“Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.”
— President Dwight D. Eisenhower
As we observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day last week, the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) published a blog to share our gratitude for the troops who stormed the beaches of Normandy, as well as for the innovators whose work helped them to succeed.
At NIHF, it is both our responsibility and our great honor to tell the stories of our Inductees, the visionaries who have shaped our society. Seventy-five years after D-Day, we wish to highlight the inventor of the LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) or Higgins Boat, which landed our troops on the beaches of Normandy that day. 2019 NIHF Inductee Andrew Higgins embodies all that we promote through our NIHF Museum, events and education programs. Join us as we look back at his life and legacy.
Known for his determination and enterprising spirit, it would seem that Higgins was born to be an entrepreneur.
At the age of 12, he built his first boat in the basement of his family’s home. The boat was too large to fit through the door, but nothing could stop Higgins from getting the vessel to water. He removed a brick wall, winched the boat out with a homemade capstan, and then replaced the wall.
Higgins’ persistence continued to serve him well as he reached adulthood. Though he did not finish high school, and he left Creighton University early, he would find success when he began working in the lumber business. Higgins moved from Nebraska to New Orleans and in 1922, at the age of 27, he started his own lumber company with just $5,000. Higgins Industries would grow to employ more than 25,000 local workers.
Andrew Higgins challenged expectations throughout his life. Though he was said to have been kicked out of “all the schools in Omaha,” he would later become famous for his bold personality and colorful language, and his practices and priorities as an entrepreneur proved that he was well ahead of his time.
Higgins once boasted in an interview, “I operate in a big way, and I don’t give a damn about money.” His focus on innovation meant that as an employer, he would take a chance on anyone who contributed good ideas. He employed nationally known inventors, recent technical school graduates and “long shots picked up here and there.”
With progressive hiring and pay practices, Higgins disrupted social norms and helped set new standards. Higgins Industries was the first company in New Orleans to employ a racially integrated workforce, and the company paid all employees equal wages for equal work, regardless of their race, gender or disability status.
Higgins has been described as “an authentic master builder, with the kind of will power, brains, drive, and daring that characterized the American empire builders of an earlier generation.” He earned 18 U.S. patents and his company produced airplanes, ammunition and more, but his namesake landing craft is at the heart of his innovative legacy.
Higgins developed a series of vessels for the U.S. Navy, including the Landing Craft, Personnel (LCP) and Landing Craft, Personnel (Large) or LCP(L). The LCP(L) design required troops to climb over the sides of the craft to disembark, which exposed them to enemy fire. When Higgins learned of a Japanese landing craft with a retractable bow ramp, he added a ramp feature to his design of the LCVP or Higgins Boat, allowing troops to exit and unload supplies in a safer and more efficient manner. This revolutionary ramp, protected by U.S. Patent No. 2,341,866, can be seen on the Higgins Boat currently on display at the NIHF Museum.
The Higgins Boat could hold 36 combat-equipped infantrymen, a jeep and 12 troops, or 8,100 pounds of cargo. With its patented ballast system, it was designed to travel effectively even in very shallow water. The craft was able to run up onto the shoreline while a semitunnel in its hull protected the propeller from sand and other debris.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, in which 21 ships of the Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged, and 75% of the planes on nearby airfields were damaged or destroyed, Higgins Boats were used in the island-hopping campaign which was devised to maximize existing American resources. This campaign relied on Higgins Boats for efficient ship-to-shore deployment of troops and equipment.
In addition to landing our troops at Normandy on D-Day and island hopping through Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Higgins Boats were used in North Africa and Italy, and they allowed the U.S. Army to cross the Rhine River into Germany in March 1945.
In an article for American Heritage magazine, historian Douglas Brinkley put Higgins’ impact in perspective: “By September 1943, 12,964 of the American Navy’s 14,072 vessels had been designed by Higgins Industries. Put another way, 92 percent of the U.S. Navy was a Higgins navy.”
Andrew Higgins’ legacy demonstrates all we endeavor to achieve through our mission at NIHF — to be a catalyst for change through recognizing inventors and invention, promoting creativity, and advancing the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. At the NIHF Museum, you can learn more about Inductees who served in World War II and who made critical contributions during this tumultuous period of world history.
Currently, the NIHF Museum offers visitors a chance to climb aboard a full-scale Higgins Boat, located just outside the United States Patent and Trademark Office. World War II veteran and NIHF Inductee Robert Seiwald recently toured this exhibit while visiting the Washington, D.C. area to attend our 2019 Induction Ceremony. You can learn more about Seiwald’s visit and plan a visit of your own on the NIHF website.