Andrew Jackson Higgins – A Legacy

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Andrew Jackson Higgins, the man Dwight D. Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II, was a wild and wily genius.

At the New Orleans plant where his company built the boats that brought troops ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944, Higgins hung a sign that said, “Anybody caught stealing tools out of this yard won’t get fired — he’ll go to the hospital.”

Whatever Higgins did, he did it a lot. “His profanity,” Life magazine said, was “famous for its opulence and volume.” So was his thirst for Old Taylor bourbon, though he curtailed his intake by limiting his sips to a specific location.

I only drink,” he told Life magazine, “while I’m working.”

It is Higgins himself who takes your breath away,” Raymond Moley, a former FDR adviser,  wrote in Newsweek in 1943. “Higgins is an authentic master builder, with the kind of will power, brains, drive and daring that characterized the American empire builders of an earlier generation.”

USNS Andrew J. Higgins, Sept. 1987

Higgins was not native to the South, despite his love of bourbon. He grew up in Nebraska, where, at various ages, he was expelled from school for fighting. Higgins’ temperament improved around boats. He built his first vessel in the basement when he was 12. It was so large that a wall had to be torn down to get it out.

He moved South in his early 20s, working in the lumber industry. He hadn’t thought much about boats again until a tract of timber in shallow waters required him to build a special vessel so he could remove the wood. Higgins signed up for a correspondence course in naval architecture, shifting his work from timber to boats.

In the late 1930s, he owned a small shipyard in New Orleans. By then, his special shallow-craft boat had become popular with loggers and oil drillers. They were “tunnel stern boats,” whose magic was in the way the “hull incorporated a recessed tunnel used to protect the propeller from grounding,” according to the Louisiana Historical Association.

Higgins ‘Eureka’ boat

Higgins called it the “Eureka” boat. The war brought interest by U.S. forces in a similar style vessel to attack unguarded beaches and avoid coming ashore at heavily defended ports. The Marines settled on the Higgins boat, transforming what had been a 50-employee company into one of the world’s largest manufacturers.

“To put Higgins’s accomplishment in perspective,” historian Douglas Brinkley wrote in a 2000 article in American Heritage magazine, consider this: “By September 1943, 12,964 of the American Navy’s 14,072 vessels had been designed by Higgins Industries. Put another way, 92 percent of the U.S. Navy was a Higgins navy.”

Though Eisenhower and even Hitler acknowledged the importance of the Higgins boat — military leaders came to call it “the bridge to the beach” — its builder went mostly unmentioned in histories of the war. That is, until 17 years ago, when the World War II Museum opened in New Orleans and recognized Higgins’ life, displaying a reproduction of his boat.

Still, there’s been just one biography written: “Andrew Jackson Higgins and the Boats that Won World War II” by historian Jerry Strahan.

“Without Higgins’s uniquely designed craft, there could not have been a mass landing of troops and matériel on European shores or the beaches of the Pacific islands, at least not without a tremendously higher rate of Allied casualties,” Strahan wrote.

Higgins Hotel, New Orleans

The WWII Museum in New Orleans officially broke ground on the Higgins Hotel directly across the street from the museum in 2017.

The one man in the South I want especially to see is Andrew Jackson Higgins.  I want to tell him, face to face, that Higgins’ landing boats such as we had at Guadalcanal are the best in the world.  They do everything but talk; honest they do.”  ___ Warrant Officer Machinist, James D. Fox, quoted in the Shreveport Times, 6 March 1943

AJ Higgins held 30 patents, mostly covering amphibious landing craft and vehicles.

Higgins died in New Orleans on 1 August 1952, and was buried in Metairie Cemetery.  He had been hospitalized for a week to treat stomach ulcers when he suffered a fatal stroke.

Article resources: The World War II Museum in New Orleans (2018 Annual Report), The Marine Corps & the Washington Post.

There will be more information on the boats in the upcoming post.

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Military Humor – Navy Style ……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Bill Balser – Anderson, IN; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, Co. A/127th Engineers/11th Airborne Division

Thomas Carney – Naples, FL; US Army, Vietnam, 173rd A/B Brigade / Cmdr. of 5th Infantry Div., Lt. Gen. (Ret. 35 y.)

Donald Davis – Orangeville, PA; USMC, WWII, PTO

Bill Hardin – Wheat Ridge, CO; US Navy, WWII, PTO, 72nd Sea Bees

John Johnson – Sanford, NC; US Army, WWII, 9th Infantry Medical Detachment, medic

Garry Massa – Pickney, MI; US Army, Vietnam, 82nd Airborne Division

Roger Patrick – Tabor, IA; US Army, WWII, Sgt.

Paul “Ken” Rash – Indianapolis, IN; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Roy Schwabe (100) – Park Ridge, IL; US Army, WWII

Carl Wheaton – Bar Harbor, ME; USMC, WWII, PTO, Lt. Colonel, pilot

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on September 16, 2019, in Home Front, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 107 Comments.

