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Ships And The Men Who Made Them

( Originally Published 1918 )

WHEN the United States of America entered the World War she was con-fronted at once by a serious question. The great Allied nations were struggling against the attempt of the Germans, through the piratical use of submarines, to blockade the coast of the Allied countries. It was this German action which had led America to take part in the war. It is true that America had other motives. Few wars ever take place among democratic nations as a result of the calculation of the nation's leaders. The people must be interested, and the people must sympathize with the cause for which they are going to fight. The people of America had sympathized with Belgium, and had become indignant at the brutal treatment of that inoffensive nation. They had sympathized with France in its gallant endeavor to protect its soil from the inroads of the Hun. This feeling had become a personal one as they reviewed the lists of Americans lost in the sinking of the Lusitania, and this sympathy had gradually grown into indignation when the Germans, after having promised to conduct submarine warfare according to international law, again and again violated that promise. When, then, the Germans declared that they would no longer even pretend to treat neutral shipping according to the laws of maritime warfare the people with one accord approved the action of the President of the United States in declaring war. The Germans at this time were making a desperate effort to starve England, by destroying its commerce, and it was in the endeavor to accomplish this purpose that they thought it necessary to attack American ships.

The first effort of Americans, therefore, was naturally to use every power of the navy to destroy the lurking submarines, and in the second place to use every means in their power to supply the Allies with food. But America had for many years neglected to give encouragement to her merchant fleets. Her commerce was very largely carried in foreign bottoms.

Ships were needed, and needed urgently, and one of the very first acts of the American Government was to authorize their production. Congress therefore appropriated for this purpose what was then the extraordinary sum of $1,135,000,000 and General Goethals, recently returned from his work in building the Panama Canal, was appointed manager of the Emergency Fleet Corporation and entrusted with the execution of the government's ship-building program.

The Emergency Fleet Corporation, however, was then independent of the United States Shipping Board, of which Mr. William Denman was made chairman, and friction between General Goethals and Mr. Denman at the very start caused long delay. The difference of opinion between them arose over the comparative merits of wooden and steel ships. The matter was finally laid before President Wilson and ended in the resignation of both men and the complete reorganization of the board and the Fleet Corporation, in which re-organization the Fleet Corporation was made subordinate to the Shipping Board but given entire control of construction.

Rear-Admiral Capps succeeded General Goethals, but was compelled to resign on account of ill health. Rear-Admiral Harris, who had been chief of the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks, then had the job for two weeks, but resigned because in his opinion he had not enough authority. Then came Mr. Charles Piez, who held the position for a longer period. Mr. Edward N. Hurley had been made chairman of the United States Shipping Board, and under the direction of these two men much progress was made.

In the spring of 1918 the boards themselves were not satisfied with their progress, and on April 16, 1918, Mr. Charles M. Schwab, chair-man of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was made Director General of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. Mr. Schwab was one of the most prominent business men in the United States and one of the best known, and his appointment was received all over the country with the greatest satisfaction. His wonderful work in building up the Bethlehem steel plant not only showed his great ability, but especially fitted him for a task in which the steel industry bore such a vital part. The official statement is-sued from the White House read as follows:

Edward N. Hurley, Charles M. Schwab, Bainbridge Colby and Charles Piez were received by the President at the white House today. It was stated that the subject discussed was the progress and condition of a national ship-building program. The carrying forward of the construction work in the one hundred and thirty shipyards now in operation is so vast that it requires a reinforcement of the ship-building organization through-out the country. Later in the day Chairman Hurley f the Shipping Board announced that a new office with wide powers had been created by the Trustees of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. The new position is that of Director General and Mr. Schwab has been asked, and has agreed, to accept this position in answer to the call of the nation. Charles Fiez, Vice-President of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, recommended that the post of General Manager of the corporation be at once abolished, so that Mr. Schwab as Director General should be wholly unhampered in carrying on the large task entrusted to him. Mr. Piez, since the retirement of Admiral Harris, has been filling both the position of Vice-President and that of General Manager. Mr. Schwab will have complete supervision and direction of the work of ship-building. He agreed to take up the work at the sacrifice of his personal wishes in the matter. His services were virtually commandeered. His great experience as a steel maker and builder of ships has been drafted for the nation.

