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Newport News: 1941

Newport News: 1941

March 1941. Newport News, Virginia. "Shipyard workers going home at 4 p.m." Medium format acetate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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"No Pedestrian Traffic"

A 1940 newspaper want-ad for a waitress position at the Huntington Cafe (lower left) gives an address of 3600½ Washington Avenue, which means Vachon was standing near the intersection of Washington and 37th Street, facing south. There is still a gate to the shipyard at that corner, but "no pedestrian traffic" signs in place of crowds of workers headed south at shift change. Today, there are acres of surface parking lots behind Vachon's location.

Nary a woman to be seen!

I don't see any women yard workers in this pre-WWII scene. That would change during the war.

Eight O'Clock

The A&P is gone, but I still drink Eight O'Clock coffee.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.

In the 1940s A&P was at the height of its success - so much so that it was charged with antitrust violations. Because of management mistakes, it started sliding in the 1950s and disappeared in 2015.

N.N.S.& D.D.Co.

The Shipyard - Newport News Shipyard & Dry Dock Co.- has been a definitive workplace of generations of local (and not quite local) families since the end of the 19th century.

My stepfather was working there from just after WWII, when he graduated from 4 years at the Apprentice School via the auspices of the GI Bill in 1950, and became a Piping Designer working in the Submarine Division. He was a part of the development of the nuclear submarines from day one. He worked there until his Union went on strike in the late 70's/early 80's and never went OFF strike. He continued working for another company who was a contractor for the shipyard for a long time, until he retired. He passed away this past spring.

His father - my paternal grandfather - had worked there, beginning in the Sail Shop, in the late 1920's, which was actually after sails were no longer part of ships, but handled all the textile components of ships, and the yard itself. He fabricated upholstery on ships and subs, awnings on buildings, and other items. He retired in 1968.

He has three sisters, two of whom married men who would become permanent employees of the shipyard through their retirement. The other one was associated through shipyard contractors. I have numerous cousins, brothers, nephews, and many school friends who either have worked for the Yard in all its incarnations, ownership, changes, etc., and still do, or have done. One uncle gave his all, who was an official photographer for the Yard, when he had a sudden heart attack during lunch with coworkers in a little cafe across the street from the yard, and didn't go home again.

In the 1960's, taking Dad to work across town as far as Denbigh so Mom could have the car on Fridays so she could do all her shopping is something I will always remember. Being part of all that craziness of early morning traffic and back again for the madness of afternoon shift change, with the thousands of cars from everywhere, and what seemed like hundreds of charter busses from as far as North Carolina transporting the employees on their way in and on their way home again seemed to be just another normal day.

The shipyard has been a permanent of most of my life, from the age of 6, until I married at 19, and moved away to the Midwest at 20, in 1977. It still continues to move on as it provides submarines and aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy.

Huntington Cafe

The street appears to be Washington Avenue. According to an ad in a 1940 edition of the local newspaper, the Huntington Cafe was located at 3600½ Washington Ave. In the ad, the restaurant was looking to hire a waitress.

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