Brooklyn Spar Company

In 1921, the Brooklyn Spar Company advertised in The Marine Journal that it sold wooden masts, as well as posts for derricks and flag poles, which the company made at its waterfront facility at the foot of Columbia Street.

In O.R. Pilat's 1929 article, John J. Murphy, a 40-year veteran of the Brooklyn spar business, said that during World War I there was such a demand for spars that he had teams of men working on them in the streets. But by the summer of 1929, the company, now struggling, was one of only three yards still making spars by hand in New York City; one of the other two was also in Erie Basin. The business was being edged out by the mechanical lathe and steel masts.

The Brooklyn Spar Company made masts for the important ships of the day, including the CITY OF NEW YORK, Admiral Byrd's flagship to the South Pole, and the ATLANTIC, a transatlantic racing yacht whose record for the fastest crossing held for nearly 100 years.

Murphy worried that when there was work he would not be able to find qualified men: "There's plenty of men; they come by like an ocean wave in the morning, looking for work, but they are carpenters and such like, not spar-makers."

The logs shipped to the Brooklyn Spar Company were dumped in the basin and allowed to drift into the yard's shallow harbor. They were kept floating there until hauled up to be worked on. The basin was favored by minnows and the youngsters who caught them.

John Murphy said that none of his childeren were foolish enough to take up his dying trade, but, he added, “I’m happy. A good wife is half the battle. I’ve had one; and the other half of the battle has been to put as nice a curve on a spar as possible.”

Images

Full text: HAND SPAR WORKS SLOWLY BOWS TO LATHE’S INVASION Old-Time Yards Are Left in Greater City. Steel Replaces Wood. By O. R. PILAT. Spar-making by hand, a delicate art carried on under the same strict rules as it has been for hundreds of years, is vanishing slowly under the impetus of machine-made spars and booms for ships.  In all New York City there are left only three of the old-time spar-Yards. One of them is up in Harlem. The other two are struggling along within hailing distance of each other on the littered edge of Erie Basin at the foot of Beard St. Were it not for the demands of fastidious skippers from yachts being repaired in nearby shipyards the art would have succumbed ere now.  Not What It Used to Be. “Things are not what they used to be." said John J. Murphy, who for 40 years has seen "the works" at the Brooklyn Spar Company yard. "The business is goings, every day. It's those steel masts you see everywhere. And those fellows who make wooden spars with machines are putting them out cheaper and better all the time.  "I may not be here in a year or two, the way things look lately. But they told me when I was a boy that I was a fool to go into it and that’s a long time now."  A grizzled fellow with keen eyes, upturned nose and a heavy under lip.   Murphy took his visitor from his two-room shack in order to show some real spar-making. Inside the nearby chip-littered long shed, open on two sides and surrounded by tin junk of every sort, stood four workers over two 55-foot-long logs supported on wooden horses.   Few Are Spar Makers. All of the workers were white-haired and as unkempt as then- boss himself. One of them, Martin Masterson, has worked for Murphy 40 years. The others are hired from day to day, getting paid when there is work, loafing when there Is none. Murphy's constant fear is that they will not be handy when a job comes in.  "There's plenty of men; they come by like an ocean wave in the morning, looking for work, but they are carpenters and such like, not spar-makers," he says contemptuously. One pair of workers were pushing hollow planes along their log to give it final smoothness. The other pair were shaving away with, two-handed drawknives, changing an octagon-shaped log into one with 16 blades.  Until one realizes that each type of spar and boom has a different thickness and tapers according to unwritten law and its own length the nicety of the job is not apparent.  Fascinating to Watch.  Despite the threat of the future, the old-time spar yard is fascinating to watch. It was there that the barkentine Mary Pinchot, which left a month ago on a 15,000-mile trip to the South Seas, got her shapely spars. Here, too, were cut the dependable "sticks" of the City of New York and the Eleanor Boiling, Byrd's South Pole ships. Here, too, were made the spars of the Atlantic, famous transatlantic racing yacht.   But such orders come at rare intervals and In between there is need for work. Flagpoles, commonplace as they are, are shaped. Derrick booms are made. Occasionally a subway contractor comes in and buys outright a portion of the California pine logs floating in the yard's locked-in, shallow harbor or a thrifty houseowner steps in to buy a washing pole for his bade yard some condemned boom from a famous yacht.   Minnows Frolic In Basin.   Millions of minnows frolic in Murphy's basin and he lets the neighborhood youngsters come down and catch them and make some money.  The logs themselves are dumped out further in the basin with the tide and then hauled up on  runners into the working shed.   Business was not always so dull.  During the war there was such a demand for spars that Murphy was directing squads of men in the nearby vacant lot and in the streets themselves.  “I can’t kick,” he say.  “ I was born in Irish Town, near the Brooklyn Bridge, 62 years ago and all my life I had to knuckle down.  Work seven days a week now. But my oldest boy – I had seven – has made good and calls for me in his car on Sundays.  “No Such Fools These Days”  “No; none of my boys went into my line; they aren’t such fools these days.  But I don’t know. People get twice as much and have to spend twice as much on clothes and food and things these days, and how are they better offz  “I’m happy. A good wife is half the battle.  I’ve had one; and the other half of the battle has been to put as nice a curve on a spar as possible”  -------------------------------------------------O. R. Pilat, Hand Spar Works Slowly Bows To Lathe’s Invasion, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  June 9, 1929. Page 84. Brooklyn Public Library.  http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59856755 View File Details Page

Byrd's Expedition to Antarctica - masts by the Brooklyn Spar Company.

Byrd's Expedition to Antarctica - masts by the Brooklyn Spar Company.

Source: German Federal Archives Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-09158 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 (creative commons ) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-09158,_Expeditionsschiff_Byrds.jpg View File Details Page

Schooner Atlantic - masts by the Brooklyn Spar Company.<br /><br />
Photo taken August 17, 1904

Schooner Atlantic - masts by the Brooklyn Spar Company.
Photo taken August 17, 1904

Source: United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division, digital ID det.4a03428 View File Details Page

Date:

1929

Official Website:

Sources:

  • Brooklyn Spar Company advertisement, The Marine Journal, June 18, 1901. Original in the New York Public Library: https://books.google.com/books?id=ceg_AQAAMAAJ (accessed 2016).

    O. R. Pilat, Hand Spar Works Slowly Bows To Lathe’s Invasion, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  June 9, 1929, page 84. Brooklyn Public Library.  http://bklyn.newspapers.com/image/59856755

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