Although the fact that production during the month of March had not been as great as had been hoped probably brought about this change, it should also be said that those who had been responsible deserved much credit for what had actually been done. They had been handicapped constantly by poor transportation and shortage of materials, but had worked faithfully and with what under ordinary circumstances would be regarded as remarkable success. The call upon Mr. Schwab was simply an effort to draft into the service of the country its very highest executive ability. Mr. Schwab's name had been mentioned before for more than one government post, and it was thought that here was the place where his talents could have the fullest play. It was stated in Washington that he would receive a salary of one dollar a year.

Mr. Schwab at once proceeded to "speed up" the shipping program. It took him just one day to arrange his own business affairs and then he began his work. His first day was spent in going over the details of his task with Chairman Hurley and Mr. Piez. He then received newspaper men, beginning the campaign of publicity which turned out to be so successful. He was full of compliments for the work which had already been done. "It is prodigious, splendid, magnificent!" he said. "It is far greater than any man who hasn't seen the inside of things can appreciate. The foundation is laid. That task is well done. We are going to get the results which are needed and I should be proud if I could have any part in the accomplishment. All I can say for myself is that I am filled with enthusiasm, energy and confidence. Mr. Hurley and I are in full accord on everything, and we are going to work shoulder to shoulder to make the work a success, but the large burden must fall upon the people at the yards, and they are entitled to any credit for success. I do not want to have any man in the shipyards working for me. I want them all working with me. Nothing is going to be worth while unless we win this war, and every one must do the task to which he is called."

One of the first steps that Mr. Schwab took to speed up ship production was to establish his headquarters in Philadelphia, as the center of the ship-building region. Chairman Hurley remained at Washington, and the operating department, which included agencies such as the Inter-Allied Ship Control Committee, was removed to New York City. It was stated that nearly fifty per cent of the work in progress was within a short radius of Philadelphia.

The year before the war the total output of the United States shipyards was only two hundred and fifty thousand tons. The program of the shipping board contemplated the construction of one thousand one hundred and forty-five steel ships, with a tonnage of eight million, one hundred and sixty-four thousand, five hundred and eight, and four hundred and ninety wooden ships, with a tonnage of one million seven hundred and fifteen thousand. These of course could not be built in the shipyards then in existence. New shipyards had to be built in various parts of the country.

In the first year after the shipping board took control, one hundred and eighty-eight ships were put in the water and through requisition and by building, one hundred and three more were added to the American merchant fleet. By April, 1918, the government had at its service 2,762,605 tons of shipping. During the month of May, the first month after Mr. Schwab began his work, the record of production had mounted from 160,286 tons to 263,571. American shipyards had completed and delivered during that month forty-three steel ships and one wooden ship. Mr. Hurley, in an address on June 10th, said :

On June 1st, we had increased the American built tonnage to over 3,500,000 dead-weight tons of shipping. This gives us a total of more than one thousand four hundred ships with an approximate total dead-weight tonnage of 7,000,000 now under the control of the United States Shipping Board. In round numbers and from all sources we have added to the American flag since our war against Germany began, nearly 4,500,000 tons of shipping. Our program calls for the building of 1,856 passenger, cargo and refrigerator ships and tankers, ranging from five thousand to twelve thousand tons each, with an aggregate dead-weight of thirteen million. Exclusive of these we have two hundred and forty-five commandeered vessels, taken over from foreign and domestic owners which are being completed by the Emergency Fleet Corporation. These will aggregate a total dead-weight tonnage of 1,715,000. This makes a total of two thousand one hundred and one vessels, exclusive of tugs and barges which are being built and will be put on the seas in the course of carrying out the present program, with an aggregate dead-weight tonnage of 14,715,000. Five billion dollars will be required to finish our program, but the expenditure of this enormous sum will give to the American people the greatest merchant fleet ever assembled in the history of the world. American workmen have made the expansion of recent months possible, and they will make possible the successful conclusion of the whole program.

