Before Rosie: Women at the Brooklyn Navy Yard pre-World War II | Episode 59

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Before the celebrated images of “Rosie the Riveter” and “Winnie the Welder,” women served in a variety of roles at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in uniform and as civilian workers. We will celebrate Mother’s Day by looking back at the flag makers, telephone operators, nurses, and more that made the Navy Yard run, and paved the way for the thousands of welders, shipfitters, and machinists that worked in the Yard in World War II, and the women serving in all ranks and branches of the armed forces today.

The program is a great prelude to our program on Saturday, May 16 with Manhattan Beach author Jennifer Egan.

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Slavery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

After nearly 12 years of leading tours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most difficult questions we get – and almost always from young people – is this: Were there slaves here?

This question is vexing not just because of the complex and painful subject matter, but also because the historical record is incomplete. The result is usually an imprecise and unsatisfying answer. In short, yes, enslaved people were an integral part of life at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, just as they were across Brooklyn and New York City.

This is an effort to unpack that complexity and get somewhere closer to the historical truth of the matter.

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Guide to Fleet Week New York 2017 Ships

Flight deck of USS Bataan during Fleet Week

This year during Fleet Week New York, we will be visited by more than a dozen ships and units from the US Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Military Sealift Command, and Royal Canadian Navy that will be berthed at locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Here’s a brief guide to some of the units that will be in town, and be sure to check out the full schedule of events on the official Fleet Week NYC website.

Manhattan Pier 88

  • USS Kearsarge open for visitors May 25, 26, 27, and 29, 8am–5pm

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Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: James Diani

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


James Diani (c.1833–1908)

So far in this series, we have profiled commodores, admirals, and captains of industry. But the real history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard is the massive collective labor of thousands of individuals coming together to accomplish extraordinary things. The Navy Yard provided opportunities for newcomers to this country to get decent-paying jobs and apprenticeships (if you could successfully navigate the patronage system) to better their lives. One such person, who spent more than 50 years in the service of this country, was someone we know very little about.>> Continue reading

Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: Peter Asserson

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


Peter Christian Asserson (1839–1906)

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has always adapted to change. Over its first 165 years, rapid changes in naval ship designs forced the adoption of new shipbuilding technologies, materials, and techniques, and the construction of new facilities. No single person did more to shepherd the Yard through these transitions than Peter Christian Asserson, civil engineer of the Navy Yard from 1885 to 1901.>> Continue reading

Immigrants Who Made the Brooklyn Navy Yard Great: John Ericsson

This post is part of our eight-part series profiling immigrants to the United States who made significant contributions to the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the eighteenth century to the present day.


John Ericsson (1803–1889)

John Ericsson was perhaps more of an engineer than any man who ever lived. Of his 85 years on this earth, 75 of them were spent as an engineer, and he worked in almost every conceivable field of engineering a person could in the 19th century, spanning the apogee of the Industrial Revolution. >> Continue reading

Presidential Visits to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Part II

Three years ago, in celebration of Presidents Day, we wrote about the handful of times that sitting US presidents had paid visits to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At that time, we only mentioned two such visits – by William Howard Taft, once as president-elect on November 13, 1908, and as soon-to-be-ousted-president on October 30, 1912, and by Woodrow Wilson,  on May 11, 1914. But we have since done considerably more historical digging, and we would like to share a few more notable presidential visits.>> Continue reading

Extraordinary Journey to Bring Camels to US Began at Brooklyn Navy Yard

This past weekend, I was perusing the US Naval Institute website (probably one of my favorite websites), when I came across an article, “Unique Ships of the U.S. Navy.” Featured in the article were seafaring oddities like the world’s smallest nuclear sub, a concrete-hulled refrigerated barge used to supply sailors with ice cream in World War II, and the Navy’s “smallest aircraft carrier,” the USS Baylander, which is now a resident of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Another one of the vessels on this list caught my eye: the USS Supply, which in 1855–57 embarked on one of the most unusual journeys in American military history. Its mission was to travel to the Middle East to procure for the US Army an experimental caravan of camels to be used for military operations in the arid Southwest. The project itself was remarkable – and has been written about extensively – but it drew my attention because of its close connections to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.>> Continue reading