Answered By: Archives & Library Staff @The Henry Ford Last Updated: Nov 10, 2017 Views: 225
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.
Acc. 62 Henry Ford Office papers
box 58 Naval patrol boats (2 folders)
Cleveland Dock Engineering Company
Suppliers, materials, purchasing
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.
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
Assembly Line Methods
Engineers and Designers – Kirby, F.E.
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)
Blueprints / Plans
Industrial Management Series (1919)
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.
ATTN: The Benson Ford Research Center remains closed to the public for in-person research, tours, and visits. It will remain closed until further notice, but Research Center staff members continue to respond to inquiries. Please contact us by email, phone, mail, or by submitting a question.
Benson Ford Research Center
The Henry Ford
P.O. Box 1970
Dearborn, Michigan, USA 48121-1970