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Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company

Baltimore's Harbor has always been a central force in Baltimore history, functioning as a major port for international shipping and shipbuilding for almost 300 years. Its history as a working port began changing during the 1950's, when American industry began to move abroad and fundamental changes occurred in the structure of commercial shipping. Baltimore's deep-water Harbor exceeds seven square miles and is located about seven nautical miles from the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay. Fifty-two miles of shoreline line the water's edge, where, in earlier days, the proliferation of finger-piers and multi-level warehouses serviced the port's industrial and shipping interests which fueled the City's economy for centuries.

In the 1880's the Federal Hill-Locust Point shoreline of Baltimore as homem to a number of shipbuilding yards, including Edward W. Ruark & Co. (1884-1889), east end of Ostend St. and Key Highway; William H. H. Bixler (1872-1905), Key Highway and Covington St.; Charles W. Booz & Son, established in 1849 and now operating on Key Highway at Woodall St.; Samuel R. Waite & Co. (1875-1885), foot of Warren Ave.; James S. Beacham & Bro. (1824-1917), at foot of Warren Ave.; Wm. Skinner & Sons (1827-1915), foot Cross St.; Wm. E. Woodall & Co. (1873-1929), foot of Woodall St. H. A. Ramsay & Son (1874-1896), whose yard adjoined that of Wm. E. Woodall & Co.; Columbian Iron Works & Dry Dock Co. (1873-1899), adjoining Fort McHenry; James Clark Co. (1864-1942), foot of Webster St. By 1942, when the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation acquired additional waterfront properties for expansion of its upper yard, of these old companies only Booz Bros. remained on the site.

William T. Malster, the son of a Confederate Colonel, was born at Chesapeake City in 1843. He successively tried farming, country store keeping, candy selling, painting, and found employment on a Steamer. Here, in observing the working of the steam-engines, he determined to learn the Machinery business, and at once undertook its study. He lived on a steamer, and when in port attended the School of Design. Here he found the food which his mind had been so long craving. By the aid of a friend, who appreciated his talents, he was enabled to prosecute his studies in practical enginery ; and by unceasing toil, he prepared himself for examination, as an Engineer, before the United States Inspectors. Having creditably passed, he obtained the position of Engineer, on a Canal Freight Boat, at a salary of thirty-five dollars per month, of which he was very proud. Life seemed now to open before him, and to promise that advancement which he had sought, and towards which he struggled against so many obstacles and disappointments. Yet his ambition was not satisfied

In 1871, he began in a small shop on Caroline Street, the construction of engines and steamers. Success seemed determined at once ; soon he was compelled to use the street for the main portion of his work. Here he built some of the most powerful engines ever constructed in Baltimore. The increase of business necessitated larger quarters and he removed to the foot of Ann Street, where he began to build steamers complete, on a large scale.

In 1872 Malster established a ship building yard in Baltimore, the Columbian Iron Works. After constructing several wooden, he built a number of Iron Steamers, among them some fine iron tugs, and the beautiful steamer, Enoch Pratt, and ponderous hull of City Ice Boat, F. C. Latrobe. The Tench Coxe was a 39-ton harbor steam-powered vessel that was built by William T. Malster, in Baltimore, Maryland. Her contract price was $14,800 and the cutter was to "be delivered at Philadelphia." She was launched on 7 June 1876 and arrived at her home port of Philadelphia on 16 September 1876.

In 1876 a regular iron-ship yard was established in Baltimore on the point near the fort by the firm of Malster & Reaney. Shops were put up for the various operations of the ship-yard, inclnding boiler and blacksmith, machine, joiner, and boat shops ; also a foundery and mold-loft, with a wareroom 500 feet long, and office and store-room. A large basin dry-dock was also made on the grounds 450 feet long and 113 feet wide on top, measured inside the basin gates. A fair equipment of machinery was purchased, inclnding a steam riveter. The work of the yard has been chiefly boiler building and repair work, but vessels have been built from time to time, and the business appears to be on a substantial foundation.

In 1877 the Baltimore Dry Dock Co. was incorporated. This company successfully got a bill through Congress granting a portion of the Fort McHenry tract for the construction of "Simpson's Improved Dry Dock" on that tract. In return, U. S. Government ships were to dock free at that location.

Malster was established firmly among the leading iron builders and engineers. In iron-ship building he was the pioneer in this city. Mr. Malster in 1879 associated with him, William B. Reaney of Philadelphia, a gentleman of large experience and a thoroughly trained Constructing Engineer and Ship Builder.

On June 15, 1878, the Congress passed a private act that directed the Secretary of the Treasury to pay to William T. Malster tbe sum of three thousand dollars; said sum having been withheld by the Light House Board as forfeiture for the non-delivery, within a specified time, of a vessel named Laurel, built at Baltimore by said William T. Malster under contract with said Light House Board, dated November twenty-fourth, eighteen hundred and seventy-five.

In 1884 Malster incorporated the Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company, at which were built a number of Government vessels. Finding his increasing business, he leased the new Dry Dock built on Locust Point, of which Robert Garrett was President, and a number of citizens, directors. This was to be one of the most extensive and complete and of immense importance to this Port and its ship-building interests. The firm was fully equipped for the construction of machinery and steamers. It was valuable to Baltimore, not only for its reputation, but for furnishing employment to hundreds of honest mechanics and laborers.

The United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries request in 1880 that Congress fund the ship that became known as Albatross, for locating new fishing by undertaking exploratory fishing. The Albatross remained in a prolonged repair status throughout the first 9 months of 1887 in preparation for a cruise to the Pacific. The ship was at the Washington Navy Yard until May 1887 when she shifted to the Columbian Iron Works in Baltimore for the boiler work. The ship's naval engineer, George W. Baird, personally designed the replacement boilers and supervised their installation.

