The Original Six: Repurposing America’s Naval Shipyards | Episode 245

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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.

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Ships of Stone: Concrete Shipbuilding from the World Wars to Today | Episode 236

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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.

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The Constellation Fire: The Accident That Changed the Brooklyn Navy Yard | Episode 173

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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.

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December 7, 1917: The US Navy in World War I | Episode 170

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December 7, 1941 is a date that is indelible in American history, but 24 years earlier, that date also marked an important moment: the arrival of Battle Division 9 to Scapa Flow, the first American battleships to join the British Grand Fleet, which included the Brooklyn Navy Yard-built USS New York and USS Florida. We will discuss the special role of the US Navy in the naval war, in which battleships actually played a very small part. Places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard were instead tasked with building submarine chasers and painting “dazzle” camouflage schemes to counter German U-boats, and American manufacturing was mobilized to produce more than 50,000 mines for the North Sea Mine Barrage to close off passage to the Atlantic from Germany.

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Shipbuilding in the US Navy Today | Episode 113

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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.

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Fleet Week New York, Past and Present | Episode 71

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For just the second time in 33 years, Fleet Week New York has been cancelled this year, so instead, we will look back at Fleet Weeks and naval reviews held over the past century in New York Harbor. From the return of the victorious fleet after World War II to OpSails to ships of the contemporary Navy, we will share images and stories of some of the special visits of military vessels to our harbor and to the Brooklyn waterfront. We normally host our Fleet Week tours with our friends at Classic Harbor Line, so they will be joining us to share about their own beautiful fleet of wooden sailboats and motor yachts that take visitors around the harbor.

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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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Joining the Fleet Week Parade of Ships

Since Fleet Week returned to New York City after a sequestration-imposed hiatus in 2013, I have watched the annual parade of ships from underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which gives you a good vantage point on the Navy and Coast Guard vessels as they pass through the channel into the Upper Bay. This year, however, I got the opportunity to actually be in the parade thanks to the New York Council of the Navy League.>> Continue reading