Late in 1917, the Navy realized that it needed steel ships smaller than destroyers but having a greater operational radius than the wooden-hulled, 110-foot submarine chasers developed earlier in the year. The submarine chasers' range of about 900 miles at a cruising speed of 10 knots restricted their operations to off-shore antisubmarine work and denied them an open-ocean escort capability. Their high consumption of gasoline and limited fuel storage also were handicaps.
Attention turned to building steel patrol vessels. In their construction, it was necessary to eliminate the established shipbuilding facilities as possible sources of construction as they were totally engaged in the building of destroyers, larger warships, and merchant shipping. Accordingly, a design was developed by the Bureau of Construction and Repair which was sufficiently simplified to permit speedy construction by less experienced shipyards.
Earlier, in June 1917, President Woodrow Wilson had summoned auto-builder Henry Ford to Washington in the hope of getting him to serve on the United States Shipping Board. Wilson felt that Ford, with his knowledge of mass production techniques, could immensely speed the building of ships in quantity. Apprized of the need for antisubmarine vessels to combat the U-boat menace, Ford declared:
"What we want is one type of ship in large numbers." On 7 November, Ford accepted membership on the Shipping Board and an active advisory role. Examining the Navy's plans for the projected steel patrol ships, Ford urged that all hull plates be flat so that they could be produced quickly in quantity, and he also persuaded the Navy to accept steam turbines instead of reciprocating steam engines.