Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference

January 03, 1941

THE PRESIDENT: There are only two things I can think of for you. One is that because it is perfectly obvious that so much tonnage in the way of ships has been going to the bottom for a year and a half, probably at the end of the war, sooner or later, there will be a shortage—a world shortage—of tonnage. Therefore we have begun taking the first steps toward a program of building about 200 merchant ships—a program which will cost somewhere around $300,000,000, between $300,000,000 and $350,000,000, in a number of new plants. This is on the general theory that there has been a tremendous expansion in existing shipbuilding plants, as you all know; and the time seems to have come when it is advisable to create some new plants. Toward that program, in order to get started, I have taken $36,000,000 out of the President's Special Contract Authorization Fund.

The other thing:—I expect next week to send to the Senate a name for Ambassador to Great Britain; but in the meantime I am asking Harry Hopkins to go over as my personal representative for a very short trip to the other side, just to maintain—I suppose that is the best word for it—personal contact between me and the British Government. He will only be over there a couple of weeks, and then come back here.

Q. Does Mr. Hopkins have any special mission, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no!

Q. Any title?


Q. Is that $300,000,000 to be for constructing new yards, or actual construction of ships?

THE PRESIDENT: Actual construction.

Q. Where will the majority of the new yards be?

THE PRESIDENT: I thought I would not bring that subject up, because if I were to say now one were to go to the State of X and another to the State of Y, they would at once try to get them away.

Q. How will the new shipbuilding yards be financed?

THE PRESIDENT: Out of this $36,000,000. Some of you older people remember a place called Squantum that I built in 1917 on the marshes between Boston and Fall River, near Quincy, Massachusetts. Actually, the shipyard itself cost very little, because it was more a question of driving a lot of piles for the ways and putting a nice tin shed over the ways and putting in some light construction shops. It is not an expensive type of plant for this type of ship.

Q. Will this work be done entirely by existing shipbuilding companies?

THE PRESIDENT: Not necessarily, no.

Q. Will the Government own the ships?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes; that is a question of working it out.

Q. One more question; you may not wish to answer it, but I am interested in the old Morris Shipbuilding Company in Connecticut.

THE PRESIDENT: I honestly don't know. There was some talk of reviving it when we were up there in New London. We went right by the old Morris plant; but whether there is enough salvage material there or enough labor supply, I don't know.

Q. Are there others of the old World War plants that are in the same condition? I have in mind Hog Island.

THE PRESIDENT: At Hog Island there is nothing left. There is an old plant that was running in World War days on the Hudson River, at Newburgh. Some of the piling and docks have rotted away; the buildings are still there. That is being studied, whether it is worth while to rehabilitate them.

Q. How long does it take, generally speaking, to build one of those shipyards?

THE PRESIDENT: I hate to be categorical on that. Suppose you figure it out this way, that we ought to get ships inside of a year.

Q. Mr. President, is the Maritime Commission supervising this?


Q. What design of ships?

THE PRESIDENT: Anyone of you that knows a ship and loves a ship would hate them, as I do. In other words, they are the type of ship that is built by the yard or the foot. Nobody that loves ships can be very proud of them; but it gets them out, and the difference, roughly speaking, in time between building a ship that is built like a square, oblong tank and a ship that is really a ship is six or eight months. In other words, by building this dreadful looking object you save six or eight months.

Q. Mr. President, when is Mr. Hopkins going to London?


Q. What is the total tonnage of these ships involved, could you say?

THE PRESIDENT: I think— I may not be exactly correct—I think, roughly, about 7500 tons each.

Q. Mr. President, will there be any prefabrication of parts?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we'll do all we can in the steel plant and have the shipyard itself, as much as possible, merely an assembly plant. . . .

Q. Will consideration be given to construction in places where the Government already owns property?

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot think of any such place.

Q. We mentioned Hog Island; the Government still holds a large amount of land there.

THE PRESIDENT: There are other considerations—labor supply and things of that kind.

Q. Have we sufficient skilled labor to build them?

THE PRESIDENT: Probably so.

