Date of Award

Spring 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Kurk Dorsey


After averaging the completion of less than two submarines a year in the 1930s, the Portsmouth Navy Yard completed an astonishing thirty-two submarines in 1944. The yard's outstanding performance during World War II was the product of a highly motivated work force and a management team that thrived in a decentralized wartime shipyard environment. Employing aggressive and innovative management techniques that included employee empowerment, small teams, and mass production techniques to the extent that they could be applied to submarine construction at the time, the shipyard delivered submarines at unprecedented rates.

There were downsides to the shipyard's crowning achievements during the war that included landfills contaminated with toxic industrial waste, increased pollution of the Piscataqua River, and lost wetlands. In addition, the greatly increased employment and military presence at the yard brought challenges to local communities that struggled to increase housing, infrastructure, and services to accommodate the increased numbers of new residents. Not the least of these struggles included efforts to curb prostitution and an alarming increase in venereal disease. While wrestling with these day-to-day problems during the war, local communities feared an uncertain, and possibly economically disastrous, postwar future should peace bring dramatically reduced employment or closure of the yard.

This dissertation looks at both sides of Portsmouth Navy Yard's war years: the tremendous upside wherein remarkable submarine production records were achieved that brought economic prosperity to the area, and the downside that saw significant environmental abuse and sociological turmoil as communities adjusted to the problems that accompanied a Navy boomtown. A preliminary review places the yard in context with important national and international events between the wars to set the stage for an analysis of how the shipyard achieved 32 in '44, and the consequences of that success.