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.
As we approach New York City’s primary elections on June 22, housing, as always, is a key issue on the ballot. So we are looking back at the history of social housing in New York – not just the city’s vast NYCHA public housing system, but also other forms of government and philanthropic intervention that have tried to tame the beast of unsafe, unsanitary, and unaffordable housing over the past 100+ years. This program will look at examples of model housing designed by social reformers, landmark cooperatives built by labor unions and community groups, the rise of public housing beginning in the 1930s, and public subsidies for private developments. This wide-ranging examination will take us from the Home and Tower Buildings to the First Houses, from Stuy-Town to the housing lottery.
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.
Maps hold the power to organize and explain the world beyond what we can observe with our own eyes, making them extremely powerful political tools. Maps that express a geopolitical vision of how the world works (or should work) have been hugely influential in shaping military strategy, international relations, and public opinion. In this virtual program, our resident political geographer and cartographer Andrew Gustafson will give a crash course on the history of geopolitics as a discipline, using examples of these influential geopolitical imaginings from the past 150 years, from Halford Mackinder’s Heartland to Ronald Reagan’s Chokepoints; Karl Haushofer’s Pan-Regions to George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil.
April 6 marks the 104th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, but the impacts of this global conflict were already being felt in New York City. Starting in 1914, panicked markets, inefficient infrastructure, and marauding U-boats caused price shocks and shortages, and the war led directly to the creation of new modes of food distribution, leading to the creation of New York City’s wholesale and retail public market system that still exists today. In this program, we will examine reports from the time period by the city and state Departments and Markets about how new open-air markets were stood up, pushcart peddlers were mobilized to bring food to neighborhoods, and the public was educated to conserve scarce or strategically valuable ingredients.
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.
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.
More than 2,800 Brooklynites were killed in World War I, and Prospect Park quickly became one of the borough’s key points of remembrance and commemoration. On this virtual walking tour for Veterans Day, we will explore some of the memorial sites in the park and they people they memorialize, including the memorial trees along Prospect Park West, Bartel-Pritchard Square, and the striking 1921 memorial by Henry Augustus Lukeman. We will also discuss the ways in which the park was mobilized and transformed as a result of the war.
Papercraft modeling and dolls are as old as paper, but the art form exploded in the 19th century with new innovations in printing technology, and tiny French city of Épinal became one of the global centers of printmaking. During the pandemic, papercraft modeling has been a welcome respite, and we have found countless Épinal prints available online and through Épinal’s Musée de L’Image. In this virtual program, we will examine (and assemble) some of our favorite models, including landmarks of French architecture, notable ships, and scenes from World War I. To provide historical context, we will be joined by Dr. Raisa Rexer, Assistant Professor of French at Vanderbilt University and an expert on 19th century French art and photography.