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Guide to the National Maritime Union Photographs PHOTOS 044

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
10th Floor
New York, NY 10012
(212) 998-2630

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Hanan Ohayon

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 11, 2018 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: National Maritime Union Photographs
Dates: circa 1940-circa 1950, undated
Abstract: The National Maritime Union (NMU) was an American labor union founded in May 1937 and led by Joseph Curran. The collection contains black and white photographs of NMU activities mostly in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as photographs of merchant seamen and shipping in Marseille, France made by photographer Ernst Haas for the Economic Development Corporation, a United States agency that administered the Marshall Plan.
Quantity: 0.75 Linear Feet in 1 oversize flat box and 1 folder.
Language: Materials are in English
Call Phrase: PHOTOS 044

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Historical/Biographical Note

The National Maritime Union of America (NMU), which represented merchant marine workers, was formed in 1937, as a split from the International Seafarer's Union, which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). At its first convention in 1937, the NMU joined the Committee for Industrial Organizations (CIO). A crucial role in its formation was played by former members of the Communist-led Marine Workers Industrial Union. Among the notable reforms achieved by the union's Communist-dominated leadership was "checkerboarding," the side-by-side racial integration of sailors' sleeping quarters. By the end of World War II, the NMU had nearly 100,000 members. The union was founded and led by Joseph Curran, who served as NMU president until 1981.

During World War II, the alliance of Communists and non-communists in the union was weakened by charges that the Communists, in their desire to maximize productivity in order to aid the Soviet Union, did not aggressively defend sailors' interests. The Cold War exacerbated the ideological divide, and in 1948, the NMU's Communist leadership and its allies were defeated in union elections and expelled.

In 1950, the NMU's Welfare plan was established, providing seamen with health, accident and life insurance benefits. In 1954 a pension component was added. Curran's successor, Shannon Wall, was not well-received by a strong minority of the union, led by James Morrissey. In 2001, the NMU merged with the Seafarers International Union of North America, which originally represented West Coast merchant mariners.

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Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of two groups of photographs. One group of approximately one hundred black and white prints of various sizes, as well as contact sheets, and negatives document the activities of the National Maritime Union (NMU) mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. Another group of 32 black and white prints were made by photographer Ernst Haas, possibly between 1948 and 1952, for the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), the administrative arm of the Marshall Plan. These photographs document the lives of merchant seamen, shipping, and post-war economic development in Marseille, France.


The collection is organized into two series: Series 1. National Maritime Union Photographs; Series 2. ECA Photographs by Ernst Haas. Items in Series 2 are arranged according to an original numbering scheme on the back of the photographs.

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Curran, Joseph Edwin, 1906-1981
  • Smith, Ferdinand
  • Herson, Gene

Subject Organizations

  • National Maritime Union of America
  • Seafarers International Union of North America
  • Rutgers University. Libraries. Special Collections and University Archives
  • Prometheus Research Library

Subject Topics

  • Merchant mariners -x Labor unions -- United States.

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Administrative Information

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created by the National Maritime Union, was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Photographs in Series II created as part of Economic Cooperation Administration are in the public domain. Users need not secure permission from the Tamiment Library to publish or reproduce these materials from the collection.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; National Maritime Union Photographs; Photos 044; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Related Archival Materials

The National Maritime Union Records are held by the Special Collections and University Archives of Rutgers University.

For more materials on the National Maritime Union at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives, see the National Maritime Union Printed Ephemera Collection (PE008), Marine Workers Historical Collection (TAM.125), Maritime Workers / National Maritime Union Research Files of Bruce Nelson (TAM.585), Marine Workers Historical Collection Oral Histories (OH.030), and the Jake Green National Maritime Union Photographs (PHOTOS.047).

Audiovisual Access Policies and Procedures

Audiovisual materials have not been preserved and may not be available to researchers. Materials not yet digitized will need to have access copies made before they can be used. To request an access copy, or if you are unsure if an item has been digitized, please contact tamiment.wagner@nyu.edu with the collection name, collection number, and a description of the item(s) requested. A staff member will respond to you with further information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Rutgers University Special Collections in 1989; additional materials were donated by Gene Herson on behalf of the Prometheus Library in circa 1996. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 1982.044, NPA.1989.001, and NPA.1996.017.

Processing Information Note

No original order was apparent in the collection upon receipt. Materials were grouped into folders and described by the archivist.

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Container List

Series I: National Maritime Union Photographs, circa 1940s-circa 1950s

Scope and Content Note

This series consists of approximately one hundred black and white prints of various sizes, as well as contact sheets, and negatives documenting activities of the National Maritime Union (NMU) mostly in the 1940s and 1950s. Groups of photographs include portraits of NMU members and leaders; the opening of the Upgrading and Sea Safety School in New York City in 1943; a 1944 "Maritime Day" celebration with black, white and Hispanic members and their families; a "Safety at Sea" exhibit with NMU leaders; room shots of the Sixth NMU Convention; group portraits of NMU committees from 1947; several images of ships and mess halls; and a circa 1950s hiring hall shape-up. Individuals pictured include NMU president Joseph Curran, treasurer Ferdinand Smith, Mayor Fiorello Laguardia and photographer Berenice Abbott. Several prints, with corresponding contact sheets and negatives, appear to have been taken over the course of a single day inside the NMU's hiring hall in New York City, possibly in the 1970s.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 General
circa 1940s-circa 1970s
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Portraits of NMU and Labor Leaders
circa 1940s
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Maritime Day (1 of 2)
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Maritime Day (2 of 2)
Box: 1 Folder : 5 "Safety At Sea" Exhibit
circa 1940s
Box: 1 Folder : 6 [Miscellaneous NMU Photos (Includes ships, mess hall, demonstration against Westbrook Pegler, Christmas Party)]
circa 1940s
Box: OS001 General [(Includes Hiring hall "shape-up"; NMU 6th Convention)]
circa 1940s-circa 1950s

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Series II: Economic Cooperation Administration Photos by Ernst Haas, circa 1948-1952

Historical/Biographical Note

Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was born in Vienna and took up photography after World War II. His first widely published pictures depicted returning prisoners of war in Austria and brought him to the attention of Life magazine, which published his photo essay "Homecoming." At the invitation of Robert Capa, Haas joined the cooperative Magnum Photos in 1949, developing close associations with Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Werner Bishof. In 1951 Haas moved to New York and continued to take black and white assignments for magazines while experimenting with color film. His color photo essay of New York City was published in  Life in 1953 and was a turning point in the acceptance of color photography as an art form and abstraction as a photographic style. Haas became president of Magnum in 1959. Throughout his career, he worked in photojournalism, advertising, and as a still photographer for films, bridging the gap between photojournalism and the use of photography as a medium for artistic expression. He wrote four books during his lifetime, including "The Creation" (1971).

Scope and Content Note

The series contains 32 black and white prints made by photographer Ernst Haas, possibly between 1948 and 1952, for the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), the administrative arm of the Marshall Plan. The photographs appear to document economic development, shipping, and the lives of black and white merchant seamen in Marseille, France. They include portraits of workers at work, in cafes and at home with their families, images of ports, ships, a railroad yard, building construction, post-war housing developments, and signs, political posters and graffiti in French.

Box: 3 Unprocessed Films
Box: 2

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