(United States Maritime Commission)
Merchant Marine Act of 1936 (49 Stat. 91985), approved June 29, 1936 merged the U.S. Shipping Board Bureau of the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Shipping Board Merchant Fleet Corporation. Abolished 1950
Created to develop a merchant marine to carry the domestic and foreign waterborne commerce of the United States on ships built, owned, and operated by United States citizens. It succeeded United States Shipping Board and Merchant Fleet Corporation.
The first major act of the commission was to adopt a long-range building program calling for the construction of fifty new ships a year for the next ten years. The goal was to replace no later than 1948, the aging fleet of vessels sailing under the US flag. This ambitious plan required expansion of the shipbuilding capabilities.
The Merchant Marine Act contained provision for governmental assistance. Loans were abandoned in favor of differential subsidies. The Government agreed to pay, up to a certain percentage, the difference between building the ship in the US and building it in a foreign country.
The Commission created designs and specifications for most of the ships constructed under its authority. It also maintained detailed checks on contractors’ working plans, supervised construction, audited costs, conducted trials of the vessels.
The USMC regulated all water-borne commerce with the exclusion of coastal and internal shipping. It controlled the purchase, charter, requisition, operation, maintenance, insurance, and transfer or sale of all ocean-going United States Government controlled, noncombatant vessels with the exception of Army and Navy transports and vessels engaged in domestic transportation. Supervision of freight-forwarding and terminal services were also in its pervue.
The outbreak of war in Europe soon after the first of the new ships went into service coupled with the withdrawal of many ships of foreign registry and the destruction of ships of belligerents put a heavy burden on the American merchant marine. The Commission accelerated the construction of cargo ships and instituted the construction of vessels for lend-lease. They also handled emergency transportation problems, enforced priorities for cargo space, requisitioned vessels owned by American citizens, and acquired possession of foreign merchant vessels in United States ports. A war-risk insurance for the protection of American ships, cargoes, and crews was set up.
In 1942 the the Commission’s functions were divided by assigning to a new agency, the War Shipping Administration, all control over the operation of the merchant service. The Commission responsibility for all phases of the construction, by private shipyards under government contract, of the merchant fleet. At the end of the war, the War Shipping Administration was liquidated and its continuing functions were gradually reassumed by the Maritime Commission.
The Maritime Commission was abolished on May 24, 1950, by Reorganization Plan No. 21 of 1950 (64 Stat. 1277) which established the Federal Maritime Board and the Maritime Administration.
The United States Maritime Commission website, created by Frank Gebhardt, appears to be on a German server and a few links are broken. However, it is a wonderful compilation of information on the Commission and the ships it built. A highlight is a database of ships built under the auspices of the USMC as well as drawings and specifictions. There are pictures, documents, scanned shipyard magazines and movies. You will also find links to libraries, ships and museums.
- While the majority of documents created by the USMC are housed by NARA at College Park there are at least two collections housed in San Bruno. One set is the “operational records of the “Victory Ship” S.S. George Berkeley, 1942-46, consisting of correspondence, issuances, inspection reports, crew lists, guide books, and ship certificates, correspondence, minutes, and copies of labor-management agreements of the Pacific Coast Maritime Industry Board, 1942-47.” The other is a collection from the West Regional Office, consisting of photographs and negatives of the Richmond Housing Project, 1942-43. Similar records for other vessels can be found in College Park.
- The San Francisco Maritime Museum – J. Porter Shaw Library (National Park Service) has over 200 publications dealing with the USMC. You will find audit reports, equipment design and maintenance manuals, laws, standards and more. You can search the catalog and if you find an interesting volume you might be able to borrow it by inter library loan.
- You can find the US Maritime Commission and US Coast Guard movie created by Warner Bros, A Ship is Born, on YouTube. Other movies are available on the website above.
- The Labor Archives and Research Center at San Francisco State University has records from the Maritime Federation of the Pacific Coast Records 1935-1942. These records concern the interests of those involved in the dock and seagoing occupations that were being controlled by the Maritime Commission. There are organizational, materials related to conventions and conferences, the Executive Board, constitutions, officers, District and Subdistrict Councils, subject files, financial records, and records pertaining to the Federation’s publication . There are also files of related organizations and Unions.