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Bath Iron Works
Bath, Maine

Bath Iron Works [BIW], Maine's largest private employer, was purchased by General Dynamics in September 1995. Bath had run into financial trouble and become the property of Prudential Insurance Co. of America when debt payments could no longer be made. General Dynamics picked up the yard for half what Prudential paid for it.

Bath Iron Works was established in 1823 by the Sewall family, long one of Maine's most prominent shipbuilding and merchant families. Between 1823 and 1903 while under Sewall management, the Bath yard produced 105 vessels with a total tonnage of 130,953 tons according to the best estimates. The importance of the Bath yard is further magnified when one considers that there were over 350 shipbuilding establishments operating on the Maine coast during the time Sewall owned the Bath yard, which produced over 5,000 vessels with an aggregate tonnage of 2.5 million tons.

The shipyard sits on the shore of the Kennebec River. This shore boasts the launching of the very first English-built ship in North America, Virginia. Virginia fathered a long lineage of ships built and launched in the Kennebec River. There are many other firsts that came from the stretch of the river, Long Reach, where BIW is located. BIW constructed the Navy's original torpedo boats; these torpedo boats led to the feared destroyer. Other firsts include the builder of the triple-expansion engine and the blueprints for the "Liberty"-design destroyers.

BIW has contracts for the construction of Arleigh Burke class destroyers (DDG 51) and plays a lead role in providing design, engineering, and ongoing life cycle support services for DDG 51 class ships. BIW is a member of a three-contractor team which was awarded a contract to design and build the Navy's new class of amphibious transport ships (LPD 17), and is a member of a three-contractor team recently formed to compete for the development, design, construction and life-cycle support of the US Navy's next generation surface combatant ships (DD 21). The US Navy has awarded BIW a maintenance contract for the Perry class (FFG 7) frigates.

By mid-2002 the Pentagon was close to reaching an agreement with Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics to swap the workload on the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class Flight IIA destroyers and the San Antonio (LPD-17)-class amphibious transports. The plan would consolidate Flight IIA Arleigh Burke construction at GD's Bath Iron Works facility in Maine, with Northrop Grumman's Avondale shipyard in Mississippi focusing on getting the first ships in the LPD-17 class delivered to the Navy. Under the plan four of the LPD-17s to be built by GD's Bath Iron Works would be swapped for four DDG-51s scheduled for construction at Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard. The plan is intended to minimize the risks on both programs [DDG-51 and LPD-17] and minimize the risks to the Navy in terms of cost and performance.

Bath Iron Works, Ltd. was established on November 28, 1884 by Tom Hyde (also known as General Hyde for his service in the army). Tom commenced his business career by leasing a small iron foundry and at first the company made only castings. However, as time passed, the General's ingenuity brought Hyde windlass and all kinds of marine machinery. A prominent name in shipbuilding helped the General get Bath Iron Works, Ltd. on its feet; the Sewall's put up capital for the company. By January 28, 1885, a $100,000 capital had been raised. The original part of BIW, later called the North Division, was the old foundry and the windlass plant. Years following, the South Division was added to the growing company; this addition resulted from the purchase of the Goss Marine Iron Works. With a few augmentations this division became a steel shipbuilding plant. At this point BIW was ready to take on the production of all types of ships. Charles E. Hyde, General Hyde's cousin, had been the superintendent at Goss and was the builder of the first triple-expansion marine engine used in America. This type of engine remained the standard type of steam engine until the advent of the steam turbine. Charles Hyde became BIW's chief engineer, chief draftsman, and constructor of engines, boilers, and auxiliary machinery.

The wooden steamer Cottage City was the first ship built by BIW workmen. The hull of Cottage City was built by New England Shipbuilding Company while BIW built and installed all its machinery and outfitted it under a contract with Maine Steamship Company. The ship was launched in 1890 and used for passenger and freight service between Portland, Maine, and New York City. The first steel vessels built in Maine were built at BIW; these steel ships, Machias and Castine, were hybrids of sail and steam. Expansion was required, capital was raised, and days were looking up for BIW in the 1890's; that was until the fire of 1894. On February 13, 1894 a fire all but destroyed Bath Iron Works. But General Hyde put all his hometown forces together and rebuilt the yard.

The yard said goodbye to hand-revited ships after the torpedo boat Biddle was launched in May 1901. A more effective way of construction was implemented; power-driven tools beat out muscle power and reduced human efforts in steel shipbuilding. This new machinery came in handy when BIW won a Navy contract to build the battleship Georgia; it was "Bath's first and only battleship." Georgia was launched October 11, 1904.

BIW went through some financial turmoil in the early years of the 20th century. BIW joined with Charles Schwaab to form a trust; soon after, the Roosevelt campaign of "trust-busting" brought an end to this relationship. Bath Iron Works was sold back to the Hyde family into the hands of John S. Hyde, General Hyde's younger son. The company's finances were rescued by the many naval contracts in the next few years. These contracts meant jobs for many workers and, eventually, provided Bath with a working capital.

