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Ben Moreell

Ben Irene Moreell
Father of The Navy Seabees
Nickname(s) "King Bee"
Born (1892-09-14)September 14, 1892
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died July 30, 1978(1978-07-30) (aged 85)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1917 – 1946
Rank Admiral
Unit Civil Engineer Corps (CEC)
Commands held Bureau of Yards and Docks, Chief Civil Engineer Corps
Awards Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit
Order of the British Empire
Other work President, Turner Construction Co.
President, CEO & Chairman, Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation

Admiral Ben Moreell (September 14, 1892 – July 30, 1978) was the chief of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks and of the Civil Engineer Corps. Best known to the American public as the Father of the Navy's Seabees, Moreell's life spanned eight decades, two world wars, a great depression and the evolution of the United States as a superpower. He was a distinguished Naval Officer, a brilliant engineer, an industrial giant and articulate national spokesman.


  • Early life 1
  • First World War 2
  • Interwar Period 3
  • World War II 4
  • Post War Era 5
  • Awards 6
    • United States Navy Awards 6.1
  • Legacy 7
  • Post-military career 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early life

As a young civil engineer with a Bachelor of Science degree from Washington University, St. Louis (1913), he chose to defend his country by joining the ranks of the Navy during World War I. He was commissioned in June 1917 as a Lieutenant (junior grade) in the Navy's Civil Engineer Corps and spent the next 30 years in the service of his country.

First World War

During the First World War, he was stationed in the Azores, there getting to know an Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Franklin D. Roosevelt, and afterwards served at Navy yards and installations in Massachusetts, Haiti, Virginia, and Washington.

Interwar Period

Recognized early for his exceptional capabilities he was sent as a Lieutenant Commander, to the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris to study European military engineering design and construction practices. In 1933, he returned to the States to supervise the planning of what would eventually be called the David W. Taylor Model Basin in Carderock, Maryland.

Admiral Ben Moreell

On December 1, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally selected Commander Moreell to be the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks and the Chief of Civil Engineers of the Navy, and advanced him to the rank of Rear Admiral (without having ever been a Captain). With foresight and prudence, Moreell urged the construction of two giant drydocks at Pearl Harbor and initiated Navy construction projects on Midway and Wake Island long before Japanese bombs began to fall on December 7, 1941. The docks were completed in time to repair battleships damaged at Pearl Harbor, and the facilities at Midway were completed in time to play a strategic role in the Navy's first significant victory over Japanese forces.

World War II

World War II requirements for advanced bases strung throughout the Pacific called for construction crews to be able to drop their tools and take up weapons at a moment's notice. Moreell had the answer – sailors who could build and fight. The need for a militarized Naval Construction Force to build advance bases in the war zone was self-evident. Therefore, Moreell determined to activate, organize, and man Navy construction units. On December 28, 1941, he requested specific authority to carry out this decision, and on January 5, 1942, he gained authority from the Bureau of Navigation to recruit men from the construction trades for assignment to a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions. On March 5, 1942 permission was granted for the construction battalions to use the name "Seabees". This was the beginning of the renowned Seabees, who obtained their designation from the initial letters of Construction Battalion. Moreell personally furnished them with their official motto: Construimus, Batuimus – "We Build, We Fight." Seabee History: Formation of the Seabees and World War II.

Moreell's Civil Engineer Corps was given command authority over what was to become an organization of 250,000 people that built $10 billion worth of facilities to support the war effort. In 1943, Moreell became the Chief of the Navy's Material Division; and at the request of Vice President Truman, negotiated a settlement to the national strike of oil refinery workers. When the government seized the nation's strikebound bituminous coal industry a year later, Moreell was designated the Coal Mines Administrator.

Post War Era

On June 11, 1946, he became the first staff corps officer to achieve the rank of Admiral and transferred to the retired list three months later. For the next 12 years, Moreell turned his attention to industry, serving first, briefly (October 1946 – March 1947) as President of Turner Construction Company then as President, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company.

Moreell served as Chairman of the Task Force on Water Resources and Power of the Second Hoover Commission, directing a twenty-six man committee from November 1953 through June 1955. President Herbert Hoover called the work of this Task Force "the most far-reaching and penetrating inquiry into our water problems ever made in our history".

