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Henry Tatowicz

Oral history interview conducted by Benjamin Filene

July 29, 1987

Call number: 1995.005.010

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FILENE: Okay, could you tell me again, um, what your job was and what exactly you did at the Navy Yard?

TATOWICZ: Uh, I started as a third-class machinist--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --and from a-- At that time, I worked days for about one week, and then I was put on the night shift.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And, uh, I did the same type of work for a few months, and then I think took about six months, and then I was rated a second class, then later a first class, and then from there I became a layout inspector. In other words, I had to lay out castings and s--and so on for, uh, the machinists to start their 1:00work from.

FILENE: Okay, so could you tell us, uh, what some of the skills and tools that you used were as a machinist? What did you do day to day?

TATOWICZ: Well, I worked on a lathe, machining parts--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --which are the, uh, machines were close talons.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: Uh, worked on drill presses, drilling, tapping.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: Worked on milling machines, cutting, uh, the various, uh, pieces of metal to shape.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I worked on the shaper, shaping material. And then from there I was transferred to the layout inspection. At layout inspection it was a, uh, big area where we had to lay a, set up the propeller shafts for, uh, the rudder, 2:00rudder for the ship. We had to use a surveyor instrument, which was, uh, put on one, on, on, on a floor. It was a big metal floor, big steel floor, and on the steel floor you would have the, uh, say, the rudder laying out on the side flat, and we had to, uh, get the center line all around. In other words, it's, it's, it's an odd shape. It's not, say, a perfect flat. We had to go around, find center lines at the various points, and then we used the surveyors instrument to have it all parallel around, so when they took it to the machine--the machinists, they--on the shaft part it was all concentric, and they set the, uh, rudder through your lines, what lines you put on the rudder. That was set to 3:00that, and that's where they machine from.

FILENE: Okay. Um, how did you get hired at the Naval Yard?

TATOWICZ: Well, I filed an appli--I filed various applications, uh, even previous to the war--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --uh, y-you had to file applications, and, and, uh, you were marked according to your, uh, skills and ability at the time, the tenure. In other words, uh, I just had an apprenticeship, so I really didn't have much skills--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --to be marked by, so I don't know how they derived at a rating, and they gave you a certain rating. So, I applied for helper, trainee, tool and die maker, and machinist, and--

FILENE: Did they give you some sort of test, or--?

TATOWICZ: Uh, yes, on the machinist I had to take a test. I had to work in the lathe. I had to cut, uh, I had to cut threads. I had to cut Acme threads, 4:00V-threads, uh, and the machine--they gave me a print. It took one day to do the test, and, uh--

FILENE: And that's what they rated you for?

TATOWICZ: And they ra--and they rated you on that, yes.


TATOWICZ: Uh, some--uh, later on what they did, employees came in, they gave them a drill to shop and the various tools to shop and see if they were capable of doing that, and they knew pretty well if they had any knowledge of the trade, and, uh, they'd, uh, either keep them or let them go.

FILENE: Okay. Um, before you were hired, uh, how did you see the Navy Yard? I mean, how was the Navy Yard perceived in Brooklyn, and--?

TATOWICZ: Oh, [inaudible]--

FILENE: Like when you--did you grow up in Brooklyn? Were you born in--

TATOWICZ: I grew up in Brooklyn, yes.

FILENE: And how did people see the Navy Yard when you were growing up?

TATOWICZ: Well, at that time when I was growing up--my father worked there.

FILENE: Oh, really?

TATOWICZ: He--for a number of years, he, he worked 18 years, and, uh, at that 5:00time to work in the Navy Yard was a, really an honor. Say, if you were a machinist or a tool and die maker, you went there because the, the, uh, wages you received, the vacation and sick days for, uh, was, uh, non-existent at the time. In other words, uh, you received, uh, good wages, you received 26 days' vacation a year, plus 15 days, sick days a year--


TATOWICZ: --which was accumulative. In other words, sick days if you left you couldn't take with you, but vacations, that was yours.

FILENE: Right, right.

TATOWICZ: Of course, I know when I left I had quite a number of days in sick pay, which I never took off, and that was all lost, but vacation money I received, plus holidays, whatever it was.

FILENE: So that's how it was when you were, when you were growing up. Was it still--

TATOWICZ: Right--any [overlapping dialogue] correct.

FILENE: --was it still seen that same way by the time you were hired there?


TATOWICZ: Yes, it was still the same when I was hired, right.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. And you said it was--was it, uh--you said it was seen as an honor when you were growing up?

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes, it was really an honor.

FILENE: And when you were working there?

TATOWICZ: When I was working there, uh, that's where I really developed my skills and training, because it was so different than working on the outside.

FILENE: How is that?

TATOWICZ: Everything was so that, uh, time that you had to do a job in a certain amount of time--


TATOWICZ: --they -- the, the skill. In other words, when you had a job you couldn't plane on a lathe, so you'd take a 15,000 cut or a thirty-second cut, you had to take a cut as deep as the tool or machine required--an eighth of an inch or a quarter of an inch, on a planer that was nothing.

FILENE: Hmm. So, so was that the major difference from the outside, just that?