In the wonderful work that followed his appointment Mr. Schwab constantly came before the public, mainly through his addresses to the working men of the different yards. His main endeavor was to stimulate enthusiasm and rivalry among the men. A ten-thousand-dollar prize was offered to the yard producing the largest surplus above its program, and he traveled throughout the country urging the employees at all the great yards to break their records. The result of his work was that it was not long before it was announced that the monthly tonnage of ships completed by the Allies exceeded the tonnage of those sunk by the German submarine. The menace of the submarine which had seemed so formidable, had disappeared.

The most important of the great shipyards which were producing the American cargo ships was at Hog Island in the southwest part of Philadelphia. This shipyard may indeed be called the greatest shipyard in the world. Before Mr. Schwab became Director General much criticism had been launched at the work that was going on there, and an investigation had been made which resulted in a favorable report. On August 5th the new shipyard launched its first ship, the 7,500 ton freight steamer, Quistconck, in the presence of a distinguished throng among whom were the President of the United States and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. The ship was christened by Mrs. Wilson, and the President swung his hat and led the cheers as the great ship glided down the ways. The name "Quistconck" is the ancient Indian name of Hog Island. The crowd numbered more than sixty thousand people, and special trains from Washington and New York brought many notable guests. President and Mrs. Wilson were escorted by Mr. Hurley and Mr. Schwab, and apparently thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. An enormous bouquet was presented to Mrs. Wilson by Foreman McMillan, who had driven the first rivet in the Quistconck's keel.

Shortly after the armistice it was announced the Hog Island plant would be acquired by the United States Government. The real estate, valued at $1,760,000, was owned by the American International Ship Building Company, and the government had invested about $60,000,000 in equipping the plant. At the time the war ended thirty-five thousand persons were at work and a hundred and eighty ships were in various stages of completion.

An interesting feature in connection with the endeavor to "speed up" was the competition in riveting. Early in the year in yard after yard expert riveters were reported as making extraordinary records, and prizes were offered to the winners of such records. Later, however, such contests were discouraged by Chairman Hurley and by others. The best record was made by John Omir, who drove twelve thousand two hundred and nine rivets in nine hours at the Belfast Yards of Work-man and Clark. In the accomplishment of this feat on two occasions he passed the mark of one thousand four hundred rivets an hour. In his best minute he drove twenty-six rivets.

The ships constructed by the Shipping Board were of steel, of wood and of concrete, and at times considerable difference of opinion existed with regard to which form of ship should receive the most attention. The policy of the government seemed finally to favor the steel as it was claimed that the wooden type was not only more expensive, but that it was less efficient. However until the very end wooden ships in great numbers were being built.

On May 31st the steamship Agawam, described as the first fabricated ship in the world, was launched in the yards of the Submarine Boat Corporation at Newark. This was essentially a standardized steel cargo ship. "Fabricated" is the technical term applied to ships built from numbered shapes made from patterns.

President Carse, of the Submarine Boat Corporation, said that the Agawam was the first of a hundred and fifty vessels of that type which would be constructed in the yard. The parts were made, he said, in bridge and tank shops throughout the country and were assembled at the yard. "Ninety-five per cent of the work in forming the parts entering into the hull of this vessel, and punching rivet holes, is done at shops widely separated, from drawings furnished by this company, and these drawings have been of such exactitude, and the work has been so carefully performed by the different bridge shops that when they are brought together at this yard they fit perfectly and the ship as you see is absolutely fair. The construction of the hull of this vessel requires the driving of over four hundred thousand rivets, and by our method more than one quarter of these rivets are driven at the distant shops, the different parts being brought to the yard in sections as large as can be transported on the railroad. Each part is numbered and lettered and as they are shaped perfectly all that is necessary is to place them in position, bolt them, and finally fasten them with rivets."

