The Story of the Higgins Boat and Delgado Community College

June 05, 2024

New Orleans and Delgado Community College in the 1940s were still recovering from the Great Depression, but the new decade would be characterized and remembered for one monumental challenge—World War II.

A sign in the Higgins boat factory reads "The guy who relaxes is helping the axis!"

Delgado Community College, still a young institution in 1940, was flying high after successfully building and launching two innovative airplanes, The Maid and The Flash, both built on the City Park Campus with the combined expertise and skill of many students and faculty.

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. shifted its focus and all of its resources into a retaliation effort and boldly entered World War II.

Government officials, seeing Delgado’s aviation record, enlisted the school to train military airmen in the maintenance, upkeep, and operation of aeronautical projects throughout the war.

Given its new “mission,” Delgado accepted the challenge. Many courses were restructured to fit the new demand.

Next door on City Park Avenue—now the site of Delgado’s Administration Building—Andrew Higgins was busy planning and building “the boat that won the war,” his LCVP boats that would be made famous during the Normandy invasion. Higgins partnered with neighboring Delgado for both manpower and expertise in the project.

Delgado’s welding department ran 24-hour instruction shifts to keep up with demand for the necessary knowledge and workforce. The popular program even welcomed women to the school for the first time in its 20-plus year history.

At the Charity School of Nursing, enrollment (760) was one of the largest in the country during the war years. The school offered a revolutionary re-certification program for inactive nurses to hone their skills and re-enter the workforce as the demand for nurses was higher than ever before.

In the end, Delgado enrollment had rocketed and its mission had become even clearer to the community. Delgado Community College had answered its country’s call and made it proud. 

Photo of the monument outside building 37 on the City Park Campus

On June 6, 2011, the anniversary of D-Day, a historical monument was dedicated at the front of the City Park Campus, honoring the site of the Higgins plant and Delgado’s role in the war.

The monument states, “President Dwight D. Eisenhower once referred to the company’s founder, Andrew Jackson Higgins, as the ‘man who won the war for us.’ Higgins, in turn, recognized the contribution of the Delgado Trades School. He stated, ‘We can’t use ordinary hammer and saw carpenters, but we can use Delgado men.”’ 

Andrew Jackson Higgins

Higgins boats in action

Higgins Industries building

Aerial view of the City Park Campus and Higgins Industries