TATOWICZ: Oh yes, because when I, when I, uh, left the Navy Yard, I mean, when I was reduction of force--



TATOWICZ: Uh, I, uh, went for other positions, and boy, that was a great help.

FILENE: So, why do you think it was different, uh, ins--inside the Navy Yard than the outside? When you said it's very different from the outside, I was trying to figure out--what made it different. Was it just the way the shop was organized, or?

TATOWICZ: I think the way the place was run. It was, uh, really organized and, uh. You saw--in other words, you had to put in a day's work. It was not as if you worked on the outside, they weren't so strict.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. So how did they make sure you put a day's work in?

TATOWICZ: Well, by the work you-- They gave you a job to do, and if you didn't do it, uh-- And I know when I started, uh, they gave me a job to do. As a matter of fact, the test, when I took the test he said I was too slow on the job, and 8:00he wanted to put me in the grinding room, and I said no way, I wouldn't work in the grinding room, because who wants to, uh, stay with a hand grinder, grinding slag and burrs off the thing? And as I was leaving there happened to be a shop steward; he wanted to know why I was leaving, so I told him. So, he said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute," and he went back, and he spoke to someone, and, uh, to give me a chance on working on something else. So, at the time I told him I was slow on the test because I wasn't familiar with their procedure.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: Another thing, the machine I worked on was really falling apart, had an awful lot of play and slack, and then whenever I needed tools I had to run to the tool room, which was about a block away, and I had to wait on line for my tools, and by the time you came back, it took time. It was a waste of time, and really all the tools and equipment that was for that machine, the people that 9:00worked in the shop had their tools locked up. Nobody could use the tools--

FILENE: Right.

TATOWICZ: --which was Navy Yard tools, but they were locked up, and that was their private tools, they said. Each ship had their own tools.

FILENE: Hmm. So, was that typical? I mean, after, after you started working there did you have similar problems with equipment and getting to--?

TATOWICZ: Oh no, once, uh, they put the--he came back to me and told me he wouldn't put me in the, uh, grinding room. He started me off on the drill press drilling, then drilling machine, shaper, and everything fell in.

FILENE: But was the, was the equipment generally good at the Yard?

TATOWICZ: Well, later on--at, at the beginning the equipment was poor because I guess they never bought new equipment--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --but as time went on, new equipment came in, new machine, the latest equipment, and, uh, it was very good.

FILENE: So, it was considered a good place to work in terms of the facilities?

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes, very good, yes.


FILENE: I mean, was it--were there accidents there? Safety, was there safety--?

TATOWICZ: Well, I imagine there must have been, but, uh, I wasn't aware--Well, I was in an accident one time where some--someone came along with a truck, these here trucks where they move material, and I was sitting down on the bench, and he was careless. He came and put the truck right against me and hit me right against the, uh, uh, layout table, which is a big, steel plate about this thick, and all I had was bruises on my leg. That was the only thing that happened to me. In other words, he hit my chair in the aisle there, my--

FILENE: Yeah. But was there, um, much talk at work about, uh, safety problems or--?

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes, they were very, uh, strict about that. So, they came around. You had to wear your safety equipment--goggles, safety shoes, and so on.

FILENE: But was there much talk among the workers of, uh, incidents, safety problems that they had had, that they felt they were working with unsafe equipment or, uh, anything like that?


TATOWICZ: Not that I was aware of.


TATOWICZ: All I know is they had a safety inspector would go around--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --and if he saw something that wasn't right, he would go and bring it to your attention, the supervisor's attention. The supervisor was a--what did they call him--quarterman, supervisor and the quarterman.

FILENE: Okay. Um, how strictly supervised were you at work? You said you had many jobs, and if you didn't get the job done, uh, you were in trouble, but how, um, carefully was everyone watched while you were doing your work?

TATOWICZ: Well, as long as you did your job you were never watched. The thing is if you fell behind, they'd come around wondering what the problem was, and they try and help you out to correct it.

FILENE: How could they tell if you were falling behind?

TATOWICZ: Well, they could tell by the amount of work coming out, produced, according to what, what you're working on--small pieces--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --they could tell how many pieces you can make per hour or per day, 12:00whatever it was.

FILENE: So, they, did they record that, how many pieces you made per day or per hour?

TATOWICZ: Well, you had a card, the, uh, work card, that, that they went by, which, uh, I, I mean, I never took care of it, but the supervisors or the supervisor's assistant would have a chart, the operation to be performed and so on.

FILENE: And they would write down everything--

TATOWICZ: Then everything would be written down, right.

FILENE: Okay. So, the supervisors, it was their sole job to go around and check up on everyone and write down what had been made and things like that?

TATOWICZ: Well, I don't know if he really checked on everyone. He probably had the foreman, but, uh, he would know by his, uh, list what he had to produce or what had to go out.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. So, what was the hierarchy? You said there was a foreman, and above the foreman was the supervisor.

TATOWICZ: Well, the--

FILENE: Who, who else was there?

TATOWICZ: The worker, the foreman--


FILENE: What did the foreman do?

TATOWICZ: Well, he'd go and give out the work.

FILENE: Okay. And he didn't do any work himself, he just gave it out?

TATOWICZ: Well, he did work, too. Uh, he helped out.


