Remembering D-Day: The Delgado Connection

By Leonard “Lenny” Vasbinder, June 6, 2017

If you have been following The Dolphin Newspaper, print edition and online edition this year, you should have read the stories about the history behind the named buildings and monuments around Delgado Community College’s several campuses.

Part Two of the story, http://delgadodolphin.net/2017/04/whats-in-a-name-the-history-of-delgados-named-buildings-part-2/ covered some of the monuments around campus, including the Higgins’ Industries monument, which was dedicated on June 6, 2011.

A reprint from that part of the story:

Photo Credit: Mary Achary

Higgins’ Industries Plaque

On a quiet Sunday morning in December of 1941, life in the United States would change forever with the sudden and deliberate attack by Japanese aircraft on American naval ships stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. For the next four years, American forces would fight against the increasing spread of Nazism in Europe, and Japanese aggression in the Philippines. But, America and her allies had a secret weapon to give them an edge over their enemies.

Enter Andrew Jackson Higgins and his company, Higgins Industries. Originally billed as a lumber export company in 1922, Higgins saw there was more profit in boat building than exporting lumber due to the growing oil industry in Southern Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. With the success of his “Eureka boat,” Higgins closed his lumber company and in 1930, opened the first Higgins Industries factory located on City Park Avenue in Mid-City building Eureka boats for both commercial businesses as well as the United States Coast Guard.

Higgins graduated to doing business with the government when his Eureka boat caught the eye of the United States Marine Corps. Although the shallow draft and low cost were appealing to the Marines, there was still the problem of how to disembark troops over the sides. Higgins solved the problem by “borrowing” a ramp-bow design that was used on Japanese landing crafts, making a few modifications to the Eureka boat, and by 1938, Higgins Industries rolled out its first LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel). Known as the “Higgins boats,” these were the very boats that carried U.S. and Allied troops to the beaches of Normandy, France during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

The success of LCVPs enabled Higgins Industries to build three additional factories. One was on St. Charles Avenue, another at the Industrial Canal, and the third in Michoud. The three facilities allowed Higgins to experiment with different LCVP models as well as design and build Patrol-Torpedo (PT) boats for the U.S. Navy.

Higgins Industries reached the height of its production in 1943, employing over 20,000 people in New Orleans. Higgins Industries was an equal opportunity workforce, hiring women and African-Americans who worked to build the boats in record time to meet the D-Day deadline.

Shortly after World War II ended in August 1945, and with LCVPs and PT boats no longer in demand, Higgins Industries did not have the financial ability to make the transition from Warcraft manufacturing to consumer manufacturing. This forced Higgins to liquidate his factories in November 1945. The company was restructured and by 1948, boatbuilding operations were consolidated at the Industrial Canal facility. The company continued to struggle when Andrew Higgins died on Aug. 1, 1952, of a stomach ailment.

Although the Higgins Industries City Park Avenue facility is just a memory, a plaque commemorating Andrew Higgins and the City Park Avenue factory stands in its place, praising the hard work and dedication of Higgins Industries and its employees during World War II as well as the mass production of more than 12,000 landing craft and approximately 200 PT boats for the Allied Forces. A fitting tribute to the man described by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964 as, “the man who won the war for us.”




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