• U.S.

Business: State of Higgins

2 minute read

The place is dank, dismal, depressing. Stacks of grey, fungus-covered piling loom like ghostly sentries, a huge, muddy filled-in ditch resembles the caved-in moat of a deserted castle. A few workmen slowly dismantle a partly built railroad; now & then a grey-clad Louisiana State patrolman plods his lonely beat.

So looks today the 1,200-acre Higgins Liberty Shipyard outside New Orleans. Amid a burst of fanfare, it was started six months ago as a gigantic project to build cargo ships on a water-borne assembly line. Two months ago the vast yard teemed with 7,000 workmen, scores of pile drivers, steam shovels, drag lines, floodlights. Over $10,000,000 was spent. Then suddenly came Maritime Commission orders: Close the yard. Official reason: the steel shortage.

Up reared blunt, thundering, red-faced Andrew Jackson Higgins, boss and promoter of the whole show: “gross stupidity . . . a pretext . . . worse for the State than if the river flooded New Orleans.” Sympathetic Louisiana Representatives started an investigation. Last week the investigating committee completed publication of its hearings, now anyone could decide for himself why the Higgins yard was closed.

The Commission’s main reason—aside from the steel shortage—was that Higgins was too expensive. Estimated cost of his yard started at $26,000,000, soon rolled up another $33,000,000. And before the yard could even open, more millions had to be sunk in new housing and new power plants, between 45,000 and 85,000 men had to be found, hired and trained. Higgins did not deny this, only snorted that the Commission had published the lower cost figure “for its own convenience.”

For months, too, Washington had been skeptical of the assembly-line technique, felt sure that a single hitch on the lead ship would hold up a score of vessels behind it. Explained Maritime Commission Chairman Admiral Emory Land: “. . . There was just a 50-50 chance that Higgins could do what we wanted him to do.”

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