TATOWICZ: And the next--I believe it was the lead man--he was a, he was a supervisor, the lead man. And then you had a quarterman, who was, who was, in charge of so many supervisors--


TATOWICZ: --in the shop

FILENE: So, what's the difference betw--what does the lead man do?

TATOWICZ: Well, he was a super, he was a supervisor of a department, of so many men.


TATOWICZ: Maybe 15, 20 men.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And then you had a quarterman, who was in charge of so many supervisors--say four or five, I don't know how much a quarterman-- And, uh, I don't recall what the next name was.


FILENE: So how many quartermen did you have in the machine shop, roughly?

TATOWICZ: Gee, I, I wouldn't know.

FILENE: A lot? [laughter] Well, one or two, or--?

TATOWICZ: Oh, more than that, then. I think I knew of at least six or seven--

FILENE: Mm, Okay.

TATOWICZ: --quartermen.

FILENE: Yeah. So, it sounds like they had quite a lot of, uh, supervisory people.

TATOWICZ: Oh, the people had, had, uh, quite a few, especially on the day shift. That's where they had most of the people. The night shift they didn't have as many, so if you had a quarterman, the quarterman might have been in charge of three or four supervisors. I'm just saying I'm not sure.

FILENE: Right.

TATOWICZ: But the day supervisor or the day quarterman, he was over all the shifts.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: He was responsible to see how everything was going.

FILENE: I see. You said, uh--you talked earlier about how you preferred to work on the night shift instead of the day shift?


FILENE: Can you say why that was?

TATOWICZ: Well, I felt by working nights I'd be able to be adapted to more 15:00around more, 'cause on the day shift you had so many employees, you're more or less stuck at one place or one machine, whereas at night there weren't so many employees and you had more of a chance of being shifted from one area or one machine or one job to another.

FILENE: Mm. Did you have much say in, uh, what you got to do some days--?

TATOWICZ: No. You just--you were assigned a job and that was it.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. How about--did you have much influence over, um--of--over policy at the Yard or anything like that?


FILENE: Because we've, uh, I talked to someone else who, um, stressed that the workers got the right to make suggestions, and if the suggestions were adapted, adopted them they would get, um--and if the suggestions were implemented the workers would be given a reward and things like that. And was there much, um, 16:00worker government or worker committees or anything like that?

TATOWICZ: Well, they had--I understand they had that where they could give suggestions--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --but, uh, if they're implemented or something, you know, it's up to the--whoever was in charge.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. But did they have--were workers on any committees, uh, in charge of fielding the suggestions or, um, making recommendations to supervisors, uh, anything like that?

TATOWICZ: Gee, uh, I was unaware of that.

FILENE: Okay, I was just wondering how much of a, um, force they were at the workplace, really. Um, what about your coworkers? You said that there were, it was really crowded during the day.


FILENE: Um, did people get to be pretty good friends there?

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes.



TATOWICZ: Oh, very good.

FILENE: Were but, were mo--were most of the people that you, uh--were most of them from the neighborhood, from the Brooklyn area, or did people come from outside?

TATOWICZ: Well, as far as I know, knew, there were people from Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --Staten Island, Jersey, New Jersey.

FILENE: And so, were you friends with them outside the job, as well? The people that you met at work? I mean, did you know their families, or--?

TATOWICZ: N-no. It was very difficult, because we worked seven days a week, and when, when, when you came home you wanted to go--


TATOWICZ: --and rest, and then we only had I believe it was one day off after every 21 days of work.


TATOWICZ: One day off.


TATOWICZ: Which alternated. Say, one, once was on a Monday, then the Tuesday. Kept on going that way. And that's the way it was.

FILENE: I guess there wasn't much time for socializing.


TATOWICZ: No holidays, no nothing, right.

FILENE: So, was that considered a disadvantage of the Yard, or was it like that at a lot of places at the time?

TATOWICZ: It wasn't a disadvantage. The thing was that, uh, one of those things. The war was on, and we all had to do our part.

FILENE: But if you had been working outside the Yard, would you have been working such long hours, so many days?

TATOWICZ: I think I would've been working long, longer hours, because I know a number of my friends, they worked on the outside, they worked longer hours and they made much more money than I was making.

FILENE: Oh, they made more money.

TATOWICZ: Sure, because of the overtime they put in.

FILENE: So, you didn't get overtime pay.

TATOWICZ: No, we just worked eight hours a day straight for seven days a week.

FILENE: And that was considered normal, so there was no overtime.

TATOWICZ: No. The only ones that I knew of had overtime was some individuals on a day shift. They worked--I, I know in m--in my lab they probably had one fellow, he'd be in there six o'clock in the morning and he'd go home nine, ten 19:00o'clock at night.

FILENE: And he got overtime.

TATOWICZ: And he got overtime. I guess he was an old-timer and they had preference, I, I imagine.

FILENE: Wow, hmm. Um, how about, uh, with--were most of your friends within the machine shop, or did you get to know people outside the shop?

TATOWICZ: Well, the machine shop area I knew people that had worked within-- When I had to, had to go from one place to another I met someone and became acquainted with him.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. Was there, um-- Was the machine shop seen by the workers as sort of a united group? I mean, was there any, I don't know, competition with the other, uh, shops or, um, any sense that the machine people were different from the other people, or did people just sort of mix with one another?

