Brooklyn Spar Company By The Red Hook WaterStories Team

In 1921, the Brooklyn Spar Company advertised in The Marine Journal that it sold wooden masts and 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, by then 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.”

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