Census Week! The Brooklyn Navy Yard, March 1940

Meredith Wisner 5 years, 5 months ago

Brooklyn Navy Yard - Census Week, March 30, 1940

The 1940 census has been released! I might be tipping my hand here, but to archivists such as myself this day is akin to Christmas.  You see, although we are able to access statistical information from even our most recent census reports, the details, including family names, individual professions, household incomes and addresses are suppressed for 72 years to protect the privacy of census participants. This census, which was taken the week of March 24th 1940, tells the human scale story of a population struggling to pull out of the Great Depression, and a larger story of a Nation preparing for its possible involvement in a second world war.

Each census year records slightly different information, and this one asks much more detailed questions about the occupations of census participants.  We have already seen evidence of Navy Yard workers in earlier census years, but little documentation if any exists about what they might have done at the Yard.  The 1940s census also identifies workers employed through the Works Project Administration - the largest of President Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies and the one most responsible for the extensive improvements to the Navy Yard that occurred prior to WWII.  Questions like the two below highlight our country’s preoccupation with job creation, while the examples given showcase the role of shipbuilding in the United State's economic recovery. 

#28. Trade, profession, or particular kind of work, as –Frame spinner, Salesman, Laborer, Rivet heater, Music teacher

#29. Industry or business, as—Cotton mill, Retail grocery, Farm, Shipyard, Public school

The WPA provided jobs from 1935 to 1943 when the Nation's unemployment fell as low as 2%.  The Yard was a major employer during that time, and projects here included the extension of the shipbuilding ways to accommodate modern warship construction, as well as the completion of the 350 ton hammerhead crane.   These projects, and a myriad of others, provided much needed jobs and skills development for the urban poor in and around Brooklyn.  Additionally it offered minorities and recent immigrants an opportunity to prosper in a time where prejudice was all too common. 


The archive will be collecting census data for the neighborhoods surrounding the Navy Yard, but we invite you to contribute information that you have about your family members as well.  Visitors to the Navy Yard can enter their family members into our Brooklyn Navy Yard Connections database, and conduct research using archival military records and other census information through another database called Fold3.  Fold3 is not providing access to the 1940s census at this time, but it does offer a rich collection of archival records - including the 1930s census.  We can't wait to hear all of your stories and share with you what we have uncovered!  Happy hunting everyone!