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A Lot Of Change

June 2024
1min read

As production grew more efficient, the yard took on 19,500 workers, and they turned out 20 ships in 61 days.

The vast empty space on the facing page serves as a parking lot for Mead Johnson Nutritionals, an Evansville, Indiana, company that manufactures vitamins and baby formula. But to this day it is called the “shipyard lot,” a term that harks back to World War II, when workers here turned out the huge landing crafts called LSTs that helped win the war.

The wounds of Pearl Harbor were still fresh in February 1942, when planning began for the U.S. Navy Auxiliary Shipyard along an undeveloped strip of property on the Ohio River, a mile west of downtown Evansville. In months the yard was ready to go, despite the fact that neither the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company—the Navy’s partner in the project—nor most of its workers had any ship-building experience. As the photograph at left shows, they caught on fast.

The shipyard’s first vessel, LST 157, took 189 days to complete and was launched on October 31, 1942. As production grew more efficient and the yard took on 19,500 workers, at peak they managed to produce 20 ships in 61 days. The Navy brought other shipyards to river cities—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Jeffersonville, Indiana; Seneca, Illinois—but none beat Evansville’s record of 167 vessels. The last LST was commissioned there in February 1945, and less than a year later—after the Japanese surrender—the self-proclaimed “World’s Champion LST Builders” closed down.

In January 1946 a fire destroyed most of the buildings, but even now the Mead Johnson parking lot, furnished with trailers and a chunky white grain elevator that dominates the horizon, hints at the frenzied activity that took place here. Still visible in the foreground are tracks that once moved cranes and ships. Their only function today is to lead from the present into the past.

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