How do you get 25,000 New Yorkers to enlist for Navy sea duty amid the horror of World War I? Give them a look at sailor life by building and manning a faux battleship in Manhattan’s bustling Union Square.
The USS Recruit featured six 14-inch guns housed in three twin turrets, ten 5-inch guns, and two cage masts. Contemporaneous news reports referred to the wooden battlewagon as being commissioned by the Navy, but supporting evidence from the service is elusive. Nevertheless, the Navy built the Recruit and used her as a recruiting station and training vessel.
The idea was the brainchild of New York City Mayor John P. Mitchel.1 The city had been lagging behind in recruiting sailors for the Navy. Its goal was 2,000 recruits, but only 900 had volunteered. Mitchel needed something to spark interest—like a battleship built in the middle of the city. Designers Donn Barber and Jules Guerin loosely based the vessel on the Navy’s battleship Maine, and she was “launched” in Union Square on 30 May 1917, seven weeks after the United States entered World War I.