What trends occurred at the Port during the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s and what does the future have in store?
The improvements to the Port during the first decade of the 20th century came at a most auspicious time, allowing the Port to take full advantage of the greatest maritime engineering achievement of the 20th century—the Panama Canal. On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened for business, and the Port location gave it a unique strategic advantage over other West Coast ports. As the nearest major American port west of the Panama Canal, the Port of Los Angeles would become the natural port-of-call for most trans-Pacific and coastal users of the waterway. But the promise of international commerce on a grand scale would be delayed until the end of the first World War.
The War Years: 1917–1950
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The principal uses of the Port changed considerably when England declared war on Germany. At the onset of World War I, the U.S. Navy, wishing to establish a significant presence on the Pacific coast, took possession of a portion of the Harbor and used it as a training and submarine base. During this period, the Port became heavily involved in the shipbuilding industry. The Port of Long Beach, established 2 years before the onset of the war, offered the only Southern California competition to the Port in terms of shipping or shipbuilding.
Trains at Berths 147-148
After the end of World War I, the Port experienced a significant increase in trade. Improvements to the transportation systems in the harbor area in part facilitated the growth of the import and export trade. By 1917, a vast railroad network existed around the Harbor and Los Angeles, allowing for the efficient movement of goods throughout the country.
The 1920s, marked by a boom in the petroleum, lumber, and citrus trades, was a period of dynamic growth for the Port. For the first time in history, Los Angeles surpassed San Francisco as the West Coast's busiest seaport, and ranked second only to New York in foreign export tonnage. In the peak year of 1928, the Port handled 26.5 million tons of cargo—a record that would stand for nearly 40 years.
Badger Aveune Bridge with trucks in foreground
The Great Depression caused cargo tonnage to slump severely, and the Port did not pass 20 million tons again until 1937. Still, recognizing the tremendous promise of global trade, Port officials maintained their focus on harbor development during the Depression. The construction of the 18,500-foot-long extension of the middle breakwater was completed in 1937—in time for the Port to meet the demands of the nation's gravest emergency.
Ship with tugboat at Berth 173
The Port was involved in World War II on a massive scale. Every boat building and shipbuilding company in the harbor assisted in the construction, conversion, and repair of waterborne vessels for the war effort. Shipbuilding quickly became the Port's prime economic activity with California Shipbuilding Corporation, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Consolidated Steel Corporation, Todd Shipyards, and other shipyards collectively employing more than 90,000 workers. These companies produced thousands of vessels, patrol boats, and landing craft for the war effort. (For more on shipbuilding at the Port, please go to the Berth 240 link.)