Wilson Administration and the Shipbuilding Crisis of 1917. Steel Ships and Wooden Steamers

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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


". . . he has provided an articulate and scholarly blow-by-blow, behind-the-scenes account of the power struggle between the Board's leaders, a battle that threatened to compromise the war effort itself. . . . Williams, who writes very good history indeed, has much to work with, for the events he documents are filled with national icons and egos, all patriotic men with good intentions but entirely different agendas. . . . Williams has carefully crafted this significant but long-ignored component of American maritime and political history into an exceptionally readable, well-researched, and amply footnoted work. Anyone interested in the Wilson administration's efforts at mobilizing America for the Great War will find this excellent work of scholarship both absorbing and educational." The Journal of Military History (July 1994) "Williams has done a creditable piece of research on a subject not widely covered in the literature of American involvement in World War I. He demonstrates extensive use of the records of the Shipping Board in the National Archives, as well as manuscript sources, including the papers of Denman, Goethels, Josephus Daniels, Woodrow Wilson, and others. Significant secondary sources were also utilized. The book is worth acquisition for collections with an interest in the Wilson administration and World War I." - The North Carolina Historical Review

"Williams ... details this crisis through meticulous research, and the result is an enlightening view of a significant but relatively unknown chapter in U.S. maritime history." - Naval Institute Proceedings "By devoting an entire monograph to the incident, Williams is able to add a good deal to our understanding of a significant subject. . . . a worthy study -- on the whole well-written, sensibly organized, carefully researched, and plausibly argued." -- The American Neptune "Williams' writing fills a void in the maritime history of World War I, and it does so in a most readable manner." - Charles Dana Gibson in The Northern Mariner

"Williams' analysis of this episode is thorough in every account. His use of primary sources is exemplary. It is hard to imagine that anyone can improve substantially on the documentation. This is a solid work and significantly augments a small, but growing, body of literature covering the World War I nautical policies of the Wilson administration." - International Journal of Maritime History

"William J. Williams has done an admirable job in documenting this seldom discussed aspect of America's maritime history. His emphasis on the experiences and political motivations of the key personalities involved provides useful insights into the decisio

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