He was instrumental in organizing American for Constitutional Action (ACA), a national nonpartisan political action organization. This citizenship and service to country was further exemplified through his significant contributions to the Naval Academy itself. He was a member of the Board of Visitors (1953–1955) and Chairman of the Board in 1955. His accomplishments as Chairman of the Special Advisory Commission on Future Developments of Academic Facilities is seen today in the Naval Academy's superb educational complex.


Moreell's life was punctuated by accomplishments, awards, and well-earned recognition. He received 12 honorary doctoral degrees, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, and was named one of the 10 men who contributed most to the advancement of construction methods in the United States between 1925 and 1975.

In 1957 Moreell was awarded The John Fritz Medal, referred to as the highest award in the engineering profession, the award is presented each year for scientific or industrial achievement in any field of pure or applied science. It was established in 1902 as a memorial to the great engineer whose name it bears.

When asked which of his honors meant most to him, Moreell replied: "They are all very meaningful and deeply appreciated by me. I accepted all with pride and humility. The following excerpt from the citation for the Distinguished Service Medal presented in 1945 for World War II service gives me the greatest sense of a job 'well done'":

'Displaying great originality and exceptional capacity for bold innovation, he inspired in his subordinates a degree of loyalty and devotion to duty outstanding in the Naval Service, to the end that the Fleet received support in degree and kind unprecedented in the history of naval warfare.'

United States Navy Awards


The Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) Moreell Medal is named in honor of Moreell. This medal is presented for outstanding contribution to military engineering by a civilian or military member of the U.S. Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps. This medal was first awarded in 1955.

Moreell was one of the founders along with Dr. Samuel Moor Shoemaker, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside (Pittsburgh), of The Pittsburgh Experiment, a Christian interdenominational ministry that provides spiritual resources to business, professional and working people. The birthing vision challenge for The Experiment in the 1950s was "to make Pittsburgh as famous for God as it is for steel"...[1][2][3]

In Moreell's honor the Seabees named their Kuwait facility Camp Moreell, a military compound in Kuwait, Southwest Asia. The facility was home to U.S. Navy Seabees operating in the Persian Gulf region under Task Force Charlie as of early 2003. As of April 2003, Task Force Charlie comprised Seabees from several Naval Construction Force commands.

Post-military career

After retirement from the Navy, Moreell became president of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, then one of the nation's largest steel manufacturers. In 1951, Moreell denounced attempts by the United Steelworkers of America to win an 18.5-cent-an-hour wage increase. In government hearings on the issue, Moreell doubled the cost of the union's wage increase and demanded a $12 a ton increase in the price of steel to make up the labor costs. Jones and Laughlin Steel was one of the steel companies seized by President Harry S. Truman on April 8, 1952. The seizure was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States on June 22. The union struck the next day. After a 53 day strike, Moreell and other steel manufacturers settled for the same terms the union had offered them four months earlier.[4]

Moreell wrote articles for The Freeman, a publication of the Foundation for Economic Education, a group that advocates free markets and libertarian philosophy.

See also


  1. ^ Time Magazine. "God & Steel in Pittsburgh". March 21, 1955.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Everett, Rev. Paul F. "Spirituality a good work companion." The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 19, 1995.
  4. ^ Marcus, Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power, 1977; Raskin, "14c Pay Rise Seen As Steel Formula," New York Times, February 10, 1951.


  • Moreell, Ben. Our Nation's Water Resources- Politics and Policies. Chicago: The Law School; The University of Chicago, 1956.
  • Moreell, Ben. The Admiral's Log: God, Man, Rights, Government. The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, Inc. Philadelphia 1958.
  • Moreell, Ben. The Admiral's Log II: In Search of Freedom. The Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, Inc. Philadelphia 1960.
  • Time Magazine. "God & Steel in Pittsburgh". March 21, 1955.
  • Everett, Rev. Paul F. "Spirituality a good work companion." The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. February 19, 1995.
  • Marcus, Maeva. Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-231-04126-8
  • Olsen, A.N. (2007). The King Bee : a biography of Admiral Ben Moreell, founder of the U.S. Navy Seabees. A.N. Olsen.  
  • Raskin, A.H. "14c Pay Rise Seen As Steel Formula." New York Times. February 10, 1951.

External links

  • Seabee Museum in Port Hueneme, California
  • SAME Moreell Medal
  • The John Fritz Medal
  • The Pittsburgh Experiment
  • God & Steel in Pittsburgh
  • Camp Moreell-Kuwait
  • Description of Ben Moreell's Tenure as CEO of Turner Construction Co.
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