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Bill Thayer

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Part II
Chapter 9

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
One Man's Fight
for a Better Navy

Holden A. Evans
[Former Naval Constructor, U. S. N.]

published by
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Part II
Chapter 11
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Part II

 p210  Chapter X

Dawn of a New Day

In 1908 we were building the fleet collier Prometheus at Mare Island Navy Yard, the first big vessel the yard had ever tackled. As head of the construction department, I had charge of building the hull and fittings. The engineer department, under Commander Carr, was charged with producing the machinery.

In the construction department we made rapid progress with the hull and fittings — incredible progress for a Government job. Fourteen months from the time we laid the keel we launched the ship. Meanwhile, where was the machinery?

As our work progressed, it became evident to me that little was being done on the machinery. Repeatedly I brought this unsatisfactory state of things to the attention of the yard commandant, but nothing happened. As I am soon to tell, the following February the machinery department also came under my jurisdiction. When I could get in to investigate, I found that work on the Prometheus' machinery had hardly started. The cylinders for the main engines had not yet even been cast! The hull was in the water, launched, christened, and completely finished, even to the installation of furniture and the final inside painting. It would have to wait there, month after month, for machinery, tying up an investment of more than a million dollars of the public's money.

Our shop efficiency in the construction department was thereby canceled by another department supposed to be our team-mate on the job but from which we could get no co‑operation.

 p211  What was the trouble? You found it in the very set‑up of that jumble of inefficiency called a navy yard — the navy yard as I knew it and very much as it exists today.

Visualize the head of a yard, the commandant, a line officer of high rank frequently without industrial training or experience in industrial management. Under him are numerous departments, each independent of the others and subject only to his orders. Heading those departments, with thousands of mechanics and laborers under them, do you expect to find trained industrial executives? You won't often. For the most part they are captains and commanders of the line, taking their turns at an easy time and home-life ashore. They know no more about industry than does the commandant.

And the quality of the commandant has little to do with it. I always served under good commandants at Mare Island. Admiral Phelps was an exceptionally able officer. Once he understood what I was trying to do, he espoused my cause so vigorously as to draw down on his own head the anger of those whose slothfulness he exposed.

Struggle and work as he would, the reformer was up against a stone wall in such an institution — the stone wall of those indifferent officers who were holding down the efficiency of the organization.

"Don't talk economy to me," a high-ranking officer of the Navy once said. "It is my duty to spend, not to save."

And there were others who seemed to be acting on that principle. I had made mine the most efficient navy yard department in the country. There were other officers upon whom this made no impression. They derided my efforts, letting their underlings run their departments as they pleased.

I had been gaining confidence in Assistant Secretary of the Navy Newberry. Call it a hunch, if you will. I didn't know him. I had never met him. But his letters to me made me think that  p212 he might be a man who would take the side of navy yard efficiency.

Therefore I decided to submit to him a proposal for the real reorganization of the navy yards, putting them on a genuinely industrial basis. This plan should be the fruit of my eleven years of training, experience, and study in navy yard management. Working alone and telling no one of my intention, I spent weeks in the preparation of my report, taking the yards to pieces, giving actual conditions in detail, and making definite recommendations for change.

It was not the ideal organization I plotted on paper — not the one I could have desired. I had to consider military control of the yards, if I expected my plan to have a chance of adoption. I had to give the line at least the semblance of authority, if not its reality.

When I had finished my report, before I did anything else with it I sent copies to Fred W. Taylor, the father of scientific management, and to other eminent engineers for criticism. They all approved, with the reservation that I had not gone far enough in divorcing industrial functions from military ones. This was a just objection, but as an insider I knew I had gone as far as possible in that divorce.

The completed document covered many typewritten pages and is much too long to repeat here. If any reader wishes to study it, he will find it in the back of this book as Appendix A. It will repay study, especially in these times (1939) when we are facing enormous naval expansion. Although the navy yard organization has improved since 1908 and has even adopted some of the reforms I advocated thirty years ago, it still leaves much to be desired. Unless the yards are thoroughly industrialized, the new Navy program will pour untold millions of dollars down the rat‑holes of bureaucratic sloth, indifference, and inefficiency.

 p213  Having set down my proposal, my normal and regular course should have been to send it to my commandant for comment. He in turn would forward it to Washington, where every bureau chief would comment on it. I could foresee the result, if I took that course. The commandant would think my report a reflection on his administration of the yard. Not only the plan, but its author as well, would be abundantly condemned. All I would get for my pains would be some power­ful enemies, if indeed I escaped being charged with insubordination.

So I took an irregular course. I put the report into an envelope and addressed it to Mr. Truman Newberry, marking it Personal. I did not use the official penalty stamp but put on my own postage stamps. It was a piece of private correspondence.

Mr. Newberry could now do one of two things. If he were the traditional type of Secretary, I could expect the report back soon with a sharp letter calling my attention to the channels of communication as required by Navy regulations. I didn't get it back. Instead, I received a personal letter from the Assistant Secretary stating that he had read my report with interest and that I would hear from him further. I had made no mistake in Mr. Secretary Newberry.

