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New York Shipyard

New York Shipyard


Mr. Henry G. Morse wanted to innovate construction methods and improve the production process in building ships. His ideas were developed through previous experience in steel bridge building and ship building companies. He first arranged financing with Andrew Mellon and Henry Frick to build his shipyard. The original plan was for a site in New York but the site purchase could not be completed. A site in Camden NJ was later selected. 

Mr. Morse's innovative ideas included:

  • Detailed and accurate plans that allowed him to construct prefabricated subassemblies and three dimensional templates for bending ship hull panels.

  • One hundred ton crane that allowed movement of subassemblies and panels to anywhere in the ship construction ways.

  • Covered shipways to minimize weather impact on construction.

  • Practice “just in time” manufacturing by having materials and subassemblies delivered at the right time in the ship construction process.


In 1900 these ideas were revolutionary but were later accepted in the industry.

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Left: the drafting room at New York Shipyard. Right: three dimensional templates.

The First Ship

In early 1900’s, conversion of American heating energy source from coal to oil was just starting. The first ship produced at NY Ship was the tanker JM Guffey. The ship started as a freighter (MS Dollar) but was converted to a tanker before delivery in 1902. The owners of the tanker, JM Petroleum Company, was later bought out by Gulf Oil Corporation. (Learn more about the JM Guffey here

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The SS J.M. Guffey: the first ship produced at New York Shipyard.

Early Years: 1900 to WWI

NY Shipyard produced a large variety of ship types throughout its existence. Prior to World War I it had produced almost 150 ships including tankers, cargo/passenger ships, battleships, smaller Navy vessels like mine layers and tug boats. A complete list may be seen here. Of note, two of the largest ships, Mongolia and Manchuria (1904) for Transpacific service, are among the largest produced at this time. (see Ships/Mongolia, Manchuria in this virtual museum). The first transcontinental rail road was completed in 1869 but convenient and safe transportation by rail road was not possible until later when the railroad system was built out. Coastwise and transcontinental mail was carried by ship for many years (see “Pacific Mail Steamship Company” and “Dollar Shipping Company” under internet APL (Shipping Company). 

World War I: July 1914 to November 1918

As World War I loomed, the US Federal government was concerned about:

  • Low numbers of ocean going ships in the US fleet.

  • Loss of control over ocean going ships if there was a war with Germany.

  • Increase in demands for ships to support any war effort.

  • Threats to shipping from German submarines and use of self propelled torpedoes.


The Shipping Act of 1916 established the United States Shipping Board and Emergency Fleet Corporation whose purpose was “acquire, maintain, and operate merchant ships”. They established a priority of increasing production of freighters, passenger liners (troop ships) and destroyers as threats of war increased. NY Ship received orders for 16 large transport ships (all over 500 feet) and 30 destroyers. The order resulted in building additional ship ways south of the existing covered ship ways (More on destroyers here). The ships were not completed in time to participate in WWI. The transport ships were redesigned as passenger liners and formed the basis of a modern merchant fleet. Most of the destroyers were placed in service after the war, laid up and later activated for WWII. With the expansion of ship ways south of the original covered ship ways, NY Ship was the biggest ship yard in the world. Be-tween years 1914 and 1918 the shipyard produced more than 50 vessels of all types.

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United States Shipping Board advertisement.

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The Hoosier State (1922), renamed President Lincoln (1923) and sold to Dollar Line in 1938.

Between Wars: 1919 to 1941

Shipbuilding followed the usual cycle and declined sharply in the post-war period. The Disarmament Conference in 1922 resulted in scrapping of the Battleship Washington (1924) when nearly completed, USS Colorado (BB 45, 1923) was finished and Battle Cruiser Saratoga (CV3, 1927) was converted to the first major aircraft carrier of the United States Navy .

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Launching the Salt Lake City (CA25, 1929).

The Disarmament Conference of 1922 effectively stopped construction of battleships (see Other Issues/Disarmament Conference 1922 in this virtual museum). The Navy re-placed obsolete battleships with cruisers that were less limited by the conference. The merchant marine ordered newer passenger liners and tankers, each with greater displacement than similar ships in prior years. More than 20 ships were produced in the 1930’s decade. 

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Above: SS Nora/FW Abrams (1920), sunk in 1942 by friendly mines.

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Above Left: the USS Saratoga (CV3, 1927). Above Right: the SS Manhattan/USS Wakefield (AP21, 1942)

World War II: 1939 to 1945

World War II was an active period for the shipyard. NY Ship’s entire capacity were devoted to the production of Naval Combatant ships. It produced more than 100 landing Craft and more than 30 larger ships including three aircraft carriers and the battleship South Dakota. Employment level exceeded 30,000 people and ship ways in the middle yard were reactivated. Working plans for seven major combatant ships were provided to other shipyards for building. The war in the Atlantic involved protecting ships from German submarines and invasions in North Africa, Italy and France. (More on destroyers here). The war in the Pacific involved many aircraft flown from air craft carriers and guns from ships supporting invasion of Japanese held islands. Almost all of NY ship production during the war went to the Pacific. The purpose of the South Pacific war was to deny Japan the oil and other resources they needed to fight a war. We know what the outcome was. Japan had difficulty in supplying its fleet of war ships with enough oil to fight major battles.

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Above Left: the USS Alaska (CB1, 1943). Above Right: the USS South Dakota (BB57, 1942)

Post-War to Shutdown: 1946 to 1967

After the second world war, orders for new ships diminished to a very low level. New York Ship and the Philadelphia Navy Yard stayed alive for years with government contracts. New York Ship built several modern postwar warships, including the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. It launched the first (and only) nuclear-powered merchant ship Savannah and signed government contracts to construct nuclear submarines. New York Ship became the area’s largest postwar employer. Labor unrest, construction accidents on the carrier, and growing restrictions on building nuclear warships so near a great city led to the closing of the Camden shipyard in 1967.


Many foreign nations decided that building ships was a good way of providing employment for its citizens. Labor cost to build and operate ships in many foreign countries is lower than in the United States. Ships involved in trade between US ports (Alaska, Puerto Rico, Hawaii) are required to be US owned and operated (see Jones Act). Only about 1.5% of international ocean trade is conducted in US flagged vessels (1917). This low demand for new ships resulted in bankruptcy for NY Ship. 

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Above Left: the USS Kitty Hawk (CV63, 1961). Above Right: initially laid down as SS President Jackson, completed as USS Barrett (TAP-196, 1952. Converted to the TS Empire State, 1973)

A video about New York Shipyard may be viewed here.

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SS Mongolia/Manchuria


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SS J.M. Guffey


The first ship produced by New York Shipyard.