Officials of the company said that they expected to launch in the course of time two such vessels in each week. A standard ship of this type has a dead weight carrying capacity of five thousand five hundred tons. It is three hundred and forty-three feet long and forty-six feet wide and is expected to show an aver-age speed of ten and a half knots. Fuel oil is used to generate steam, to drive a turbine operating three thousand six hundred revolutions a minute. The oil is carried in compartments of the double bottom of the ship in sufficient quantity for more than a round trip to Europe. Twenty-seven steel mills, fifty-six fabricating plants, and two hundred foundries and equipment shops were drawn upon to construct the ship.

In addition to the steel and wood vessels the Emergency Fleet Corporation also constructed a number of concrete ships. The first step in this direction was taken on April 3rd, when the construction of four 7,500 ton concrete ships at a Pacific coast shipyard was authorized. This action was taken as a result of a report on the trials made with the concrete ship, Faith, which was built in San Francisco by private capital. The test of this ship had been satisfactory and Mr. R. J. Wig, an agent of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, who had made a careful inspection of the Faith and watched the tests, reported his confidence in the new cargo carrier. The successful trial trip of the Faith led, on the 17th of May, to the government order that fifty-eight more such ships be constructed. Sites for yards were leased and contracts awarded. The concrete ship turned out to be a great success.

The extraordinary success of the American ship-building program during the World War was due to the enthusiasm of the workmen employed at the government plants, and that same enthusiasm was found in connection with their work in every industry on which the Government made demands. American labor was thoroughly loyal. It recognized that in the war for democracy against autocracy it had a vital concern. The attitude of the great American labor unions must however be sharply distinguished from that of the extreme socialists who refused to take any part in helping to win the war.

From the very beginning, the American Federation of Labor took a patriotic stand. Its leader was Mr. Samuel Gompers, and it was fortunate for America that the leadership of this great organization was in such patriotic hands. Mr. Gompers had been for many years president of this great labor organization, and was so often called in consultation by the President of the United States in connection with labor affairs that he might almost be called an unofficial member of the President's cabinet. Mr. Gompers was by birth an Englishman, but he had left his home when still a boy and was thoroughly filled with true American patriotism. From the beginning he devoted himself with the greatest enthusiasm not only to the protection of the interests of which he was in charge, but to the prosecution of a successful war. He had to contend, as labor leaders in other countries had been compelled to contend, with socialistic and anarchistic organizations.

During the period of America's participation in the war there were certain disturbances caused by the I. W. W., but from such movements the American Federation of Labor held itself aloof. Occasional strikes, on account of special conditions, were easily settled. The governmental assumption of control over rail-roads and other essential industries had much to do with the peaceful attitude of the workmen. The very high wages which were offered to the workmen at munitions works, ship-building plants and other governmental enterprises enabled the workmen there to live in reasonable comfort, though it caused a great deal of trouble in private industry, and compelled an increase in pay to labor all over the land.

In the latter part of the war Mr. Gompers traveled abroad, as a representative of American labor, and was greeted everywhere with the utmost enthusiasm, while his influence was strongly felt in favor of moderate and sane views as to labor's rights.

The American situation with regard to labor was made much simpler by the organization of the United States Employment Service. This was made an arm of the Department of Labor, with branch offices in nearly all the large cities of every State. It had a large corps of traveling examiners, men skilled in determining the fitness of workers for particular jobs, and it undertook to recruit labor for the various war industries in which they were needed. During the last year of the war from a hundred and fifty thousand to two hundred thousand workers of all kinds were given work each month. In addition to this the Employment Service was a clearing house of information for manufacturers. The Director General of this service was Mr. John B. Densmore.

Labor throughout the country, except when influenced by men of foreign birth who were not in touch with the spirit of America, was universally loyal, and its share in the winning of the war will always remain a matter for pride.

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