  1. Another great educational post. Never heard of Higgins before.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great story gp, what a man, and you can tell by his face he was a rugged no nonsense type of bloke.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I expected that poster with the five most dangerous things heard in the Navy to end with, “Hold my beer.” I’ll bet there’s an updated one around somewhere that says just that.

    There’s a guy in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who’s making use of some old Higgins boats, building drop-dead gorgeous mahogany and fiberglass runabouts. High end. You can see photos of the construction process here. here. That’s the page where I found this:

    “The deck is made of 3/16” mahogany strips set into epoxy and spaced with tile spacers. Air driven nylon nails are shot into the deck planks and when dried their nylon heads are sanded off. This mahogany was salvaged from the last remaining supplies of the Higgins boat building yard laid up to plank PT boats during WWII. At wars end they went to a warehouse and 70 years later I found them and purchased it for these boats.”

    Living history.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I wouldn’t be surprised about that “Hold my beer” line – I bet there is one out there!!
      Thank you for the link, It really was quite interesting. I’m thrilled they saved the old mahogany!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So fascinating; I love these kinds of posts from you

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “The Marines settled on the Higgins boat, transforming what had been a 50-employee company into one of the world’s largest manufacturers.” Pretty amazing, G, the right person at the right place and time. Plus I liked his sense of humor about when he drank. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very interesting! He does sound like a colorful and talented man.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. What a great man! Thank you for sharing this information, and the upcoming information on the boats. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, what a larger than life character. And where else would a naval genius been born then Nebraska (?).

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Excellent post, GP! Thank you for sharing about Mr. Higgins! 🙂 There certainly is something to his first and middle name! Named after an amazing man and then he became one! 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂
    PS…Having some sailors in my life…the Military Humor in this post made me snort-laugh! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  10. He sounds like one of those guys that would have been fun to have a beer with – provided you don’t steal his tools! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Higgins boats were also were built in Pittsburgh by the Dravo Corp. on Neville Island. We often stay on Neville Island when we visit Pittsburgh. It’s an industrial island in the Ohio River.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Bigger than life character. Thanks for bringing him to our attention, GP

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Higgins reminds me of another Andrew Jackson. Both were determined, dynamic men who made a difference.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I need to go back and check my story about the PT boats. I think Higgins built the hulls for them as well. The PT boats were powered by three magnificent Packard Marine V-12s.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. He looks a bit like John Wayne in the above picture! I wrote you an email, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. What a super chap! I expect he worked long hours….
    The tunnel to protect the prop was used in the 1931 class Liverpool lifeboats built for the RNLI, and I think the idea was proposed in the late nineteenth century…but he certainly put the idea to good use!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I’ve often wondered about the story behind the Higgins’ Boat. Now I know! Thanks for posting this. 🙂
    –Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought I had posted one a long time ago, but Cindy Bruchman brought questions here about the boat – and I had to go looking for my research!! I have her to thank for reminding me!!

      Like

  18. I believe John Garand won the war for us! LOL I wonder how long he woukd have lived “had he taken care of himself” as they say today…

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Andrew Jackson Higgins sounds like a unique person with an abundance of talent and drive, that died too soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. If memory serves, there aren’t any original Higgins boats left. Am I correct in that?

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Excellent post. I’d knew a lot about the boats, but nothing of the man behind them and his other contributions to the war effort. Amazing story of a real patriot!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I am amazed at how one man’s vision can contribute to victory in war. Truly Andrew Higgins with his unique landing craft design made his mark in history.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Outstanding post! Higgins was a genus!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Forgotten no more GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Thanks for writing this one – a story that deserves to be widely known.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Enjoyed reading that. I didn’t know about Higgins. It’s a name I’ll recognize when I see it from now on.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Wonderful post, GP. What a guy!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. I have heard of Higgins boat but not of the man. “92 percent of the U.S. Navy was a Higgins navy.” – that’s impressive! He deserves a place in history!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  29. I was familiar with HIgging Boats. Absolutely love the cartoons, GP Are you familiar with the Amphibious Training Base that was in Calvert County, MD from 1942-1945? It taught troops to land on Guadalcanal, D-Day, and countless other landings during WWII.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. I’ve heard of his boats but I didn’t realize he grew up in my home state.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. How often do we forget the man with the ideas who builds the machine that the ordinary soldier needs.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Learn something new every day … this was a wowzer

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Excellent post GP I had never heard of him, though had heard the term Higgins boats.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. I just shared this on the History Nebraska Facebook page. Fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  35. He sounds like a really good candidate for a statue. He certainly had a much greater impact on our present lives, particularly here in Europe, than many who already have statues.

    Liked by 4 people

  36. Great article. Over and over again in our travels, we come across the amazing efforts of one person.

    Liked by 3 people

  37. What a character! I confess I had never heard of him, despite his huge wartime achievements. Great tribute, GP.
    I am reminded of the saying “They don’t make them like that anymore”.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 4 people

  1. Pingback: Featured Bloggers Report: Andrew Jackson Higgins – A Legacy // Pacific Paratrooper #AceHistoryD esk reports | ' Ace Worldwide History '

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