The history and legacy of the Second World War can be seen all around us in Brooklyn. Once home to hundreds of factories, shipyards, and warehouses, and responsible for sending millions of service members off to the front lines, Brooklyn was arguably one of the most important communities in waging and winning the war. Using locations from communities across Brooklyn—including famous sites like the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal, and lesser-known sites that help tell stories about labor, housing, and culture—as well as primary source documents and oral histories, this program will help illuminate Brooklynites’ experience of World War II.
The (Re)connecting Brooklyn’s History series brings the fascinating work of historians to an audience of students and educators through online presentations and resources for sustained engagement with local history topics.
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.
On September 22, 1958, 23-year-old US Army Private Elvis Presley boarded troop transport USS General George M. Randall at the Brooklyn Army Terminal to begin his 17 months of military service in Germany. Though everything Elvis did was a media event, he tried his best to be just another G.I. In this virtual program, we will follow Elvis’ footsteps in Brooklyn, compare his experience to that of millions of other soldiers that passed through the New York Port of Embarkation, place his drafting and deployment into the context of the Cold War, and discuss the impact of his military service on his music and movie career.
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.
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.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we are looking back at the remarkable careers of the ships where the war began and ended for the United State, both built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. USS Arizona was built in 1916, and 25 years later, it was destroyed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 1,177 aboard and drawing the US into the war. In 1944, USS Missouri slid off the ways in Brooklyn, and it would become the site of the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on Sep. 2, 1945. We will share stories of the ships’ construction and service, and our experiences visiting both, sitting side by side today, one afloat and one at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i.
World War II came to a close in 1945, and looking back 75 years, it is hard to believe that Americans on the cusp of war in 1940 were as removed from the Civil War as we are from World War II today. Imagine veterans of that war, fought with horses and muskets, still alive to share their memories in the Atomic Age.
Today, we have a dwindling number of World War II veterans, all now well north of 90 years old (unlike the Civil War, there were no 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old drummer boys or powder monkeys). So throughout 2020, we are offering special content on our World War II Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the first Sunday of each month that will focus on different aspects of the human story of the war, utilizing our vast archive or oral histories and other personal stories of life on the home front and on the front lines.>> Continue reading
When looking back at the ship’s history from the perspective of its tragic end, one can’t help but find many omens; when taken together, they seem to have foretold its fate. They are, of course, coincidences, not curses, but fascinating nonetheless.>> Continue reading
Since we began working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard nearly ten years ago, the Yard has become a huge part of our lives and our identity, both as a company and as individuals. We see connections to its past and present nearlyeverywherewego, and we are learning new things about it every day.
We are always looking for new ways to bring the stories of the Yard to life for the public. It has been nearly 40 years since a ship was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and more than 50 since a US Navy ship was built there, so shipbuilding can seem like a distant memory. We have found that actually seeing the products of the Yard’s workers is not only a great inspiration, it also helps us better understand the nature of the work that went into them. It’s one thing to talk about welders, shipfitters, caulkers, and riggers building a 45,000-ton battleship; it’s another entirely to actually see the sum of that labor and how it all fit together. Unfortunately, only a small number of Brooklyn-built ships still exist, but we have been lucky enough to visit a few of them over the years.>> Continue reading
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is 5,000 miles from Pearl Harbor, and though the reverberations of the events there on December 7, 1941 were felt across the globe, they hit especially hard on this small stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront.
Already 140 years old at the time, the Brooklyn Navy Yard had established itself as one of the most venerable shipbuilding and ship repair facilities in the Navy, and the Yard would be pushed to the limit during World War II, building, repairing, and servicing more than 5,000 vessels in just four years. Not only would ships be brought from across the world to be patched up and pushed back into the service at the Yard, but the Yard’s skilled craftsmen would be dispatched to other shipyards to help keep the fleet in fighting order.>> Continue reading