Answered By: Archives & Library Staff @The Henry Ford
Last Updated: Sep 21, 2017 Views: 7

In the early months of WWI, President Wilson asked Henry Ford to come to Washington, D.C. in the hope that Ford would serve on the U.S. Shipping Board. While there, Ford and his secretary Ernest Liebold spoke to Edward N. Hurley, the chairman of the board, who told them about the problems that ships were having with German U-boats. Ford, Liebold, and Hurley discussed the possibility of a submarine chaser, the idea spread and gained momentum, until eventually the Navy took over the planning of these vessels later known as the Eagle boat.

The Eagle boat was designed by Commander Robert Stocker, Admiral D.W. Taylor, Admiral Griffin, Admiral Dyson, and Commander S.M. Robinson with Ford as an advisor. Ford urged that the hull plates be flat so they could be produced in quantity, and that steam turbines be used instead of reciprocating steam engines. Initially, Ford was not planning on building the boats, but soon found himself agreeing to manufacture 100 boats. On January 14, 1918, Ford Motor Company wrote Secretary Daniels to state that they’d accept a contract to build 100-500 Eagle boats, for a tentative price of $275,000 per vessel, the Government was also to pay for the shipbuilding facilities on the Rouge, estimated at $3,500,000 (which could then be sold to FMC or another company after the war). On January 17, 1918, these terms were accepted with a full contract to come later.

When Ford agreed to the contract, the boats were still relatively small but they grew in size as the project went along. Each ship was 200ft long and weighed 550 tons, with single screw, geared steam turbine, oil burning engines. The boats were fitted with 4-inch guns, anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, depth charge projectors, radio equipment, and submarine listening devices. They had a speed of 18 knots and a cruising radius of 3,000 miles. 

The work site was set for the east bank of Rouge, the stream was widened and dredged, and the first building went up in February 1918. Stretching 18 acres along the river, the site included storage yards, shops, an assembly building, sheds, docks, and a slip and launching platform. The assembly building was designed by Albert Kahn and measured 1700 feet long, 350 feet deep, and 100 feet high, inside were three assembly lines capable of carrying seven boats each. 

William Knudsen was put in charge of the project, with Ford and Liebold continuing to advise as production went along. An experimental keel was first laid in Highland Park to test the building procedure, and the first keel was laid at the Rouge in May of 1918. The first Eagle boat was launched on July 11, 1918 via the hydraulic launching platform on the Rouge. Ford built the boats as factory products using mass production techniques and employing regular factory workers. Though the first boat was completed on time, the ones that followed were not. Workers were unfamiliar with naval construction, and few had riveting or welding experience, the company also was unfamiliar with building boats, which slowed down the process and led to some problems. In addition, there was a scarcity of manufacturing materials, difficulty getting workers, lack of worker housing, and because the Rouge was so far from Detroit, difficulty getting workers to and from work (in fact because there was no public transport to Rogue, the company set up Model T trucks with trailers attached to bring men to factory). However, as time went on employment began to rise, with 4,380 workers in July 1918 and peaked at almost 8,000.  By November 1918, production was picking up and many of the problems had been worked out, however, only seven boats were dispatched before Armistice, and the contract was cut to 60 boats. By January 1919, two boats were being launched each week, the last Eagle boat was launched August 13, 1919.

Ford Motor Company completed 60 boats between May 1918 and August 1919. At time of Armistice, 28 keels had been laid, 12 boats launched, and 7 commissioned by the Navy. Some of the first ships saw patrol duty during the war, but few if any were engaged in fighting. Eight saw duty in WWII, and one, no. 56, was sunk. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography 

Archival
   Acc. 62 Henry Ford Office papers
      box 58 Naval patrol boats (2 folders)
                     Cleveland Dock Engineering Company
                     Construction
                     Suppliers, materials, purchasing
                     Contract (subcontractors)
      box 106 Naval patrol boats - "Eagle" boats - trial runs

   Acc. 285 Henry Ford Office papers
      box 13 KI includes Frank E. Kirby re: Eagle Boats, 1921
      box 170 E151 Eagle Boats, 1923

   Acc. 1 Fair Lane papers
      box 174 Eagle Boats, correspondence and photographs, 1919