Late in August, 1908, I heard from him further in the form of orders to Washington. When I reported to him, his manner at first did not seem propitious. He told me that he disapproved of a small steel foundry I had installed at Mare Island.

"I've been looking over your costs," he said. "You can buy steel castings on the market cheaper than you can make them."

"I know that, Mr. Secretary," I said. "But we're a long way from a good steel foundry, and sometimes we need a casting in a hurry."

"Do you know what the costs are in a good-sized commercial foundry?" he asked me.

 p214  I didn't know, but I gave him a figure — a guess. Instead of answering, he pressed a button. When his secretary appeared, he said, "Bring me the last report of the Detroit Steel Casting Company."

I had no idea I was talking to the owner of a steel foundry. He examined the report, then looked up with a smile.

"You're within a fraction of a cent of our costs," he said.

Luck had been with me, and I had made a good impression on the Secretary. He now came to the real business of my orders.

"Here is your report on my desk," he said. "They took it away and put it in the files; but I had it brought back, and my order is now that it is to remain here until I have acted on it. I would like to reorganize the navy yards, but I am having trouble in doing it. The man across the street will not approve the necessary changes in the Navy regulations."

The windows of the Assistant Secretary's office looked across 17th Street at the Executive Offices of the White House. The Man across the Street was President Theodore Roosevelt.

"He has never been in industrial life and knows nothing about it," Mr. Newberry went on. "He is carried away with military administration. Now, I want you to inspect the important East-coast navy yards and make me a report, giving the glaring cases of inefficiency. With such a report I shall convince him."

"Mr. Secretary," I said, "if you will let me have a stenographer, I can write that report without leaving your office."

"I know you can," he answered, "but not what I want. I want specific cases of inefficiency as they exist today, and only cases where there can be no defense."

With orders arranged by the chief constructor, I made the inspection and found plenty of material for my report. So accustomed had I become to my department at Mare Island, that  p215 I was shocked by the inefficiency I found in certain quarters. In New York there was some resentment that a young man from the Pacific Coast should be sent to the great Brooklyn yard to tell it how to work, and some apprehension that I was the forerunner of Mare Island methods. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a facetious article about it.

Pacemaker at Navy Yard

New Rating Devised by Naval Constructor Evans
for the Acceleration of Work.

. . . Naval Constructor Holden A. Evans, now at the Brooklyn Yard on temporary duty, is the man who first suggested the adoption of the new rating of "Pacemaker." It is claimed that it has worked wonders in the Mare Island Yard.

Mr. Evans can truly be called the "accelerator" of the Navy Department. According to his system, the shop forces are not only divided into piece-work gangs but also into speed-work gangs, and there are not only work bosses but also speed bosses. A speedmeter is attached to every machine in the Yard, and the alacrity with which each separate job is consummated is recorded.

I presented my report to Mr. Newberry. He read it and said it was exactly what he required.

"When the President reads this," he said, "he will surely approve the reorganization."

But two days later Mr. Newberry sent for me.

"I am sorry to tell you the President will not approve a reorganization of navy yards," he said. "But don't be discouraged. You go back to Mare Island and carry on your work just as you have been doing. The department will back you up."

Then he told me that Mr. Metcalf, the Secretary of the Navy, wished to see me, before I left, in his home. The Secretary had been ill for several weeks but was now convalescent.

Since the quick job we did on the Sheridan our Mare Island  p216 shipyard stood in high favor with the Army Transport Service. We were now bidding on transport repairs and taking contracts away from the private shipyards. It was this Mr. Metcalf wanted to discuss with me.

"You've got Mare Island so efficient," he said, "no private yard can compete with you, especially as you do not have to put in the overhead which the private yards must carry."

I told the Secretary that if the private yards thought I was not including overhead in my bids, they were mistaken. I did not intend to put any private yards out of business, but I did not want the Army gouged by private contractors, if I could help it. Then I explained my method of bidding. After the estimates came from the numerous sections, I took them home and there at night made up my bid, adding 60 per cent to the labor cost as overhead and 10 per cent to the cost of materials. If docking were involved, I added commercial docking charges. I added that, except for one trusted assistant, nobody at Mare Island knew of my method of bidding, not even the commandant.

Mr. Metcalf warmly approved what I was doing. Now that he knew I was allowing a fair overhead charge in my bids, if the private yards could not get the business from Mare Island, it was their own look‑out.

On the way out to the Coast I was far from being discouraged. I felt that Mr. Newberry would find a way to convince the President of the necessity for reorganization. But even if he didn't, T. R. wasn't going to be President forever. In fact, we were on the eve of a national election, with every indication that Mr. Taft, whom President Roosevelt had selected as his successor, would have a walkaway. In Washington the rumor was that Mr. Metcalf was about to resign as Secretary of the Navy and be succeeded by Mr. Newberry and also that Taft had promised T. R. to continue Secretary Newberry and one other member of the Roosevelt Cabinet in their portfolios.

 p217  Neither the commandant nor any other officer of the yard yet knew the truth of what I had been doing in Washington. I told only my closest assistants of the developments and directed them to say nothing to anyone. Then, so certain was I of results, I began a quiet study of the entire yard with the view of both ready to make the changes promptly when the reorganization order arrived.

