BACK in 1914, when the powers of central and western Europe became involved in what is now known as the "Great World War," and when production in the warring countries had practically reached a standstill, all coun-tries looked to the United States as a source from which to procure supplies which were essential not only for military purposes but for the actual necessities of life. Even with a bountiful supply of necessary products and a desire to convey them to the countries abroad, it was found that there were entirely too few ships which could be used to transport this material. It is true that there were several American shipyards engaged in the building of various types of vessels, but on a scale entirely inadequate to care for the sudden demand for increased tonnage.
The New York Shipbuilding Corporation, operating extensive yards on the Delaware River at Camden, New Jersey, opposite Philadelphia, was one of those plants already in operation that could take a leading part in the new shipbuilding program. This yard was established by the New York Shipbuilding Company, which became a corporation in 1899, and which established for itself a very high reputation for the building of vessels for the Navy and for merchant service.
With the increasing demand for ships which came after the organization of the United States Shipping Board, it became evident that the existing shipbuilding facilities would have to be largely expanded. A new organization was therefore created, and was incorporated November 26, 1916, under the title of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which took over the plant at Camden and enlarged it.
After the United States entered the war against the Imperial German Government, this corporation worked at high pressure, adding new ship- ways and building vessels for the Emergency Fleet Corporation and for the United States Navy. As taken over from the old company, the plant included ten ways. Since then the corporation has added four additional ways for merchant ships in the original yard, and have developed a tract of land immediately south of the main yard, on which they have constructed a complete shipyard in itself, containing four shipways and the necessary buildings, in which has been installed the most modern machinery for the carrying on of the building of ships.
On August 3, 1917, all of the merchant vessels, under construction at the yards were requisitioned by the United States Shipping Board, Emergency Fleet Corporation, under the powers conferred by an executive order of the President of the United States. All contracts in force with private persons or companies were thereby abrogated, preventing construction of any vessels except for the United States Navy, the Army, or the Emergency Fleet Corporation. Work on certain vessels that the corporation had under construction for its own account was ordered discontinued, and larger transport vessels substituted by the Emergency Fleet Corporation. This made necessary a readjustment of the building schedule of the yard. A contract was entered into with the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and arrangements were made which permitted a better utilization of the plant for the needs of the Government than would have been otherwise possible, and greatly increased efficiency resulted.
After contracts had been taken for naval construction to the limit of the yard capacity, the Navy's requirements were still unfilled. Therefore, in order to provide for the construction of a large number of destroyers, and under an agreement with the Navy Department, construction was begun and carried to completion of ten new ship- ways, which are now devoted exclusively to naval construction.
The transformation effected in the company's operations during the year 1917 was typical of the revolution which occurred in the entire shipbuilding situation of the country. When the present corporation took over the plant it was one of the best in the country, and was just beginning to recover from the depression which had reduced ship production to a minimum. The change came very rapidly, and brought with it an intensity of operation and expansion of production never before reached, coupled with costs for labor and material rapidly rising to a rate which none had ever dreamed to be possible of attainment.
The situation thus reached placed the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in an important and influential role as a factor of moment in the meeting of a crisis in maritime affairs such as had never before been assumed by American shipbuilders. The production of ships was declared to be the most vital of wartime needs, and had, indeed, become a branch of Government service of the most crucial importance. The corporation's first year under its new charter was one of the most strenuous efforts toward easing the demand for ships.
During that year the expansion of the plant and the consequent increase of construction of vessels for the Emergency Fleet Corporation and the Navy required greatly increased shop capacity. It involved important additions to the various departments, such as the forge shops, plate and angle shops, power houses, etc., and the work of extension has still continued, involving an expense of several million dollars for plant increases. The new corporation began with a force, taken over from the old one, of 4,500 men, and this force has been increased step by step with the enlargement of the plant, until there is now employed a force aggregating 19,500 people.
The wages fixed by the United States Wage Adjustment Board, and under which the corporation is operating, have attracted an excellent class of workmen, and with them the most cordial relations have been established. The rapid enlargement of the working force created serious welfare problems, which have been met by housing and transportation plans which have proved quite effective, the corporation having contracted with the Emergency Fleet Corporation for the construction of 1,700 workmen's houses of excellent, permanent character, adjacent to the plant, which have been completed. Another important feature in connection with the employes' welfare has been the putting in force of a blanket insurance policy, covering all employes who have been with the corporation one year or more, the amount of insurance being five hundred dollars per employe for the first year and increasing at the rate of one hundred dollars per year for each subsequent year of service. This is in addition to the Workmen's
Compensation required by law. In fact, there is no shipbuilding plant in which the employes' welfare operations are carried on more effectively than in the plant of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation.
The output of the plant includes a large percentage of naval construction of various kinds up to the largest type of battleships and many merchant vessels, of which launchings are made from time to time. The plant has delivered approximately 200 vessels, some of which have had rather conspicuous careers. The "Mongolia" and the "Manchuria," in the trans-Pacific trade between San Francisco and the Orient, were equivalent to the "Lusitania" and the "Mauretania" in the trans-Atlantic service. Among river boats few are better known than the "Washington Irving" and the "Robert Fulton," carrying their thousands up and down the Hudson. Of the numerous fighting ships that have been built at this yard perhaps the "Utah," "Arkansas," "Oklahoma," "Michigan" and the "Idaho" (commissioned this year) are the best known.
The officers of the corporation are George J. Baldwin, chairman of the board of directors; Marvin A. Neeland, president; H. A. Magoun, senior vice-president; N. de Taube and W. G. Groesbeck, vice-presidents; J. T. Wickersham, secretary and treasurer; Percy Mayes and Norman R. Parker, assistant treasurers; A. G. Con- nell, assistant secretary and treasurer; Cecil Page and Charles T. Green, assistant secretaries.
The directors of the corporation are George J. Baldwin, Marvin A. Neeland, N. de Taube, P. A. S. Franklin, Joseph P. Grace, Edward W. Harden, Samuel M. Knox, Ambrose Monell, William Finlay Morgan, Lawrence FI. Shearman, C. C. Stillman, Charles A. Stone, Eric P. Swen- son, Henry H. Wehrhane and Beekman Win- throp. With Chairman George J. Baldwin, Messrs. Neeland, Franklin, Grace, Stone and Shearman constitute the Executive Committee.
The personnel and management of the corporation cover every requisite of experience to make this great enterprise function with efficiency and accuracy. The corporation takes its place as one of the fully equipped and strongest shipbuilding factors.