   Acc. 116 World War I; Production Records
      box 1 Folder # 1 Correspondence, telegrams, etc., re: Eagle Boat construction
                Folder # 2 U.S. Navy correspondence re: Eagle Boat (Patrol Boat) contract
                                  Revised estimate of shipbuilding plant, River Rouge, Mich., Sept - Dec 1918
                                  Order and correspondence re: installation of motors in dories
                Folder # 3 U. S. Navy correspondence re: installation of motors in dories
                                  Contracts (or U.S. Navy purchase orders) for the installation of
                                     engines in motor dories. June 17, 1918
                                  Charles Pieze (Vice-President, United States Shipping Board,
                                      Emergency Fleet Corp) letter to Judge E. B. Parker, Aug 1, 1918
                                   Decision as to Wages, Hours and other Conditions in North Atlantic
                                         and Hudson River Shipyards, April 6, 1918
                Folder # 4 U. S. Navy Dept. correspondence. Includes; Contract for appraisal
                                    and settlement for buildings, building slips and plant and other
                                    facilities used in connection with construction of patrol boats, etc.
                                 Contract correspondence
                                 Supplementary contract for additional plant in connection with construction
                                     of patrol boats
                                 Commander Bean correspondence, February 1919
                                 Listing of some of the contracts in connection with operations.
                                 Miscellaneous letters and papers re: contract
                Folder # 6 Eagle Boats...Supplementary contract re: disposition of Building "B"
                                    in connection with construction of Patrol Boats December 12, 1919
                                    Signed by F. D. Roosevelt Acting Secretary of the Navy.
                Folder # 9 Blueprints of Patrol Boat parts, etc.
                                 Tabulation of cost of Kearney job up to time of date the telegram was
                                    received stopping operation

   Acc. 7 Clipping Books
      Volume 142-143 Eagle Boats, 1918-1920

   Acc. 364 Agreements and contracts subgroup
      box 7 Department of Navy; receipts, parts contract, correspondence for Eagle Boats 1, 2, 3

   Acc. 75 Legal Department records
      box 85 L-5016 Kearney Plant (Eagle boats), 1919 (contract)

   Acc. 38 Charles Sorensen papers
      box 163 Blueprints; Pneumercator system, Eagle boats

   Acc. 1110 Frank A. Cianflone Eagle Boat Article
      Small Accessions Describes construction, characteristics, and gives brief history

   Acc. 488 Frank Hadas papers
      box 1 Hadas correspondence concerning Ship Building operations, 1918
                "Record of the Electric Installation on Eagle Boats," Ford Motor Company, 1919

   Engineering and Aperture Cards Collection
      drawer 4 Eagle Boats

   General Postcard Collection
      box 10 (size J) World War, 1914-1918--Industry, American--Boats and Ships--Eagle Boats

   Acc. 1660 Photograph vertical file
      box 168 World War, 1914-1918 – Industry American – Boats and Ships – Eagle Boats
                          General
                          Assembly Line Methods
                          Documents
                          Engineers and Designers – Kirby, F.E.
                          Ford, Edsel
                          Ford, Henry
                          Inspection
                          Launching
                          Ships Crew
      box 170 World War, 1939-1945 – Industry American – Boats and Ships – Eagle Boats

   Acc. 833 General Photographs
      box 265 Shipyard, 1918-1919 (556a)
      box 435 War production – World War I (2 folders)

Oral Histories
   65_ 208 William F. Verner
   65_149 William F. Pioch
   65_158 Frank C. Riecks
   65_108 E.G. Liebold
   65­­_36 George Brown

Vertical File
   WWI-Eagle Boats
     Blueprints / Plans
     General Articles
     Industrial Management Series (1919)
     Post-1920
     Pre-1920
     Miscellaneous

Books and Secondary
   Beyond the Model T : the other ventures of Henry Ford. Ford R. Bryan
      338.96292 F699 B915b 1997

   River Rouge: Ford's industrial colossus. Joseph Cabadas
      629.234 F699 C112 2004

   Rouge: Pictured in its prime. Ford R. Bryan
      629.222 B915 2003

   U.S.S. Eagle boats: Description. Carlos Bean, American Society of Naval Engineers
      359.8 B367 1919

   Ford: Expansion and challenge, 1915-1933. Allan Nevins and Frank Ernest Hill
      338.76292 F699 N527 1957

   “The Ford Eagle Boats.” Katherine M. Cushman. The Dearborn Historian,
      Winter 1971, v.11, n .1.

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