Mr. Newberry became Secretary as expected and almost at once gave me an extraordinary proof of his support and goodwill. The collier Prometheus was about to be launched. The secretary invited my 9‑year‑old daughter Dolly to act as sponsor and christen the vessel.

Never before in the history of the Navy had a constructor been so honored. At Navy launchings it is customary to keep the man who built the ship in the background. The launching of the Prometheus was a great event on the Pacific Coast. Governor Gillett and his staff came down from Sacramento, and all the commercial organizations of San Francisco and Oakland sent representatives. This launching also broke another precedent. The routine was for the Governor to speak first and then be followed by the yard commandant. When in making the arrangements I put Admiral Phelps on the program after the Governor, that unusual commandant objected.

"You built the ship, Evans," he said, "and your daughter is to christen it. It's your day. I make a rotten speech, and you make a damn good one. You will speak after the Governor."

Speeches by Navy officers are so like peas in a pod, I wonder the department doesn't make a phonograph record of the composite speech and be done with it, but it will never use as a model the speech I delivered at the launching of the Prometheus. There was no extolling of the Navy virtues in it, no argument for a great Navy. I had in my audience the Governor and some of the most influential politicians of the State. I had also the commandant  p218 of the yard and the heads of all his departments. Most important of all, I had the thousands of yard workmen, many of them from the lax, inefficient departments which, privately, I expected soon to be reorganizing. It was an opportunity to tell them all a few truths.

I spoke extemporaneously, without notes. For what I said, happily I do not have to rely on memory. The Associated Press put excerpts of my speech on the wire, and the San Francisco newspapers printed it in full. I have only to open my scrapbook to find my exact words.

As I reread the address today, I marvel that I, a young officer, had the nerve to deliver it. But I can reconstruct my frame of mind. By my work in the Bennington case, I had already gained the enmity of the engineers. The Sea Lords in Washington now knew that I had gone over their heads to the Secretary with an obnoxious scheme for reorganizing the navy yards, thus threatening the multitude of shore jobs in which the officers of the line found relief from their sea‑going duties. In that quarter the fat was already in the fire for me. A few more enemies didn't matter, and I proceeded to make one.

I said: "Less than fourteen months have elapsed since the keel was laid on those blocks. Except for the machinery, the vessel is practically complete, being further advanced at the launching than any other large vessel built in this country. Except for the machinery installation, this vessel can be completed and join the fleet by January 1, 1909, which is fifteen months after the work was begun. The completion of the hull and fittings of a vessel of this size and type in this time is a very satisfactory performance. . . ."

There were those who never forgave me for thus showing up the conditions before such an audience. What forms the revenge took a subsequent chapter will show.

But most of my speech was directed to the working force of  p219 the yard. With a clairvoyance surprising to me now, I predicted that the United States would have to keep a strong naval force on the Pacific in the future, and for that reason I pleaded for improvement in the two Pacific Coast navy yards, both in equipment and efficiency.

"You mechanics employed in this yard," I said, "must forget the days when the navy yards were looked upon as a harbor of refuge for loafers and incompetents. Even now I am repeatedly assailed by business men with the accusation that workmen are not expected to do a fair day's work in the navy yards. What do you think of that, men of Mare Island? A bad reputation is hard to live down. We must answer those accusations with deeds, not words. A new era is upon us — an era of efficient administration of navy yards. An era in which no excuses will be offered, in which our answer will be with results. Let all of us — mechanics, officers, and citizens of the Pacific Coast — combine and work together to make the two Coast yards the most efficient in the country."

This speech had an excellent effect on the men of my own department, but none at all in certain other departments. Day after day the big Prometheus lay at the dock waiting for engines, when she should have been with the fleet earning her keep.

Shortly after this launching I was again overtaken by the malady that had struck me down on several occasions in earlier life. Every morning about eleven o'clock I started a headache. The pain, above one of my eyes, rapidly grew so severe I was followed to go home, where I became delirious and often unconscious. Then suddenly, without three hours, the pain would completely leave. I would recover consciousness, dress, and return to my desk.

These attacks soon pulled down my general health. I lost much weight and became very nervous. The medical officers insisted that I take a long rest.

 p220  But I could not leave my work now, when any day I expected the order from Washington to reorganize the yard. I received permission to consult a civilian specialist, visiting Dr. Deane in San Francisco. Within half an hour he located the trouble — a severe frontal-sinus condition of many years' standing. An operation cleared it up. In a short time I was again in excellent health, nor have I ever been seriously bothered since.

At last, on January 26, 1909, came the great news. Secretary Newberry issued his famous Order No. 9. Some of the Sea Lords considered it his infamous Order No. 9. With a few modifications, none very important, it adopted as Navy law my plan for the reorganization of the navy yards.

That high ambition with which I had set forth for Norfolk so many years before, seemed to have attained its goal. For the moment I regarded the victory as complete.

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