Abstract: Industrial Mobilization of State-Owned Enterprise: U.S. Navy Yards during the New Deal and World War II

Thomas Heinrich


Though state-controlled enterprise is a bit of an anomaly in American economic history, industrial plants owned and operated by the federal government played an especially important role in sectors related to national defense. Key among these was warship construction, where navy yards produced high-performance weapons platforms for the American fleet since its inception. Their significance for the creation and maintenance of American seapower proliferated in World War II, when the U.S. navy became the world's largest employer of industrial labor and built some of the most sophisticated combatants of the American fleet. The navy's reliance on state-controlled enterprise calls into question the validity of conventional interpretations of industrial mobilization that focus on the conversion of civilian industries to military production. The paper argues that the groundwork for navy yard shipbuilding in World War II was laid during the New Deal, when the Roosevelt administration expanded the navy yards in response to the cartelization of naval shipbuilding, creating a major industrial asset for World War II.