TATOWICZ: Well, not that I, I was aware of. I know we all worked, cooperated. I never ran across any, uh, problems as long as I was there with my coworker.


FILENE: Yeah, I just--I guess I meant any sense of, uh, one might say team spirit or something at the machine shop.

TATOWICZ: Oh, it was all team spirit, I'm sure.

FILENE: Within the shop, or in the--?

TATOWICZ: Within the shop, as far as I knew.

FILENE: But within the Yard as a whole.

TATOWICZ: Probably within the Yard, too.

FILENE: But your main group was the machine shop.

TATOWICZ: The machine shop, right. I worked in Building 128, Shop 31.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. Everyone we talked to remembers very clearly what building they were in and what shop--


FILENE:--and, um, I guess what I'm asking is whether you, again, see yourself as a Building 128 man and would associate yourself with that group, and feel less of a bond to the others, or see yourself in opposition to the others?

TATOWICZ: No, that never entered my mind.

FILENE: Okay, that's fine.


FILENE: And we've already talked about the war somewhat, but, uh, how did you, um, feel that Brooklyn as a city was affected by the war? What were the biggest 21:00changes? How did you--um, what would make it clear that Brooklyn was in wartime when you came?

TATOWICZ: Oh, I wouldn't know what to say. I know everyone was very conscious of the war going on. Uh, I know--

FILENE: How did it affect--? How did it affect your lives?

TATOWICZ: Affect my life?

FILENE: Or affect the lives of, of the city? I mean--


FILENE:--you said everyone was very aware. How was, how were people aware?

TATOWICZ: Well, people were patriotic, uh. We didn't see any people, what we say, hang around as you see today.


TATOWICZ: Everyone was far as I, I knew was working--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --men and women.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.


TATOWICZ: And, uh--

FILENE: Okay. Do you want to, Do you want to add something?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: No, I was going to tell you [inaudible] when they had the air raids people used to [inaudible] down the street, they had these [inaudible].

FILENE: What was that?

TATOWICZ: When we had air raid practice--we had air raid practice every s-- so often--

FILENE: Oh, really?

TATOWICZ: --say, a week or a month, an air raid practice, and, uh, sirens would go, lights would go out--


TATOWICZ: --and had air raid wardens in the street, and anyone seen walking in the street were told to go in.

FILENE: So how early was this? Was this--?

TATOWICZ: Well, in the evening, say, mostly in the evening.

FILENE: I mean, before--how long before--before we were in the war or, uh, or not?

TATOWICZ: Well, I think it was during the war.


TATOWICZ: Pearl Harbor.


FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And it was, it was a nice scene at the, especially at the Navy Yard. Every morning when I, when, when I was going, leaving, they had a bugle blow "Taps"--

FILENE: Oh, really?

TATOWICZ: --and a flag-raising ceremony.

FILENE: Oh, wow.

TATOWICZ: And all around the Yard, no matter--in one area, as far as a person could see, all the trains or buses, cars stopped while the "Taps" were going--


TATOWICZ: --and people walking the streets stopped and faced the area where the flag, where they could see the area.

FILENE: Oh, that's a great scene.



TATOWICZ: Every, every morning that was going on. It was great.

FILENE: Hmm. Um, so how did you feel about, uh, being able to work instead of being drafted?

TATOWICZ: Well, I really wanted to get into the service. I volunteered--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --to go into the service, but when I went down to the--I passed at the Draft Board and I was sent out to Jamaica at the 169 Field Artillery for my 24:00induction to go in.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: As a matter--I, I wasn't working at the Navy Yard at the time, I was working somewhere else, and, uh, when I went down there, uh, At that time, when you were inducted you had to say goodbye and that was it--you either go into the service and never came home again, or you'd come home if they didn't take you. So, uh, I know I left my job, I took all my equipment home, my tools--

FILENE: Oh wow, I see.

TATOWICZ: --and I said goodbye and went there. And I was wondering--I was kept there--I went through the physical, took a, a rigid physical examination, and, uh, it's three o'clock, I'm still there. I said, "Gee, what, what's going on?" I see everybody's being sent away. Finally, I was called in, and the CO, Commanding Officer, at the induc--uh, talking to me, and he asked me why do I 25:00want to go into the service. That was before the war, now. This was before the war started.

FILENE: When was this?

TATOWICZ: We had the draft. I had the draft, see.

FILENE: Yeah, but what year or so was this?

TATOWICZ: See, I'll have to look that up.

FILENE: Well--


FILENE: Before the war, Okay.

TATOWICZ: Before the war.


TATOWICZ: I don't know, it was six months before the war, a year, whatever it was. So, uh, I told him, I wish to go into the service. I wouldn't want to be drafted. I'd rather, I'd rather go in now. I'd start in the bottom, work my way up. And he told me it was very nice of me to volunteer, but at the time being he thought I'd be more essential at my job as I was serving apprenticeship.


TATOWICZ: And, uh, if they needed me, they'd call me.

FILENE: So, you think that was typical, that they thought that, uh, that certain people were more essential, um, working their jobs than being in the service?

