Saturday, February 25, 2012

WWII Army stevedore cargo hooks

Historians are known for focusing on seemingly minor details. A WWII military historian might obsess over the particular shade of olive that was used on a uniform, discuss the specific metallurgical content of tank armor, or maybe argue about which was the "best" automatic gun in the war. Well, as a port battalion historian I get to talk cargo hooks. Maybe these tools aren't as exciting as paratrooper's knives, but I'd say they were more important to the Allies' victory.

The cargo hook was a stevedore's primary hand tool used to move supplies in and out of a ship's hold. In 1943 the 487th Port Battalion tested out three different types. Perhaps not surprisingly, the government issue hook was thought to be of a lesser quality than the two civilian types. 1st Lt. Bruce Butterworth reported, "The Government Issue Hook is really a bale or hay hook. When used on crates or heavy boxes, the user's hand is scraped painfully, with an ensuing danger of infection." Lt. Col Montgomery Jackson reported "After using the Government Issue Hook, civilian Straight Hook, and the San Francisco Hook, we find the Government Issue Hook to be useless." The battalion black smith shop tried to rework the GI hooks, but they could make little improvement.

The preferred type was the San Francisco Hook. It was made of tempered steel, had a sharp point to grip the wooden crates, and featured an "S" curve in the shank to protect the worker's knuckles. (see photo below)

Another civilian hook, was the New York Hook, also called the Straight Hook. Also of tempered steel, it featured a longer straight shank which permitted a direct lift without harm to the user's hand. (see below)

In June of 1943 the 487th headquarters requested that they be issued with either of these civilian type hooks. An officer wrote back from the Army Transportation Corps, agreeing to the request. So, it looks like the Army port battalions did use the superior New York or San Francisco hooks during the war. I plan on asking the veterans I know if they know which type they used, but I doubt they would have paid that much attention to the exact name of the hook. I'm sure they were simply happy to have working tools.

On February 27th I spoke with Donald Hemphil, who served in the 284th Port Company. He described the usefulness of these tools: "You could move so much more with the hooks that you couldn't with your hands. You looked down the hold, and every guy had a hook."


  1. Hooks were used up until the mid 80s at the Port of Baltimore. There was a gang carrier that had a metal shop in South Baltimore that made hooks and different size Longshoreman bars. There was a time that if you didn't have a hook, the power that be would send you on your way. No hook, no work!

  2. Hello,
    Thank you for your article. I am a museum research assistant, and have been trying to find the source for the images you have on your blog - especially the "New York Hook" image. Do you know the source for these images? Thank you in advance! Amelia (

  3. Do you know what wood was used to make these hooks ? thanks

  4. I don't know what wood was used, but I do know that the Museum of the City of New York has one in their collection. Maybe they know.

  5. There was a blacksmith shop then located in the 1100 block of Haubert Street in Locust Point, circa 1955, that made hooks for the longshoreman. I was a member of Local 829 ILA and bought one from the owner. - Bill Hughes


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