Concrete may seem like an odd material for shipbuilding, but during World War I, severe shortages of steel led to this innovation. Devised by Norwegian immigrants the Fougner brothers, they built one of the first such ships in the US at their shipyard in Flushing, Queens. The technology reached its apex during World War II, when the US built over 100 ships and barges, and they were used as freighters, tankers, and even floating ice cream factories. Large-scale concrete shipbuilding is a thing of the past, but we will examine the fates of these wartime ships, and discuss many examples of concrete boatbuilding today.
Behind the gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard lies a network of streets that are a mystery to most New Yorkers. Named for naval heroes, shipyard operations, and even a numbered grid, these streets trace the Yard’s history from the War of 1812 through World War II. While new attention has been given to how and whom we memorialize in our public places and streets, we will unpack the stories of the people behind these street names as we virtually walk through the history of the Yard.
Completed in 1919, the Brooklyn Army Terminal is a marvel of architecture and engineering. On this virtual tour, we will examine its design and construction during World War I, its 47-year service as a military supply base, and its reinvention as a hub for industry, manufacturing, and technology today. We will spend time in the breathtaking atrium, step into the skybridges that connect the buildings, and look at how the site has been renovated.
On National Submarine Day, dive into the undersea history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard! Although no submarines were ever built at the Yard, from the Civil War to the Cold War, it was a critical facility for the development, testing, and outfitting of the US Navy’s submarine fleet, from primitive hand-cranked submersibles to nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs. This program will explore the evolution of submarine technology and critical breakthroughs that were made at the Yard, including the development of diesel engines from captured German U-boats, experimental torpedoes and underwater munitions, and the world’s first satellite-based navigation system.
Food manufacturing has been a cornerstone of Brooklyn’s manufacturing economy for 150 years. Not only was the borough was home to some of the largest chocolate and confectionary makers in the country, but its port brought the tropical ingredients from around the globe. We will discuss some of the large and small chocolate makers that dotted Brooklyn’s landscape, the men and women who worked in them, and the transformations brought to the industry by mechanization, unionization, and war. We will also look at some of the artisanal chocolate makers that are keeping the confectionary traditions alive today.
The celebrate Black History Month and the 220th birthday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we are looking at the obstacles and opportunities that Black people encountered at the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the end of the Civil War through the Yard’s closure a century later. The program will examine the long history of African-Americans in the maritime trades, their systematic exclusion from the uniformed ranks of the US Navy in the Jim Crow era, and the new opportunities that emerged during World War II. We will look at profiles of trailblazers, innovators, and activists who worked and served there, and how the Yard became an important to Black economic and cultural life in Brooklyn. This virtual program follows up where we left off with last year’s “An Unfree Fleet,” which looked at the Yard’s connections to the institution of slavery.
Hit the slopes with us as we explore the history of downhill skiing in the United States. We will look at the introduction of modern skiing by Norwegian immigrants, the evolution of Alpine skiing disciplines and equipment, and the explosion of the sport’s popularity after World War II, thanks to veterans of the famed 10th Mountain Division. We will also look at local connections – though New Yorkers routinely flock to northern resorts, multiple New York City parks once hosted ski hills (including Prospect Park), and today you can ski indoors at the nearby Meadowlands. We will even have guests joining live from slopes at Vermont’s Smugglers Notch and Quechee Ski Area, near where the country’s first ski lift started spinning in 1934.
Over the past four centuries, the Battery at the tip of Manhattan has evolved, from a fortification to immigration station to park to National Monument. On this virtual walking tour, we will take advantage of the sweeping views of the harbor, share the history of Castle Clinton and the park, and explore some of its many monuments. The Battery is in many ways New York City’s World War II memorial, housing the Eastern Sea Frontier Memorial, the Norwegian Veterans Memorial, the haunting American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, and the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a living memorial to the Holocaust.
On the eve of Veterans Day, join us as we explore Brooklyn’s homefront during World War II through the experiences of those who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Center for Brooklyn History archivists Amy Lau and Mary Mann team up with Turnstile Tours’ Andrew Gustafson to lead us on an intimate journey that weaves together oral history clips from CBH’s Brooklyn Navy Yard collection, excerpts of letters to loved ones overseas, and photographs of the Yard and its workers. These first-hand stories, primarily from women and people of color, bring to life the WWII efforts of those who remained at home.
As Open House New York Weekend goes online this year, we are hosting a virtual visit to one of the most popular sites of the weekend, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, so join us for a live exploration of the site’s architecture, history, and industry. Designed by architect Cass Gilbert and built in 1918–1919, the Terminal is an architectural and engineering marvel that served as a major military installation for nearly 50 years. Today it is a city-owned industrial park that is home to over 100 businesses, and we will visit with some of the makers, manufacturers, and artists that occupy the buildings today, including FABSCRAP, SPark Workshop Brooklyn, and Uncommon Goods. This program is supported by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.