TATOWICZ: I believe so, because I had two brothers. They were also deferred. I had a brother working electronics, and another brother working in machine shop 26:00also. They both wanted to go in, and they were deferred because of their job.

FILENE: This is before the war, again?

TATOWICZ: Before the war. So, finally, one of my brothers, he went to Panama because his job, they wouldn't take him into the service, so he went to Panama. He worked in Panama. From Panama he went on the Liberty ships. My other brother, he was finally called, drafted, and he was drafted because he was in electronics, and, uh, he, he, he was called in. Then he was sent to Fort Totten, Queens, and from Fort Totten, Queens, out to Jersey, and he had to go to some kind of special school for six months, and then he was sent out to, uh, Las Cruce--Las Cruces, New Mexico.


TATOWICZ: He worked on rockets.

FILENE: So, were electronics people more likely to be drafted? Do you think?


TATOWICZ: I imagine so, at the time.

FILENE: Why is that?

TATOWICZ: Because---I imagine they, they wanted someone with skills, I, I believe, in the service.

FILENE: Okay. So, you said that you, you didn't want to get drafted, but you wanted to get into the service, is that right? Or you--?

TATOWICZ: No, I wanted to go into the service.

FILENE: Right.


FILENE: But you didn't want to get drafted into the service.

TATOWICZ: At the time, yes.


TATOWICZ: Because I felt if I started at the beginning instead of being--you're drafted, they could put you anywheres. I felt by volunteering you could, uh, pick a spot to go into.

FILENE: Mm-hmm, Okay.

TATOWICZ: So, I went. Then I went to, uh--I come home that night, six o'clock, and my parents were surprised to see me. They were shocked.

FILENE: [laughter]

TATOWICZ: I went back to work. They were surprised to see me. "What are you doing here?"

FILENE: Uh-huh.

TATOWICZ: And then I was called right after that to, uh, for a job in the Navy Yard.


TATOWICZ: So, then I left there, and I went to the Navy Yard.


TATOWICZ: But once, I think once the, uh, war started the jobs were frozen, you 28:00couldn't move around anymore.

FILENE: Within the Yard or out?

TATOWICZ: Anywhere.


TATOWICZ: You work any defense place, you couldn't move.


TATOWICZ: You were frozen at that job.

FILENE: Why do you think that was?

TATOWICZ: Well, they felt you might be moving from one job to another, probably for more money or--


TATOWICZ: And not only that, you might have been more essential where you are than where you were going.


TATOWICZ: I felt the same way. I felt that, uh, I would've liked to have left, in a way to earn, make the money, see, but then your job is frozen, you couldn't move.

FILENE: Hmm. So, was there much dissatisfaction with the salaries at the Yard?

TATOWICZ: Not that I was aware of. Well, I only knew of one ins--instance where this one man, I knew him--uh, he was a second-class machinist, and he was doing precision work, machining shafts for the ship, ships, and, uh, he was second 29:00class, and people were coming in, and they were being moved up the line before, you know, the first-class machinist. Well, it wasn't that much money; it was six cents an hour difference from first class to second class to third class or to layouts, but it was six-cents increments. And he felt offended that he wasn't being--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --given the first-class rating, so he threatened to leave, because he was, uh-- He worked in the, uh, Merchant Marine. He was the, uh, in charge. I think it was--he was a captain on the ship later on, I remember, in the Merchant Marines. So, when he threatened to leave, they wouldn't let him leave, and finally they gave him the six cents to a first-class machinist.

FILENE: Hmm. But you said you could've made more money outside--

TATOWICZ: Oh, sure. I had a brother. He--

FILENE: Did that bother you?

TATOWICZ: No, it didn't bother me, no.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I know my brother, uh, he just graduated from high school. He started working to work on armor engineering, and the money he was making, I was 30:00flabbergasted! [laughter] He was making much more than me!


TATOWICZ: My younger brother here's coming out, and, and I was working there.

FILENE: That's interesting. So, did you feel like you were part of the war effort?

TATOWICZ: Oh yeah, sure.

FILENE: I mean, you felt that you were involved in, uh--

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes.

FILENE: Yeah. Okay, uh, what about--who was drafted within the Yard? How often--how many people, or how often were people drafted who were working in the Yard?

TATOWICZ: Well, as far as I knew, that--a person was seldom drafted. The only time it became very bad was when we had a problem in Europe with the Battle of the Bulge, I believe.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And that happened in October or November. I know I'd just gotten married in September.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And, uh, in October I received a letter, "Report for induction, examination" eh, because they were drafting everyone at the time. They had no, 31:00uh, qualms about taking people and needed people, I imagine.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: So, I heard of quite a number of people at that time, young fellows that were drafted into the service.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: And, uh, I was one of them. I went down, and I recall when I went down for my physical, and the way the officer commented, he said, "I see you want to get into the service very bad." I said, "I do." And then--I was sure of going, and then at the last minute I received a call or a letter in the mail not to report.

FILENE: Hmm. Do you know why that was?

TATOWICZ: Because of my position, my work.

FILENE: Okay, so most-- And yet many other people were drafted.


FILENE: Who had similar positions?

TATOWICZ: Well, the only other thing I could think of, maybe--I wore glasses--


TATOWICZ: --at the time.

