January 6, 2000
Historian details the role politics played in battleship's creation
By CAROL COMEGNO
EVESHAM -- Politics determined the name and birthplace of the battleship USS New Jersey, a Rutgers University history professor and author said Wednesday evening at a lecture.
Professor Jeffery Dorwart, of Rutgers-Camden said the ship was named after the state by President Franklin Roosevelt to repay a political debt to Charles Edison, the son of inventor Thomas Edison.
Charles Edison, as assistant Navy secretary, helped persuade the department to approve Roosevelt's plan to build a group of "super" battleships called the Iowa class.
Dorwart said the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was chosen to build the New Jersey to help win the Philadelphia and South Jersey vote when Roosevelt ran for his unprecedented third term as president in 1940.
"Politics determined its fate. In the end, Roosevelt got the presidency (again) and Edison gets the ship named," Dorwart told more than 50 people at a lecture at the Barnes & Noble book store on Route 70.
"This is New Jersey's ship from the very beginning and especially South Jersey," he said.
In his research for his upcoming book, The Philadelphia Navy Yard from Southwark to League Island, Dorwart said he made numerous discoveries about the New Jersey battleship in declassified government documents.
He said Navy documents reveal the battleship suffered from severe air and water pollution during storage in Bayonne several times since World War II.
The Navy eventually moored the ship in Bremerton, Wash., until it returned to Philadelphia under tow in November. A Navy decision is expected this month on the ship's final berth as a floating museum. It will be in either Camden or Bayonne.
Although Dorwart did not endorse a museum site, audience members, such as retired Navy Capt. John Ulrich of Cherry Hill and Joe Fillmeyer of Cinnaminson, favored Camden.
"After hearing the talk, I am even more convinced," said Fillmeyer.