BIW built many destroyers, from the 700-tonners to the 1000-tonners. In fact, by this time BIW had gained the reputation as the leading specialist in destroyers. The push was for better technology and faster boats with more sufficient engines. The answer to this was found in the geared turbines. In 1916, in vying for a huge naval contract, the blueprints for the "Liberty" design destroyers were made in the drawing rooms of Bath. These ships became known as "tin cans" and "four-pipers" and this design came to be used in other yards to produce the multitudes of destroyers for World War I. On July 14, 1917 the company's ownership changed forms when, for the first time, it went into the hands of many. At this time William T. Cobb became BIW's president. From 1917 through 1920 BIW was engaged in war-bound destroyers for the Navy. These war years brought much action to Bath. However, after the war, the peacetime demand - or lack thereof - put a heavy strain on BIW. The height of the wartime flow required Bath to staff 1900 employees; post-high employee numbers declined to 650. The low became so low that not one ship was launched at Bath in 1922. Debts were increasing; and, with so few projects, BIW had to close its doors. On October 1, 1925, Bath Iron Works was sold at public auction. Bath was stripped of equipment and left to rot.

William S. (Pete) Newell, once a young draftsman at the yard, pulled Iron Works out of its abandonment and in 1927 stocked it with equipment from the auctioned William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding of Philadelphia. The newly re-established BIW launched the private yacht Vanda in 1928. Yachts were the saving grace of BIW during this period of restoration. With prohibition still lingering in 1931, the coast guard needed seven 165-ft patrol cutters to sustain the rumrunners blockade. While this project was getting underway, US Navy projects started rolling in. The first of these contracts was for the USS Dewey won in September 1931, which was followed by the destroyers Drayton and Lamson delivered in 1936. BIW worked diligently to build up revenue after many hard blows and established itself in the industry as a stalwart by 1936.

In 1940 a congregational appropriation mandated that the navy undergo a facelift. The over-aged ships, those over sixteen years old, were to be taken out of commission in the US Navy. The US made a deal with Great Britain trading fifty old WWI destroyers for lease rights on eight British occupations. It was a great time for Bath; the US Navy would need a new fleet of destroyers and BIW had the expertise. The new designs for the destroyers turned out bigger ships that broke record speeds. WWII broke out and naval demands increased. The activity involving the construction of the destroyers as well as some freighters, which Bath had won the contract to build, kept all the employees of BIW on their toes. Bath even recruited employees, men and women, skilled and not, for relief of the great demands. BIW expanded its facilities by adding Harding's Plant, in Brunswick, ME, to help alleviate the wartime demands on the Bath yard. Then the war was over and demand diminished, as did production at Bath.

The war's end would guide Bath to fill the gaps with subsequent ventures. Most of the Bath post-WWII efforts were spent on trawlers, yachts, and navy contracts of shipbuilding and diversification. Bath's success was kept alive by the diversification of naval ships. Bath achieved lead yard during the Korean War and produced five new-design LST's (Landing Ships, Tank). From the 1950's until present Bath has also become the leader in production of ten naval non-nuclear surface ship classes. Other feats of the yard include diversification outside the realm of shipbuilding; Bath produced alternative industrial products such as turbine exhaust casings, pulp-molding machinery, water-circulating pumps, and replacement parts for naval ship supply systems.

The next decade, the 1960's, Bath saw a lot of business changes; it was a decade of mergers. Entrepreneur William D. Kyle of Milwaukee purchased a "substantial amount" of the BIW's stock as did John W. O'Boyle of Texas. As a major stockholder, Kyle became Chairman of the Board and encouraged business changes. In 1967 BIW joined teams with Penn-Crusher and Hyde Windlass to form Bath Industries, Inc. The following year Bath united with Congoleum-Nairn for another merger. 1965 saw John R. Newell retire; James F. Goodrich (a former naval architect for Todd Shipyards) took the president's seat. During the Goodrich years Bath again gained a significant reputation in the industry. Bath made additions for the improvement of the facilities. These improvements would serve as a means to conquer more projects in increasing number and complexity. Some of the projects of the time were as follows: merchant ships for American Export Lines including 8 Seawitch class containerships, five 2500-ton charter tankers for Military Sealift Command, and a power-generating barge for General Electric Company.

Though Goodrich's term was a very productive one, it was short compared to those held in the earlier years of Bath shipbuilding. John F. Sullivan, Jr. was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the company 1975. Improvements continued to be made to production methods. One development was the implementation of modular construction. This proved to be a great asset to the production process enabling the building process to be done in sections, with as many of the sections as possible constructed indoors away from the cold weather. In the 1980's Bath initiated a construction program involving the Arliegh Burke class AEGIS guided missile destroyers, the most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world. Today Bath is the leading producer of these destroyers.

Sullivan proved to be another short term as president when the office was turned over to William E. Haggett in 1983. Haggett, the son of a BIW employee, grew up surrounded by the Bath experience. With Haggett came additional expansion. This time the facilities were enhanced for overhaul and repair; Bath gained the newest facility of its type for ship repair on the East Coast. Among the additions were an 81,000-ton floating dry-dock, extended piers, crane service, modern shops, and a highly skilled staff of employees (as was the Bath tradition).

In 1995, after BIW ran into some financial problems, General Dynamics purchased the company. At the time it was acquired by General Dynamics, Bath was saddled with a fairly antique method for final assembly. Following the acquisition, materials handling and metal fabrication were modernized, and GD invested $200 million in building a land-level launching system and upgrading other facilities. In early 1997 Bath Iron Works released details of its $307 million plan to improve the shipyard's ability to compete with its primary rival, Ingalls Shipbuilding of Mississippi. The project would include a modern complex of facilities that would transform how BIW builds and launches ships at its main yard in Bath. The project included construction of a fifteen acre land level transfer facility and manufacturing support center, and a 750-foot dry-dock.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:43:01 ZULU