Florida Merchant Marine Survey, 1936-1939

Series Description

Florida Merchant Marine Survey files, 1936-1939

Series Number:

S 2382


Florida Merchant Marine Survey.


Florida Merchant Marine Survey files, 1936-1939.


3.00 cubic ft.


Arranged by subject.


The Florida Merchant Marine Survey began as part of a larger project, the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey, which was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and funded by the Works Progress Adminstraion (WPA) from April 1936 to October 1937. This was one of many programs the WPA funded in an effort to provide employment for the many Americans unemployed or underemployed as a result of the Great Depression. The idea for a merchant marine survey came from Eric J. Steinlein, a traveling salesman, who had developed a keen interest in sailing vessels and boatbuilding. In 1935, he approached Frank Taylor, curator of the Smithsonian's Watercraft Collection, with a plan to conduct a detailed study of historic watercraft along the United States coastline. Taylor agreed to have the Smithsonian sponsor the project and serve as the final repository for the survey's findings.

The Florida portion of the Historic American Merchant Marine Survey began in 1936 with engineer H. Leighton Long of Jacksonville as its director. Field offices were established at Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and Pensacola, with another opening later in Key West. About 50 workers staffed the project at its peak, but that number dropped to 15 toward the end of 1936. Still, the Florida crew surveyed more than 50 vessels, a significant portion of the 426 total surveys completed nationwide.

Federal funding for the survey ended in October 1937, but H. Leighton Long was able to keep the Florida portion of the work going by convincing the Florida division of the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) to adopt it as one of their own programs. The State Library Board, headed at that time by Harold Colee, president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, replaced the Smithsonian as the sponsor. Work continued under this new arrangement until June 1, 1939, when FWP funding for the survey ran out. The staff applied for a six-month extension of the program, with endorsements from Colee and some of Florida's representatives in Congress, but to no avail.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created by the Federal government in 1935 as part of a massive work-relief program -- known as the New Deal -- to combat the Great Depression. Employing over 8.5 million out of work people before its dissolution in 1943, the WPA was involved in hundreds of national, state, and local projects. Projects included published works, art projects, theatre, conservation and construction projects, and education. Workers were usually paid between $60 and $115 a month, depending upon the work and hours involved. In 1939, the WPA changed its name to Works Projects Administration.

The State Library Board was created on June 4, 1925 by an act of the Legislature which replaced the old State Library and gave the new one operating authority under the State Library Board. (Ch. 10278, Laws). The first three member-board was appointed in 1927 and headed by a Chairman. It was authorized to appoint a Secretary to "act as Librarian of the State Library...who shall have charge of the work in organizing and conducting the State Library...[and] in organizing new libraries and improving those already established." Predating the Florida State Archives, the State Library pursued the collection of many historical documents and manuscripts related to Florida. The Depository Service was initiated in 1931 to receive material of archival importance and in 1935 State Librarian William T. Cash became the Director of the WPA Archives Survey for Florida.


This series consists of drafts of chapters and datasets the Florida Merchant Marine Survey staff intended to include in a full-length manuscript on the history of watercraft and shipping in Florida. A partial census of numbered vessels in Florida is included, as are short histories of specific watercraft and Florida ports. The series also contains a bound book of sketches of boats and ships drawn by artist Philip Ayer Sawyer for the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, as well as schematic drawings of many of the various types of ships mentioned in the manuscript.

Subject Access Fields:

Boats and boating--Florida
Sailing ships
Port cities
Marine architecture
Inland navigation

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