In April 1917, the United States entered World War I. The U.S. Navy decided to make a recruiting statement by constructing a full-size battleship in Union Square, New York City.
Greenwich Village and surrounding environs at the time had a large German-American population. You can still see traces of this today. Whether that had anything to do with the choice of location is unclear. In fact, if you are familiar with Union Square, you will see recognize many of the surrounding buildings, which are still there today.
Called the "USS Recruit," the ship was intended as a recruitment and training center. The Recruit was carried on the Navy rolls as a normal seagoing ship under the command of Acting Captain C. F. Pierce. The Recruit was manned by trainee sailors from Newport Training Station. While constructed of wood, the ship had living quarters, a wireless station, full officer's quarters, doctor's quarters and examination rooms to assess the health of potential candidates.
In structure the Recruit carried two cage masts, a conning tower and a dummy funnel, or smokestack. It had six wooden replicas of 14-inch (360 mm) guns housed in three twin turrets, 10 wooden five-inch (130 mm) anti-torpedo boat guns and two replica one-pound saluting guns, matching the configuration of battleships of the time.
Popular Science Magazine reviewed the project in its August 1917 issue and concluded:
"The equipment is that of the up-to-the-minute dreadnought with accommodations on board for day and night life of officers and men."The USS Recruit was run like a normal naval vessel. Sailors rose at 6 a.m., scrubbed the decks, did their laundry, and attended instructional classes. They then stood guard over the ship and were available to answer questions from visitors and process recruits - some 25,000 over the ship's existence from 1917 to 1920. By night, all the ship's lights were turned on, including a series of searchlights. At that time, the Recruit hosted a variety of social events and receptions, including a christening, patriotic speeches and visits by various dignitaries, a group of Native Americans and the woman's motor corps.
With the war long over, the Recruit was no longer needed in Union Square. It was properly decommissioned and dismantled in 1920. The plan was to relocate it to Coney Island's Luna Park, but it never made it there. It may have wound up like many naval vessels at the bottom of the Atlantic.