This park is named for William H. Todd (1857-1932), one of the nation’s most successful shipbuilders, an avid philanthropist, and a long-time resident of Brooklyn. Land for this park was acquired in conjunction with the greater Red Hook Park acquisition in 1934, shortly after Todd’s sudden death at the age of 64.
William Todd’s life story typifies the American dream. From humble beginnings as a rivet boy on the docks, Todd worked his way up and became a powerful industrialist, ultimately owning the shipyards where he first toiled. Born the son of a boilermaker in Wilmington, Delaware, on November 27, 1857, Todd attended public schools and worked as a newsboy in the evenings. His father had ambitions for his son that extended beyond selling papers along the waterfront. Young Todd was sent to learn how to be a shipwright at the Pusey and Jones Shipyard in Wilmington. Todd moved to New York in 1893 to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After resigning in 1896, he became foreman of the Robins Dry Dock. It was there that he rose from one post to another with amazing rapidity, passing through practically every aspect of the shipbuilding business, eventually becoming the president of the company.
Working in Red Hook during its heyday, William Todd soon amassed an impressive fortune. Following the lead of fellow industrialist Andrew Carnegie, Todd evolved a profit-sharing system building up his company through several reorganizations and protecting his employee stockholders. When World War I broke out, Todd saw a magnificent future in shipping and carried out a merger program that resulted in the formation of the Todd Shipyards Corporation and subsidiary organizations. With seven plants between the two coasts, it was the largest company of its kind in America. By 1919, the company had made over $6.5 million. Todd revealed his business philosophy in a 1920 interview, saying, “There’s not a big man in our outfit that was not lifted out of the ranks by his own effort.”
With his industrial ambitions achieved, Todd became increasingly active in politics and philanthropic activities. For years, Todd was one of the main supporters of the volunteer Fire Department. The Democratic leader of Brooklyn, John H. McCooey, paid tribute to Todd (a life-long republican) by saying, “He was a leading spirit in Brooklyn and had for many years been an outstanding figure in the community . . . his charity was unbounded.”
In the final years of his life, Todd suffered a nervous breakdown and was cared for by a trained nurse. He died suddenly on May 15, 1932 at his son’s home at 109 Maple Street after a fall down a 14-foot flight of stairs, apparently due to an attack of vertigo. Present at his funeral were many notable figures including former Governor and close personal friend Alfred E. Smith, Mayor James J. Walker, Charles Schwab (the chairman of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation), and John J. Raskob, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. His family received telegrams of condolences from the Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, Mississippi Senator Pat Harrison, and Ernest Lee Jahncke, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
Bound by Todd, Columbia, and Halleck streets, this property is part of the Greenstreets program. The goal of Greenstreets, which began in 1986 and was revived in 1994, is to convert paved street properties, like this one, into green areas. A collaboration between Parks and the Department of Transportation, Greenstreets plants trees and shrubs to beautify the City’s barren street spaces. Todd Square features London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) as well as a flagpole with a yardarm.