History Timeline 1930's

Photo above: A workman on the construction crew of the Empire State Building. Courtesy Federal Works Agency, WPA/National Archives. Right: Unemployed workers in Chicago in line at food kitchen run by Al Capone. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons via National Archives, U.S. Information Agency.

Great Depression

U.S. Timeline - The 1930s

The Great Depression



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  • Timeline

  • 1938 - Detail

    May 17, 1938 - The Naval Expansion Act passes.

    Naval Expansion Act

    They, the United States and its true allies, had been attempting the route of peace and demilitarization for more than one decade, with negotiations that would lead to acts such as the Five Power Treaty of 1922 and the Naval Reduction Treaty of 1930, but alas, the rest of the world, i.e. not true allies, were only posturing. Japan and Italy, signatories to previous treaties, had no real taste for either peace or demilitarization, and Germany, who for some reason or another was not thought as an arms race threat from the end of World War I until the middle of the 1930's, was not so quietly building up a world wide threat.

    It was time to correct those mistakes, as inklings of conflicts to come were seeping into the consciousness of Congress and the State Department, and the naval fleet had been decimated through negotiated scrapping of much of the navy through those previous treaties. Of course, what had really pushed for what turned out to be a twenty percent expansion of the United States warships were two acts that had already precipitated what could come; the Japanese had invaded China on July 7, 1937, receiving a rebuke from the League of Nations on October 6, 1937, and Germany's invasion, and annexation, of Austria on March 12, 1938.

    Carl Vinson, Georgia Congressman, was head of the Naval Affairs Committee, and cosponsor of the previous Vinson-Trammell Act of 1934, which authorized new naval construction as allowed under the 1922 and 1930 treaties. By the end of 1934, Japan had abandoned those treaties, with their actions of 1937 showing the need for the United States Navy to go past the provisions of the First Vinson Act. On March 4, 1938, Vinson introduced legislation for the Naval Expansion Act, known as the Second Vinson Act. Battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, submarines, and more would be built to replace the aging Navy that had not kept up with Japanese expansion.

    By March 21, 1938, nine days after Germany's move into Austria, the legislation had passed the House of Representatives easily, 294-100. On May 3, 1938, the legislation passed the United States Senate, 56-28. After a joint conference committee hammered out the differences, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the act into law on May 17, 1938. It is estimated that the additional funding used to enact the tenants of this legislation were one billion dollars.



    Text, Naval Expansion Act 1938


    AN ACT, To establish the composition of the United States Navy, to authorize the construction of certain naval vessels, and for other purposes.

    Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That in addition to the tonnages of the United States Navy as agreed upon and established by the treaties signed at Washington, February 6, 1922, and at London, April 22, 1930, and as authorized by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as amended by the Act of June 25, 1936 (49 Stat. 1926), the authorized composition of the United States Navy in underage vessels is hereby increased by the following tonnages

    (a) Capital ships, one hundred and five thousand tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of six hundred and thirty thousand tons: Provided, That vessels of tonnages in excess of thirtyfive thousand tons each may be laid down if the President determines with respect to the tonnage of capital ships being built by other nations that the interests of national defense so require, in which event the authorized composition of the United States Navy of capital ships is hereby increased by one hundred and thirty-five thousand tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of six hundred and sixty thousand tons;

    (b) Aircraft carriers, forty thousand tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of one hundred and seventy-five thousand tons;

    (c) Cruisers, sixty-eight thousand seven hundred and fifty-four tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of four hundred and twelve thousand five hundred and twenty-four tons;

    (d) Destroyers, thirty-eight thousand tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of two hundred and twenty-eight thousand tons;

    (e) Submarines, thirteen thousand six hundred and fifty-eight tons, making a total authorized underage tonnage of eighty-one thousand nine hundred and fifty-six tons.

    SEC. 2. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to undertake such construction, including replacements, as is necessary to build the Navy to the total authorized underage composition as provided for in section 1 of this Act.

    SEC. 3. The President of the United States is hereby authorized to acquire or construct additional naval airplanes, including patrol planes, and spare parts and equipment, so as to bring the number of useful naval airplanes to a total of not less than three thousand.