FILENE: Hmm. So that might have, yeah, that might have been an influence. Um, but you still wanted to get drafted, even though you'd just--


TATOWICZ: I did, yes.

FILENE: Do you think most people at the Yard were, would have preferred to be drafted than working there?

TATOWICZ: Gee, I have no idea.

FILENE: But there was not--was there any talk about, uh, "I wish I was out of here," or--?

TATOWICZ: Well, I heard the opposite, where some fellows said, "Well, who wants to go into the service? Who wants to go on a ship that sunk?

FILENE: Yeah, that's, that's what I was wondering.

TATOWICZ: I heard things like that, yes.

FILENE: You heard more, you heard more of that, maybe?

TATOWICZ: I heard more of that, I believe, yeah.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.


FILENE: I imagine it would be a tough situation. Um, you said that you felt part of the work effort, the war effort as you were working. Uh, was any of your work treated as secret or classified? Uh, did you know what your work was going to be used for as you were doing it?

TATOWICZ: No, that I didn't know.

FILENE: Was it something that you--? Did you ever question, like, "I wonder what, what's going to happen to what I just made?"

TATOWICZ: No, I never did. As a matter of fact, I believe all, all the work you 33:00did was secret. It was suppo--supposed to be secret work.

FILENE: Really? Is that what they told you?

TATOWICZ: You weren't supposed to talk about your job or anything--

FILENE: Yeah, that's what I meant.

TATOWICZ: --right, you weren't supposed to talk about it.

FILENE: So that was--the supervisors told you that you weren't supposed to--?

TATOWICZ: Well, no one really told us about it, but there were signs all around, big signs, something about "somebody might be listening" and so on.

FILENE: Really?


FILENE: The sign said someone might be listening?

TATOWICZ: "Be careful. If you're talking, someone might be listening," and so on, all kinds of big signs they had around the Yard.

FILENE: Oh. So, they were--do you think they were worried about people--someone might be listening within the Yard?

TATOWICZ: In the, within the Yard, sure.

FILENE: They thought someone might've, uh, snuck in.

TATOWICZ: Sure. As a matter of fact, you, you didn't know, you didn't even know who your friend was. Your friend might have been helping out, working with the intelligence within the Yard.

FILENE: Oh, they had intelligence within the Yard?

TATOWICZ: I mean, you had employees working--they did have intelligence within 34:00the Yard, because I recall my father being called down to the intelli--Naval Intelligence Navy Yard, and he was called down there because he was supposed to have said to someone, "I don't see how they could take people into the service when they're not trained properly," and, uh, something about his sons not going into the services.


TATOWICZ: So, he was called down there, so, uh, they questioned him about that. "How did your son get the job in the service? Did you pay anybody? Did you know someone?"


TATOWICZ: He said no. He said, "I don't see why you're asking me such questions." He said, "You have everything right in front of you." He said, "If you want to take any one of my sons, which they all volunteered," he said, "they'll gladly go." And they said, "Oh yes, we know, we have all that here."


FILENE: So, someone within the Yard had, had reported--

TATOWICZ: Right, right.

FILENE:--to higher-ups.

TATOWICZ: See, what happened then--then they asked my father, well, would he be willing to cooperate with them. They gave him a number. If he saw something which he didn't like, he call up this number, he'd call up, and just give his number, what the situation was, probably some sabotage or something like that.

FILENE: That's interesting.


FILENE: Um--to change the subjects a little bit, you--uh, there were many women workers?

TATOWICZ: Oh, quite a few came in, yes.

FILENE: Um, how, how big a presence were they in the Yard? Was this--were there very many? Were you working with any?

TATOWICZ: Well, I, I didn't work directly with the women. They worked, say, as--they came in as sweepers to help clean up.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: They came in as tool crib attendants, in the tool crib, issued the tools--

FILENE: What's that?

TATOWICZ: When you wanted the tools to work with, they were in the tool room.



TATOWICZ: Everything's tool room.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: They issued tools, you'd say--you fill out a slip, you wanted a tool, and they'd give it to you.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: They had crane operators working overhead. Then later on they, the women start to train, be trained to work on the machines, and--

FILENE: Later on in the war effort?

TATOWICZ: Later on, yes. As they came in, of course the women wanted to work on machines, and they trained them working on certain machinery, and--

FILENE: So, at first, they weren't, uh, they weren't allowed to, or they weren't qualified?

TATOWICZ: Well, they weren't qualified because they never had the experience.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: But then as they worked in the Yard, I imagine they saw, uh, I believe they were capable of doing this kind of work, and they wanted to learn it, and they were trainees, and they trained them.

FILENE: So eventually you were working with women in machine, in the machine shop?

TATOWICZ: Well, I didn't see so much on the night shift, but the day shift.


TATOWICZ: See, the night shift, there were very few women.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I don't know what the reason was for that.



TATOWICZ: But, uh, maybe they were working parents or something like that, see.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.

TATOWICZ: But in the day shift, uh, there were quite a few of them around.

FILENE: And so how d--how was, uh--how did it feel to be working with women?

TATOWICZ: Well, it didn't, uh, didn't seem any different.


TATOWICZ: You know, of course the fellows that wanted to flirt with them in the daytime you know--

FILENE: Oh, yeah?


