Williams, William J.

Wilson Administration and the Shipbuilding Crisis of 1917. Steel Ships and Wooden Steamers
1992 0-7734-9492-8
This study is the most thorough one available of the Wilson Administration's inept initial attempts to deal with the shipbuilding crisis of 1917. Based upon extensive research in government archives and private manuscript collections, it begins with an outline of the history of American shipbuilding prior to 1914 and examines the impact of the Great War. It details the growth of the shipyards, the political process involved in the creation of the Shipping Board and the Wilson Administration's choice of the original members. The bulk of the book then examines how the new agency dealt with the U-boat crisis that led America into the war, and, in particular, Frederic Eustis's incredible plan to mass-produce small wooden steamships. The U.S., he believed, could turn them out faster than German submarines could sink them. The manuscript demonstrates this scheme's impracticality. The Board's first chairman, William Denman, though, was impressed by the proposal and adopted it as the Shipping Board's answer to the U-boat. "This is a well written, thoroughly researched case study of America's industrial mobilization during World War I. . . . His account of various proposals for creating a national merchant fleet is both useful in itself and relevant in the context of post-Desert Storm changes in U.S. deployment strategy. . . . His description of the techniques for mass producing steel vessels throws new light on the construction of the "four-piper" destroyers during World War I and the liberty ships of World War II. And his presentation of the personal conflicts that shaped the wooden ship program establishes the importance of human factors in a pre-bureaucratic age." - Dennis Showalter