Franklin D. Roosevelt

Press Conference During a Tour Defense Facilities

July 29, 1940

I am delighted to come back to Norfolk after a great many years, to see the splendid work being done, not only to facilitate new construction but also repair work.

I am very much reminded of 1917 and 1918 when this was one of the most important yards we had in the Navy.

(The following Press Conference took place just before leaving the Norfolk Navy Yard, at 10:30 A.M. Admiral Manly H. Simons, Commandant of the Navy Yard, took part in this Conference.)

THE PRESIDENT: Admiral [Admiral Simons], stand right out here and tell the newspapermen what has been happening here.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: I think most of them have that broadcast.[Referring to the copy of his report to the President with respect to the activities of the Norfolk Navy Yard.]

THE PRESIDENT: But they haven't what I want, quite. I will just ask you some questions:How many men do you have in the Yard, all told?

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Twelve thousand.

THE PRESIDENT: How many did you have a year ago?

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Last September we had seventy-six hundred.

THE PRESIDENT: On construction work, we are building the Alabama, the first battleship to be built at this Yard.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: No, sir; the first modern battleship. The old Texas was built at this Yard.

THE PRESIDENT: That was almost before you and I were born.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Yes, sir; that was in the gay nineties, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: And we are preparing ways for one more battleship?

ADMIRAL SIMONS: The new submerged ways will take care of three battleships. They will be 1,186 feet long and will take 47 feet of water over the sills.

THE PRESIDENT: The Admiral told me one interesting thing that is worth putting down, and that is the great deal of work that has been done the past few years by WPA labor. There are quite a number of these new ships that are being built by WPA labor. That is just as an illustration. It is a pretty good illustration. We have taken on, permanently, as permanent employees, about forty per cent. Is that right?

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Those figures are correct.

THE PRESIDENT: Forty per cent of WPA labor, and they are now under civil service. In other words, that shows that a fairly high percentage of WPA labor is efficient. That is the easiest way of putting it.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Yes, sir; and a good many of them would have been taken on had they been capable of meeting the physical requirements. A great many of them were unable to meet the physical requirements.

THE PRESIDENT: Anything else to bring out, Frank?

SECRETARY KNOX: I thought that the new machine shop was tremendously interesting.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that new machine shop.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: It is one of the largest shops under one roof in the world.

THE PRESIDENT: In the world! It certainly is bigger than any other Navy Yard.

SECRETARY KNOX: When running the Yard at ultimate capacity, what would be your total of men employed?

ADMIRAL SIMONS: I think between sixteen and twenty thousand.

There is one point we haven't brought up, and that is about our relations with labor at the present time. They are very satisfactory and a great many of the Union—the biggest men in the Union in the Yard—are wondering why we don't go on a six-day week. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: They want to make more money.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: They are willing to do anything in the emergency, and I think they are all working with that spirit.

THE PRESIDENT: That is fine. And now we will go down to the [Naval] Base.

ADMIRAL SIMONS: Thank you, sir; I am very much honored.

THE PRESIDENT: I am very happy.

THE PRESIDENT [introducing Captain Roger Williams, Vice President of the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company]: Captain Roger Williams was one of my Navy boys in the old days. We used to cruise together, and he is now Vice President of the Yard. I wanted Captain Williams to tell you what they are doing and what they have been doing the last year or two as compared with what they were doing the last ten years or so.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: 1933 was the low point, and that year we were assigned two large aircraft carriers and two cruisers, the construction of the cruisers to be scattered over the following years. Those aircraft carriers were the Enterprise and the Yorktown. After that we participated in other naval work, which came along. We got a few destroyers and considerable work for the Maritime Commission.

We built the America here; it left the Yard day before yesterday and has just gone to New York.

THE PRESIDENT: You have got a battleship, a sister ship of the one over at Norfolk.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: The battleship, that is the Indiana.

Q. Is that a 35,000 or 45,000?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: That is a secret. (Laughter) That is a secret. It is 35,000 off the record, but we do not know what it will be when we get through. We don't quote the tonnage. We have got the aircraft carrier Hornet about 45 per cent completed. And we have just taken on new contracts for seven more aircraft carriers and four light cruisers.

THE PRESIDENT: As many as that?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Yes, sir. Today I made a terrific decision which involved 380 million dollars' worth of work. Even 380 dollars means a lot to me. (Laughter)

THE PRESIDENT: How many men have you?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Twelve thousand, and we will work up to between eighteen and twenty thousand. But we have got a motto around here, "no housee, no shippee." If you put that in the paper and work up the housing people, it will help a lot. They are doing everything possible; they have one 500-unit housing project and one slum clearance project which will take care of about 250 more; but we do need a much larger housing development.

Q. [Mr. Durno] How does that 12,000 compare with normal?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Our normal is 6,000, 67 hundred, 65 hundred.

Q. [Mr. Durno] How many ways have you?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: We have nine ways, and they are building two large ways in addition and one large machine shop and turret shop.

Q. You said something a while ago, Captain, regarding seven more carriers?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: Well, we have actually got awards for three carriers and two cruisers, but the award written today will be four more carriers and two more cruisers.

Q. Did it break?


Q. The new award is dependent on the money being appropriated?

THE PRESIDENT: It is in that new bill of authorization.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: It depends on the money being appropriated.

THE PRESIDENT: This is not only one of the most successful Yards but also one of the happiest.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: That is perfectly true. I have spent ten happy years in it, not always active ones but always happy.

THE PRESIDENT: Nearly all the people here are local people who are third-generation employees in some cases.


THE PRESIDENT: Also they have one of the most wonderful naval museums that Mr. Huntington started. I am sorry we haven't time to see it.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: It is a mariners' museum.

THE PRESIDENT: It is a marine museum, all kinds of models, but more Merchant Marine than it is Navy. Mine at Hyde Park is more Navy than it is Merchant Marine.

Q. Anything else you can give us?

THE PRESIDENT: I should also say that it is good eye demonstration of what we have been doing for national defense since last summer. I think they told you at the Airport just now that over the last three years they have quadrupled the facilities and the actual work which is going on. At the Fleet Base, with all the new work that is going on, I should say we have increased it fifty per cent in the last six—I should say the last year, and in the Navy Yard at Norfolk, I guess about the same thing. And I guess you have taken on fifty per cent more work in the last year?


Q. Would you regard what we have seen as an adequate answer to the Administration critics?

THE PRESIDENT: This is just a beginning. We are going to see alot more, George [Mr. Durno], before we get through.

Q. [by a local reporter] We hope some of it comes down this way.

THE PRESIDENT: I think you are doing pretty well down here. I don't think you have any kick coming. The whole Hampton Roads area is working overtime.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: All we can handle.

THE PRESIDENT: Incidentally, do you happen to know about WPA? Have you taken a lot of people off?

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: We have not had so much of an unemployment problem down here. We have never really had it. We have always had something doing. You can always go fishing, if you can't build ships. (Laughter)

Q. In some of your speeches you have called attention to the fact that Washington was once invaded by the British?


Q. Now that you have looked over the outer defenses, I wonder if you think that can happen again?

THE PRESIDENT: It would depend entirely on when it came and who it was, (laughter) which is a good way of putting it. But in about—well, a year from now we are going to feel a lot safer.

CAPTAIN WILLIAMS: I feel very inhospitable in not being able to offer you—

THE PRESIDENT [interposing]: It is all right. I have got to get back.

Q. Does this trip indicate that you might make future inspections of Fleet Bases?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes; not only that but of army stuff and aviation, et cetera.

Well, I guess that is all. Captain, I have been quite happy to see you again.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Press Conference During a Tour Defense Facilities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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