Saving World War II from New Orleans
Through these many years I’ve been in the digital imaging profession I’ve been blessed to work with most of the talented archivists in our state. These dedicated professionals are “obsessive-compassionate” about their work, and most express absolute joy in doing what they do. That makes for lots of fun as the partner helping to achieve their digitization or microfilm preservation goals.
One of our recent projects involved scanning all of the Higgins boat drawings and manuals for the National World War II Museum. They are going to take the images that we created and input them into a new interactive display about the Higgins boat. The Higgins boat was designed and manufactured by New Orleans legend Andrew Higgins. The Higgins Boat is known far and wide as a key factor in winning War World II. I never need an excuse to visit what most call the “D-Day” museum, and I can’t wait to see this new exhibit. By the way if you haven’t taken advantage of the daily live shows and lunch you are missing out on some real fun at a very reasonable price.
Andrew Higgins was born in Nebraska on August 28, 1882. His Father was a Chicago lawyer, then later a Nebraska Judge who died when the boy was only 7 years old. Andrew ended up expelled from prep school after 3 years so he enlisted in the Nebraska Army National Guard. This is where he learned his boating and navigation skills. After he left the National Guard he landed first in Mobile, and then in New Orleans. His initial profession was lumber importer/exporter, but this drove him to acquire a fleet of sail ships that became the largest in the U.S. registry. He then decided it wise to acquire a shipbuilding yard so he could service his ships, and tugs, and boats that support them. At this point he decided to go back to school via correspondence and achieved a Bachelor’s of science degree in naval architecture from the University of Chicago.
When I was researching this article I found some interesting allegations about Higgins. Apparently he ran into some financial problems around the time of the U.S. repeal of the alcohol ban. There are some that believe the truth of Mr. Higgins fortunes may have come from rum running more than lumber import/export. Whichever is the case, it was fortuitous for him that shortly after he declared bankruptcy his relationship with the feds began.
The original Higgins boats were designed to run in the shallow waters of the swamps and gulf inlets--supposedly used by oilmen and trappers.. LOL. After prohibition he entered into a contract to build these boats for the U.S. Coast Guard. He purchased some land on City Park Avenue in New Orleans and built a new shipbuilding facility.
The Marine Corp. took note of the boats being built for the Coast Guard. They needed a boat that could offload soldiers on open beaches instead of in ports. They contacted Higgins and within a month they were testing a prototype on Lake Ponchartrain. Shortly more land was acquired and Higgins became one of the largest manufacturers in the WORLD! He employed 85,000 people, and was awarded $350,000,000.00 in U.S. contracts. Ultimately 23,000 Higgins boats were produced during World War II.
The use of these boats during the D-day invasions at Normandy is shown in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The boats were also used in a scene during the 1985 film Invasion USA, in which communist guerrillas land on a Florida beach.
There are many memorials to Mr. Higgins. One that I want to see for myself stands on the shores of Normandy, France. If you aren’t aware, most French still love and appreciate the Americans. Last summer I visited the Alcase region of France where the American flag is flown everywhere. I can’t wait to make it to Normandy.
Higgins held 30 patents, mostly covering amphibious landing craft and vehicles. In 2000, a 7-block section of Howard Avenue in the Warehouse District of New Orleans near the newly opened D-Day Museum (now The National WWII Museum) was renamed "Andrew Higgins Street.". Higgins died in New Orleans on August 1, 1952, and he was buried in Metairie Cemetery. He had been hospitalized for a week to treat stomach ulcers when he suffered a fatal stroke.
If you are interested in speaking with me about preserving your historical or important vital business records please give me a call. It doesn’t cost a dime to talk.