ANDREW JACKSON HIGGINS' LIFE
Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower referred to Andrew Jackson Higgins as, “the man who won the war for us.” Adolf Hitler during World War II called Higgins “the new Noah.” In September, 1943, when the United States Fifth Army landed at Salerno, Italy, and General Douglas MacArthur’s forces captured Salamaua in New Guinea, the American Navy totaled 14,072 vessels. Of these boats 12,964, or 93 percent of the entire U.S. Navy, were designed by Andrew Higgins and his company, Higgins Industries, Incorporated.
Andrew’s parents were early settlers of Columbus. His father John G. Higgins was an enthusiastic Democrat, a prominent lawyer, a judge, editor of the Columbus Democrat, and a close friend of Grover Cleveland. John unfortunately died when Andrew was only seven. It was then that Andrew’s mother, Annie Higgins, moved the family to Omaha. Money was scarce and times were hard.
By age nine Andrew, out of necessity, had become an entrepreneur. He started a lawn cutting service and operated several newspaper delivery routes. Andrew managed the businesses and hired older boys to do the physical work. At age twelve Higgins designed and built his first boat in the basement of his family’s Omaha home.
In 1900 Higgins enrolled at Creighton Prep. He left Creighton after his junior year to join the 2nd Nebraska Infantry, a National Guard regiment. It was as part of a Nebraska militia that Higgins received his first amphibious training – on the shallow waters of the Platte River. Later under the leadership of Sergeant Major Higgins his battalion’s drill team won a national prize.
In 1906 Higgins moved south to pursue a career in the lumber and boat business. He and wife Angele had six children. Many times he lost his company and savings to hurricanes and hard times. He never lost focus of his goals.
Mr. Higgins enjoyed returning to his homeland of Nebraska. In 1943 he spoke at the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Higgins was quoted as saying, “If it had not been for the Missouri River at Omaha there would have been no Higgins Industries of New Orleans turning out ships, planes, engines, guns and what have you for the army and navy. Looking at the Missouri shallows, its snags and driftwood, he says, led him to think up his first shallow-draft boat. Everything else came from that.”
On August 27, 1946 Higgins and his sisters Elizabeth, Joy and Mary returned to Columbus. Andrew was the featured speaker for the city’s 90th birthday celebration. This quote was taken from his speech. “The town where I was born no matter how long the absence, when a man utters these words his heart strings are touched-whether the town be the habitat of generations or chosen by his parents as in my case, it makes little difference. My parents chose and loved Columbus. I was a young child when I left Columbus but my heart warms at the thought and mention of its name–here in this sod my parents and my brothers and sisters lie in that growing community of valiant pioneers, their sons and daughters.”