NYPL Exhibitions

Navy Yard

Anne Tracy Morgan, daughter of the financier J. P. Morgan, was a wealthy young reformer who chaired the Women’s Department of the National Civic Federation of New York. In 1908 she conceived the idea of opening a lunchroom at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “The main thing is to show... that the men can do better work, being better fed,” she told The New York Times. She hoped her initiative would prompt the federal government to eventually take over the lunchroom and institute a network of similar canteens across the country.

The Civil Federation hired quick-lunch waitresses who were experienced enough to serve more than 600 men during their allotted 20-minute lunch breaks. The menu was carefully designed to have wide appeal: meat, vegetables, soup, pie, pudding, unlimited bread, and coffee. The reformers, however, did not understand the workingman as well as they thought. Of the nearly 5,000 men at the Navy Yard, only a few hundred ate on site. The others ate elsewhere in the neighborhood—perhaps in part due to the lunchroom’s “no beer” policy.