FILENE: That's what I was going to ask you.


FILENE: So, were they treated, uh, were they--how were they treated by the coworkers?

TATOWICZ: Just as far as I know they were treated equal.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. And by the bosses? Do you think they were given any different treatment?

TATOWICZ: See, I wouldn't know about that.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah. So, people were flirting. So, do you th--do you think, uh, the g--the guys were glad to have them around, or?

TATOWICZ: I'd imagine so, sure, probably a change of scenery, [laughter]--

FILENE: Yeah. [laughter]

TATOWICZ: --something different.


TATOWICZ: You know, I see a girl go by, "Hey, look at that."

FILENE: So, did they have--Were they, uh, eventually--when they were in the 38:00machine shop, did they manage to hold their own, do you feel?

TATOWICZ: Yes, they held their own, the women, yeah.

FILENE: Were they considered, you know, equal in terms of, of efficiency?

TATOWICZ: They must have been. Th-they received the same wages.

FILENE: Yeah, Okay. [laughter]

TATOWICZ: I mean, they--

FILENE: I meant by the coworkers.


FILENE: Was there any resentment that they weren't--?

TATOWICZ: No, no, as far as I knew there weren't, there wasn't any resentment.


TATOWICZ: From what I saw.

FILENE: Okay. What about, um, the various ethnic groups and racial minorities? Uh, did they have a big presence at the Yard during the war?

TATOWICZ: To tell you the truth, I never even took, took notice of it all, or was I aware of it.


TATOWICZ: I think before the war I was told that mostly Germans worked there, German, uh, nationality.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I mean, that's what I was told.


FILENE: Right.

TATOWICZ: The, uh-- When I went there, I've seen people, but it's not like today, an issue about these minorities and all that.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. Were, were many blacks working there?

TATOWICZ: Oh, also blacks, yes, sure.

FILENE: Were they s--uh, somewhat separated from coworkers socially? I mean, did you socialize with them as much?

TATOWICZ: To be frank, I, I didn't see many blacks in, in the--they might have been working in other area, other areas.


TATOWICZ: But as I say, uh, when you work with people--and I don't look at black and white or whatever it is.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. Okay. Um--

TATOWICZ: You don't, you don't take note of it. It doesn't enter your mind. At that time, I recall, uh, it wasn't so much in the news media the way it's today 40:00about the blacks and all that.

FILENE: Right, I understand, yeah.

TATOWICZ: At that time, uh, just a coworker.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I used to pal around with a, with a black fellow.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I thought he was the greatest--he took me up to Harlem and back.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I never even thought about him being black.

FILENE: So, you did do some things with the workers outside of work.

TATOWICZ: Well, this one fellow in particular.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah. How do you, uh, how do you see the Naval Yard today, what's happened to it since you were working there?

TATOWICZ: Well, I think it's a shame that such a thing happened that they closed down and moved out.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. What about, um, there are some efforts to revitalize the area through private--


FILENE:--uh, industries. Any--? Have--are you--do you think the Navy Yard is, uh, has a presence in Brooklyn today?

TATOWICZ: I'd rather see it as, as the Navy Yard, not the way it is today. Oh, 41:00by the way, it was called the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then the name was changed to New York Naval Shipyard. I don't know if you're aware of that.

FILENE: Yeah, yeah.


FILENE: So, you'd rather what--?

TATOWICZ: I'd like to see the Navy Yard back again.

FILENE: Oh, you'd like to see it back?

TATOWICZ: Oh, yes.

FILENE: I see.

TATOWICZ: I thought it was something we had a Navy Yard here.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: I recall, you know, seeing those big ships come in, and remember when they had the, uh, that French ship, the Ri- Richelieu came in when the, uh, I think the British had the underwater divers, put bombs in, in the Mediterranean there at the time. Now, that's when they turned to the, the Vichy government, I believe? At the time, the Vichy. Then they brought the ship over here and were working on the Navy Yard to repair the ship--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --the battleship.

FILENE: What about, um, the changes that Brooklyn has gone through as a city in 42:00the past, uh, 40 years or so? I mean, there've been a lot of up and down, um, economically. How do you feel about the changes that have, about the way things have changed around here? You've been living here the whole time?

TATOWICZ: Right, right, mm-hmm. Well, I prefer living then than the way things are today.

FILENE: Yeah. Why's that?

TATOWICZ: We had--I, I believe that people are more together, are more, uh-- Everybody's willing to help one another out.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: They're more compassionate. And, uh, more friendly, I believe.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: Today we have too much of this here, I believe, ethnic groups spreading out and a lot of dissention, which we never had be--that I, I was 43:00aware of that we never had before.


TATOWICZ: As I said to you before, when I worked with people, you never saw what, what color they were or what ethnic group they belonged to.

FILENE: Right.

TATOWICZ: And today it's--I believe it's too much stressing on different groups instead of saying we're all Americans.

FILENE: Hmm. Do you think that's, uh, more in, in the Brooklyn area, specifically, or do you mean in the city as a whole, or in the country, or--?

TATOWICZ: Well, as far as I know from my own experience, I see it in Brooklyn, but from reading the news media or hearing the news on the TV, it seems it's nationwide.

