WWI Shipbuilding

September 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Lie, Jonas. 1918. Original Stone Lithograph.

“On the Job for Victory,” Lie, Jonas. 1918. Original Stone Lithograph.

From 1914 to 1917, the United States, as neutral power, stood to profit from shipping goods to all European belligerents. “America’s trade with the Allies was fast becoming the mainstay of the American economy” * After the US declaration of war in April of 1917, the government’s mobilization of American land, labor and money produced a tremendous fleet of ships and expanded shipyards virtually overnight.


To rebuild the country’s once proud merchant fleet (while the belligerents were too busy to compete) President Wilson signed the Shipping Act into law with a working capital of fifty million dollars. The Shipping Board was authorized to purchase, charter, requisition and operate a commercial fleet. The Act also established the Emergency Fleet Corporation, responsible for new construction. Steel magnate Charles M. Schwab, who designed a ship that could be mass-produced, using common items of bridge and structural steel, headed the EFC. The EFC’s goal was to launch 100 ships per day. By July 4th of 1918, less than 15 months later, the EFC was able to launch 95 ships per day.


Over the course of the war, 50,000 Americans went to work in the shipyards. By the end of the war, the shipping board commanded 2,600 vessels and was almost 60 % larger than it’s pre-war size. Critics argue that business interests led to a far greater expansion then what was really needed.


This post was written by Elizabeth Norris, Owner of Vintage European Posters

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