Q. There will not be any training programs for this, will there?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, like everything else; we are training people for all kinds of things. I think NYA alone, as a Government proposition, is training about 300,000 people at this moment. In addition to that, you have a great many people that are being trained under the supervision of labor unions; you have an enormous number of people being trained in private plants. The total is very large.

Q. Mr. President, in connection with the ships, there was a morning story in London suggesting that we were going to give more ships to Britain.

THE PRESIDENT: A morning-paper story?

Q. Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: That's what it sounds like. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, with regard to Mr. Hopkins, you said he was going over as personal representative; will he have a status of ambassador?

THE PRESIDENT: No, he has no status at all; he is going over as my representative. The question of title doesn't enter into it.

Q. You said next week you would name the new ambassador; does that mean a name has been submitted?


Q. Mr. President, is it safe to say Mr. Hopkins will not be the next Ambassador?

THE PRESIDENT: You know Harry isn't strong enough for that job.

Q. Will he be on the Government pay roll?

THE PRESIDENT: I suppose they will pay his expenses—probably a per diem, not very large—either for you or Hopkins! (Laughter)

Q. Has the date of his departure been fixed?


Q. Has Mr. Kennedy's resignation become effective?


Q. Will it be effective on Mr. Hopkins' going over?


Q. Will anyone accompany Mr. Hopkins?

THE PRESIDENT: No. And he will have no powers.

Q. Will he have any mission to perform?

THE PRESIDENT: No; you can't get anything exciting. (Laughter) He's just going over to say "How do you do?" to a lot of my friends! (Laughter)

Q. There have been some unofficial complaints from Sweden about your reference Sunday night to the fact that they were sending materials to Germany.

THE PRESIDENT: I'll give you something—off the record. This is what happened: In the draft— No. 6 draft, I think it was-I had it worded in such a way that it took half a page—half a typewritten page. This is off the record; it has to be. You see how these things happen. I had explained that Sweden, under a form of duress—that is the word I used originally, which would be certainly true—was sending iron, steel, into Germany every day. It was perfectly true; it was a form of duress. I went on and I said, in the case of Rumania, it was oil, and that is again a form of duress. I came to the case of Russia. Well, that probably is not duress; that is a question of Russian policy, because it is an awfully big country; and I left out the word "duress" in the case of Russia. And then I bumped into the awful problem of what is the status of supplies going into Germany from Yugoslavia. Is that duress or not? I got so involved in trying to explain the status of supplies going to Germany from different nations near Germany, and I needed to save space anyway, so I put it all into one sentence, and left out what the reason was behind the supplies going in. Of course the reason differs in almost every country. I just lumped it and called it "Sweden, Russia, and other nations near Germany"; and the fact remains that the supplies are going in. So that is what happened. That is the story of the sentence.

Q. Mr. President, do you consider that the steel supply-the present steel supply—is adequate for the shipbuilding program?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope so. In other words, you know perfectly well on this question of this, that, and the other shortage, taking steel for instance, that we got the very best advice we could on steel way back last autumn, from people who know steel. They said there were ample steel production facilities in the United States. We told them, "Hold on, now, you may have more steel to turn out—plates, ships, et cetera—than you think." They said, "We still think we have ample."

This went on until October or November. It wasn't their fault; but the program itself developed faster than they thought. In November I insisted that they review the whole situation, and then they came to believe that additional steel production was necessary, and since then they have picked up. For instance, Tennessee Coal and Iron is putting in 400,000 tons; Bethlehem is putting in 800,000, and they are adding another 800,000 for our glass furnaces and things like that; so probably the production has been increased about 2,000,000 tons of steel a year. I think on this—

Q. [interposing] Beginning when? It takes 18 months to build a glass furnace.

THE PRESIDENT: That is a thing I am trying to cut. In this we probably have enough to turn out the ships and plates. It is very simple work. On the general question whether we shall have to increase steel production facilities, I expect a report within two or three days, and it looks as if we would have to increase the facilities. . . .

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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