FILENE: Mm-hmm. So, do you--what do you think caused it? Do you know, or any ideas on what--?

TATOWICZ: I have no idea.


FILENE: Okay. Um, do you have any idea who else we could talk to that might be helpful?

TATOWICZ: No, I lost track of all the people that I knew who all came along. Matter of fact, I even lost track of all my friends from before the war. I don't know what happened to them, where they are.


TATOWICZ: Probably many were lost in the service--

FILENE: Right.

TATOWICZ: --or they moved somewhere else.

FILENE: What did you do after, after you left the Yard?

TATOWICZ: Uh, I continued working in machine shop line, but then, of course, became more advanced and specialty, working in an engineering department model shop, tool and die work.

FILENE: I see. And so, did you miss the Yard after you left, or were you bitter about the reduction in forces, or--?


TATOWICZ: Well, I was sort of bitter because they had a policy, notices on the board telling the employees that don't take advantage of your vacation days, your sick days, when the time for layoff came or something should happen that you'd be considered, uh, have priority over people that abused the privileges.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: It didn't make any difference if you used them or not. I think the ones that abused them, uh, they came out ahead because they took all their sick days, they got paid for it--


TATOWICZ: --in the meantime I lost my--most of my sick days I lost.

FILENE: Hmm. So that made you feel sort of bitter when you left, that, um--

TATOWICZ: A little bit, yes.

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: But my father, he worked there for 18, 19 years, and about, uh, six months later he was laid off, too.

FILENE: Six months after you?




TATOWICZ: He worked there so many years, because reduction in force.

FILENE: So, it was a pretty quick cutback, huh?

TATOWICZ: Right, big cutback. I think they went down to maybe 3,000 employees.

FILENE: Did they keep the 24-hour shift?



TATOWICZ: No, they just had one shift, and--


TATOWICZ: --they kept on going back, two shifts to one shift, and that was it.

FILENE: So, once you were outside, did you, uh, how did the conditions compare, the working conditions? Was it equally good job, the job you got next, or, uh, did you feel it was less--?

TATOWICZ: I'll tell you, sure, I think I was fortunate, no matter where I went, I seemed to be appreciated because of my ability--

FILENE: Mm-hmm.

TATOWICZ: --on jobs, wherever I went, they saw I could handle myself, and, uh, I was more or less on my own.


TATOWICZ: No matter what they--I was given a job, they knew I was going to do 47:00it, I didn't have to, uh, depend on someone else to finish the job. And I think--I gained all my experience from the Navy Yard, in that way, my experience--


TATOWICZ: I know, uh, I w--I went to--

[Interview interrupted.]

TATOWICZ: So, he asked me would I be willing to come in and work on a machine and try it out. So, I came in on a Saturday to do it. And I was amazed myself I was able to handle myself on the machine. So, he came over to me. "Boy," he said, "where did you learn that?" I said, "Well, I worked in the Navy Yards and learned." [laughter] And he said, "You're very good." He said, "Okay, the job is yours."

FILENE: Great.

TATOWICZ: Yeah. So, I did very well.


FILENE: All right, well, thanks a lot.

TATOWICZ: You're welcome.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Henry Tatowicz

Henry Tatowicz (ca. 1920- ) grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He worked as a third class machinist at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, working his way up to first class and eventually becoming a layout inspector, laying out castings for the machinists. His two brothers also worked at the Navy Yard. Tatowicz wanted to join the Army, but was asked to stay and work at the Navy Yard where his skills were needed.

In this interview, Henry Tatowicz (ca. 1920- ) goes through the different positions he had at the Navy Yard, explaining the tools, supplies and work involved in each position. He also talks about workplace safety, working the night shift, women at the Yard, his feelings about the reductions in the workforce after the war, and changes in Brooklyn his lifetime. Tatowicz remembers working at the Yard and hearing about the events at Pearl Harbor. He was able to use his skills from working on the machines at the Navy Yard in future positions after he left. Interview conducted by Benjamin Filene.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection is comprised of over fifty interviews of men and women who worked in or around the Brooklyn Navy Yard, primarily during World War II. The narrators discuss growing up in New York, their work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, their relationships with others at the Yard, gender relations and transportation to and from work. Many narrators bring up issues of ethnicity, race, and religion at the Yard or in their neighborhoods. Several people describe the launching of the USS Missouri battleship and recall in detail their daily tasks at the Yard (as welders, office workers and ship fitters). While the interviews focus primarily on experiences in and around the Yard, many narrators go on to discuss their lives after the Navy Yard, relating stories about their careers, dating and marriage, children, social activities, living conditions and the changes that took place in Manhattan and Brooklyn during their lifetimes.


Tatowicz, Henry, ca. 1920-, Oral history interview conducted by Benjamin Filene, July 29, 1987, Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection, 1995.005.010; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • New York Naval Shipyard
  • Tatowicz, Henry


  • Naval ships
  • Pearl Harbor (Hawaii), Attack on, 1941
  • Safety
  • Shipbuilding
  • Shipyards
  • Women
  • Work
  • Work environment
  • World War, 1939-1945


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)


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Finding Aid

Brooklyn Navy Yard oral history collection