Well I am back after my summer hiatus, and I've decided to come back in a big way and discuss...early 20th century U.S. Navy recruiting! Now, I know what your thinking, what a snoozefest this topic is going to be, but wait and give it a chance, I mean I haven't let you down before. In today's world we think of military recruitment as a small store front and a few servicemen, or women, inside informing young American's about the opportunities the U.S. military can offer them. Surprisingly not much has changed since the early 1900s, well except the scale in which recruiting was done. Believe it or not but the at the start of WWI the U.S. Navy used the USS Recruit, to recruit young men in New York City. But this ship didn't sit in New York harbor, she rested at anchor in Union Square Park!
The USS Recruit was a model of a standard dreadnought, the battleship of choice back in the days of the Great War. Now the U.S. Navy didn't just use the Recruit a recuiting tool, as she was a fully functioning ship and complete with a captain and crew. Why staff a ship that was on land with valuable servicemen in the time of war you might be asking, well because the Recruit also served as a training ship for those New Yorkers that signed up to serve their country. The Recruit was captained by C.F. Pierce and had a crew of 39 seaman...well in this case landmen? They ship had examination rooms, necessary for recruitment purposes, officer's quarters, heating systems, conning tower, a wireless station, and enough cabins to house the crew. The Recruit was also armed...well armed with dummy weapons made of wood, three twin turrets made of of six guns, ten 5 inch guns, anti torpedo weapons (remember it was WWI and the German U Boats terrorized the Atlantic) and two one pounder saluting guns.
So why put a gigantic model ship in the middle of New York City and not just dock a real life ship in harbor? For the answer we have to look to former New York City mayor, Mayor John Purroy Michel. It fell on his desk to drum up 2000 men from New York City to fight the Huns. I guess you can say that this is just another grand idea that could only work in New York City. The mayor needed to build something on a grand scale because as of 1917 only 900 men from NYC had volunteered for the war. So to find another 1100 men, Michel set up the Mayors Committee on National Defense to come up with a way to find more men and thus the Recruit was born. She was christened by Michel's wife Olive and on that day was the largest public gathering in NYC since the 1861 rally in response to the attack on Fort Sumter. The Recruit then passed her goal of 2000 recruits as some reports estimate that 25,000 men registered for the war on board the Recruit!
The Recruit was a success as it gave New Yorkers a sense of what life on a ship was like with out being out on the war, On the water ships rock and sway and most people are not accustom to that, just ask my father-in-law about me on his boat. But the ship wasn't just used as a recruitment center, but was used as a focal point in New York City activities. The Red Cross held drives, it hosted dances for New York's socialites, different city ceremonies took place at the bow of the ship, a variety of patriotic events to gain support for the war effort, as well as boxing matches and Vaudeville shows. It was these events, and the sheer size of the Recruit that lead to exactly 25,600 men to sign up and serve in the U.S. military.
The Recruit's service would come to an end in 1920. After the war the government began to scale down on its military costs. Now that the world was at peace, there was really no reason to keep the Recruit operational. So she was decommissioned and careful deconstructed starting on March 16, 1920. The Recruit was planned to be rebuilt in Luna Park on Coney Island. However, it is here that the Recruit disappeared from history. If you've ever visited Coney Island, you know there is no giant wooden WWI recruiting ship there. There are two theories on what happened, but neither have any concrete evidence to back them up. First, some believe the ship was destroyed by termites when it was kept in storage. A second theory is because the ship was moved from the city to the coast that the damp and sea air caused the wood to rot. It is hard to tell what happened because after the ship was deconstructed any paperwork on it seems to disappear, or there is just no mention of it anywhere. But when looking back on the history of the Recruit we can see ship was a grand venture and a great success, and it is a share that such a unique piece of history has been lost to time.