    SEC. 4. The President of the United States is hereby further authorized to acquire and convert or to undertake the construction of the following auxiliary vessels

    (a) Three destroyer tenders, a total of twenty-seven thousand tons light displacement tonnage;
    (b) Two submarine tenders, a total of eighteen thousand tons lig t displacement tonnage;
    (c) Three large seaplane tenders, a total of twenty-five thousand tons light displacement tonnage;
    (d) Seven small seaplane tenders, a total of eleven thousand five hundred and fifty tons light displacement tonnage;
    (e) One repair ship of nine thousand five hundred tons light displacement tonnage;
    (f) Four oil tankers, a total of thirty-two thousand tons light displacement tonnage;
    (g) One mine layer of six thousand tons light displacement tonnage;
    (h) Three mine sweepers, a total of two thousand one hundred tons light displacement tonnage; and
    (i) Two fleet tugs, a total of two thousand five hundred tons light displacement tonnage.

    SEC. 5. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury of the United States not otherwise appropriated, such sums as may be necessary to effectuate the purposes of this Act, which purposes shall include essential equipment and facilities at navy yards for building any ship or ships herein or heretofore authorized.

    SEC. 6. There is hereby authorized to be appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of $15,000,000 to be expended at the discretion of the President of the United States for the construction of experimental vessels, none of which shall exceed three thousand tons standard displacement, and the sum of $3,000,000 to be expended at the discretion of the President of the United States for the construction of a rigid airship of American design and American construction of a capacity not to exceed three million cubic feet either fabric covered or metal covered to be used for training, experimental, and development purposes.

    SEC. 7. The allocation and contracts for construction of the vessels herein authorized and the replacement thereof, as well as for the procurement and construction of airplanes and spare parts, shall be in accordance with the terms and conditions provided by the Act of March 27, 1934 (48 Stat. 503), as amended.

    SEC. 8. For the purposes of this Act, the term "underage" shall be construed in accordance with the terms of the treaty signed at London, March 25, 1936.

    SEC. 9. The United States would welcome and support an international conference for naval limitations and in the event of an international treaty for the further limitations of naval armament to which the United States is signatory, the President is hereby authorized and empowered to suspend so much of its naval construction as has been authorized as may be necessary to bring the naval armament of the United States within the limitations so agreed upon, except that such suspension shall not apply to vessels and aircraft then actually under construction.

    SEC. 10. (a) The Secretary of the Navy is hereby authorized and directed to appoint a board consisting of not less than five officers to investigate and report upon the need, for purposes of national defense, for the establishment of additional submarine, destroyer, mine, and naval air bases on the coasts of the United States, its territories and possessions.

    (b) The Secretary of the Navy is further directed to cause the report of the board authorized by this section to be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives during the first session of the Seventy-sixth Congress.

    SEC. 11. That the Navy Department shall construct upon the Pacific coast of the United States such vessels as the President of the United States may determine to be necessary in order to maintain shipyard facilities upon the Pacific coast necessary and adequate to meet the requirements of national defense.

    SEC. 12. The construction, alteration, furnishing, or equipping of any naval vessel authorized by this Act, or the construction, alteration, furnishing, or equipping of any naval vessels with funds from any appropriation available for such purposes, contracts for which are made after June 30, 1938, shall be in accordance with the provisions of Public Lain 846, Seventy-fourth Congress, approved June 30, 1936, unless such course, in the judgment of the President of the United States, should not be in the interest of national defense.

    Approved, May 17, 1938.

    Photo above: Congressional leaders on their way to meet with President Roosevelt about Naval Expansion, January 1, 1938, Harris and Ewing. Left to right: Congressman Carl Vinson, Congressman Edward T. Taylor, Congressman William B. Umstead of North Carolina, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Charles Edison, Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Naval Operations. Photo Below: USS Iowa Battleship, ordered and constructed at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, 1939-1942, shown in operation in the Pacific Ocean, 1943/1944, United States Navy. USS Indiana in background. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info Source: U.S. Statutes at Large, 52 Stat. 401; "Japanese Attack on China 1937," Mount Holyoke College; history.com; Naval History and Heritage; Wikipedia Commons.

    USS Iowa




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