Waterfront workers were at the vanguard of the labor movement; the word “strike” has its origins in work stoppages on the London docks in 1768, when sailors “struck” the sails of ships to keep them in port. In New York, skilled shipworkers organized some of the earliest trade associations, and they agitated for steady wages and reduced working hours as far back as the 1820s. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, federal regulations and political patronage often stifled workers’ ability to strike, but by the time of World War II, the massive workforce of the Yard was heavily unionized, and the good-paying jobs would form the backbone of Brooklyn’s middle class. In this virtual program, we will examine the long history of labor organizing at the Yard, how workers fought for their rights in the absence of formal unions, and how the unions ultimately proved powerless against changing politics and economics of the shipbuilding industry in New York.
To mark the 80th anniversary since the attack on Pearl Harbor, this virtual program will examine the connections between the fleet in Hawaii in 1941 and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We will look at the histories of the eight ships built at the Yard that were moored in Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning, including the battleships Arizona and Tennessee. We will also discuss the role the Yard played in salvaging the Pacific Fleet in the aftermath of the attack, as more than 1,000 skilled Brooklyn shipworkers volunteered to go to Hawaii to help rebuild.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, the US Navy established six naval shipyards to build, repair, and outfit the fleet. From the “original six”—Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Washington—the public shipyard system would expand over the next 150 years, peaking at 11 in 1943. Today, only four Naval Shipyards still exist, but as the other sites have been decommissioned over the past five decades, they have been repurposed as industrial parks, residential neighborhoods, container ports, and more. This virtual program will examine the history of these yards’ closure, the challenges and successes of their repurposing, and the future of the country’s active public shipyards.
Wire rope helped build many New York City landmarks in the nineteenth century, most notably the Brooklyn Bridge, but it quickly became an essential tool in the maritime industry as well. Marine surveyor Charlie Deroko returns to our virtual programs with an engineer’s perspective on the history of wire rope and a mechanics’ view of its use on historic tall ships, specifically the Peking, which spent 40 years in the South Street Seaport Museum’s collection.
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.
On December 19, 1960, the Brooklyn Navy Yard suffered the worst accident in its history, a devastating fire aboard the USS Constellation that killed 50 workers. This fire was not only a tragedy for those who were killed and injured and their families, but it marked a turning point in the Yard’s history that many believe led to its closure less than six years later. Over the years, we have had the honor to meet many people that lived through this ordeal, and we will share oral histories and photos from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archives to reconstruct this fateful day and examine its impact on individuals, the city, and the Navy.
For well over a century, City Island in western Long Island Sound was an important maritime community, not only as a destination for tourists — which it still is — but also as a center of yacht building and sail-making. As fiberglass superseded wood, the boatbuilding ceased, and the sail-making industry moved on to other locations, but the island remains proud of its nautical heritage, which is celebrated in the City Island Nautical Museum.
Since its founding over 52 years ago, South Street Seaport Museum has faced the daunting job of preserving its historic fleet. Join us for a photographic voyage with Director of Historic Ships Jesse Lebovics to see the challenges and remarkable efforts made for the long term preservation of 1885 ship Wavertree, 1930 tugboat W.O. Decker, 1885 schooner Pioneer, and the planned upcoming work on 1907 lightship Ambrose.
One of the most frequent questions from visitors on our Brooklyn Navy Yard Tours is, where are the ships of the US Navy built today? At its height in 1966, the US Navy operated 12 shipyards that built and repaired a huge proportion of the fleet; today, it operates only four, and all ship construction is done at private yards. This virtual program with Andrew Gustafson will discuss the decline of the government shipbuilding, the major private shipyards working today, and the current and future challenges to the naval shipbuilding program.
Join the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Cultural Adventures Program (BCAP) every weekday at 10am for Adventures in Brooklyn. Virtually visit many different cultural partners as we explore art, science, reading, and more across Brooklyn from home! From July 6 to 10, we will be hosting special programs all about the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including learning about ships and how they are built and repaired, looking at many of the products that are made in the Yard today, and exploring stories of people, ships, and even animals from the Yard’s long history.
This program is designed for children ages 5 to 10 and their families. Click the links below to watch the 30-minute episodes on YouTube: