy buildings, machinery and material; of censoring articles for publication referring to ship-building; and of supervising the issuance of passes for admission to the yards and mills in which work was being done. This Section was placed directly under the jurisdiction of Howard Coonley, as an administrative function of the Fleet Corporation's organization. Before that, the Section had been under the control of the construction side.

Our fire protection system grew out of the offer of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, made in September, 1917, to extend to the Fleet Corporation the facilities of its nation-wide organization of fire protection, inspectors and experts, for the nominal sum of $1 per year in each case. Mr. M. C. T. Bissell was head of the Section from September, 1917, to November, 1918, and Mr. R. C. Dennett from November, 1918, to March, 1919, by which latter date the work was practically completed, and the National Board of Fire Underwriters could withdraw its engineers. Fire protection then became the duty of the Shipyards Plants Construction Section. Such was the efficient work done by Bissell and Dennett that during the twelve months ending March, 1919, the fire losses were only $320,007 out of a total value of one and one-half billion dollars---a loss of two one-hundredths of 1 per cent. Although 5195 fires broke out, in only seventeen cases was the loss over $1000.

I asked the War Department to assign Lieut.-Col. James A. Blair, Jr., and Lieutenant (later Captain) L. Ames Brown to the Shipping Board, to organize an Intelligence and Plant Protection Section. Later, when we moved the headquarters of the Fleet Corporation to Philadelphia., Major Blair also. went with us to continue as head of the Plant Protection Section, while Captain Brown became Chief Intelligence Officer of the Shipping Board.

It stands to the credit of the Plant Protection Section and the Intelligence Division---which these officers ably coordinated with the Intelligence sections of the War Department, Navy Department, Department of Justice, Alien Property Custodian and War Trade Board---that throughout the war the entire Shipping Board and Fleet Corporation organizations were kept free from traitors and enemy aliens who might otherwise have wrought great destruction through sabotage. Not one launching was delayed through enemy action.

Chapter Ten: Operating the fleet

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