The challenges so often involved in ship maintenance are revealed in Engineer Baird's official report. He was deeply frustrated when the Columbian Iron Works took twice as long as originally estimated to complete its job. The engineer's anxiety was heightened by the tense labor relations at the shipyard. The unionized Columbian Iron Works workers, resentful that naval crew members undertook some of the work associated with the installation of the new boilers, constantly threatened to strike. Nevertheless, a work stoppage was avoided, and to Engineer Baird's intense relief, in September 1887 the boilers were finally in place and tested. In November 1887, the Albatross took her departure from the Atlantic.

In 1890 the Columbian Iron Works produced Maverick, first steel tanker ship in United States.

The new 2,000-ton United States cruiser Montgomery was launched the morning of 05 December 1891 from the yards of her builders, the Columbian Iron Works. The vessel slid from the ways at 11:13 o clock, the christening ceremony being performed by Miss Sophia Smith, daughter of Passed Assistant Engineer J.A.B. Smith, United States Navy. Fully 5,000 people were grouped around the launching ways when the word was given to cut the sole piece, but, perhaps, as many more joined in the general applause and hurrahs as the Montgomery made her leap into the water. The Montgomery was only the third war vessel constructed by the Columbian Iron Works. Her successful launch is a more important event to this establishment than would be so deemed by older and more experienced shipbuilding firms. With the launch of the Montgomery the Columbian Iron Works had freed ways of war ships. The new Detroit, a sister of the Montgomery, was launched during the previous month and was lying alongside the docks, receiving her machinery and various fittings.

President Malster said: "We are constantly improving our shipbuilding plant, and we would not hesitate now to undertake the construction of a ten-thousand-ton vessel. In the work we have just been through with we have learned good deal, and delays which have occurred material from outside sources are not likely to occur to any such extent again."

To date, the Columbian Iron Works had launched three warships, the Petrel, Detroit and Montgomery. Whatever ill success attended the building of the first vessel was in a great measure made up by the excellent work upon the Detrolt and Montgomery. The Detroit and Montgomery were behind somewhat in the original time allowed the contractors for their construction, but this was due to a great extent to delay in obtaining heavy earrings from outside sources, and the fact that the Cohtmbian Iron Works, in building warships, was entering comparatively new field.

The new United States cruiser Montgomery accomplished her official speed trial off New London, Conn., on 19 January 1894, proving herself a speedier vessel than either of her sister ships, the Detroit and the Marblehead. The officially corrected speed made on the occasion has been reported by the trial board as 19.056 knots an hour, or rather more than 2 knots above that called for by her contract. This will give her builders, the Columbian Iron Works of Baltimore, MD, a premium of $200,000. The Montgomery's contract price was $612,500.

In 1895, the Navy signed its first submarine contract, for $150,000. The contractor was the John P. Holland Torpedo Boat Company, formed by Holland and a young lawyer named Elihu B. Frost. The first Navy boat, the Plunger, was a fiasco from the start. She was built at the Columbian Iron Works in Baltimore. During a good part of the time she was under construction Holland was sick, and the project fell into the hands of naval engineers who knew a good deal less about submarines than he. The Plunger was, to put it mildly, over-engineered. Holland, dismayed by what he had brought forth, suggested alterations in the direction of simplicity, but instead the Navy supervisors insisted upon more "improvements" which merely made matters worse. Launched at her dock in 1897, tne Plunger was so unstable that when her engines were started she nearly turned turtle. Attempts were made through 1900 to rehabilitate the boat with a diesel engine, but eventually she was abandoned.

In 1896 the Columbian Iron Works built Argonaut, a path-breaking submarine. The Argonaut was an invention of Mr. Simon Lake, which was constructed at the Columbian Iron Works, Baltimore, by the Lake Submarine Company, and which was launched August 19,1897. Mayor Malster, president of the Columbian Iron Works and one of the stockholders in the Lake Company. Argonaut was the first U.S. submarine fitted with internal combustion engine and the first submarine to salvage sunken objects of value.

The first Winslow (Torpedo Boat No. 5) was laid down on 8 May 1896 at Baltimore, Md., by the Columbian Iron Works, launched on 8 May 1897; sponsored by Miss E. H. Hazel; and commissioned on 29 December 1897 at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Lt. John B. Bernadou in command.

Power and influence within the state's Republican Party structure were very much contested as the 1897 elections approached. William T. Malster, President of the Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company, and Congressman Sydney Mudd, influential Charles County Republican, stepped forth to challenge control of the party. Malster, running for Mayor of Baltimore, did his best to retain the loyalty of some blacks. Malster attempted to woo black support by appointing a few blacks as delegates to nominating committees. Malster's ploy proved successful.

Malster enjoyed the distinction of having been the Mayor of Baltimore. He was elected in 1897 and was the second Republican city executive in a great many years. He won out on the issue of a new city charter. His administration made possible Baltimore's form of municipal government. He was defated for re-election on 02 May 1899 by Thomas Hayes, Democrat, at the first election under the new charter. The Democrats swept the city, defeating William T. Malster by 8,748 majority. The election passed off quietly, there being no disturbances of a serious nature and comparatively few arrests.

In December 1899 Navy Department officials did not apprehend any embarrassment on account of the placing of the Columbian Iron Vorks in the hands of a receiver. It was assumed that the receiver will continue with the work, and a slight delay was the worst that is apprehended now. There was not much work in progress on account of the Navy at the Baltinore yard, the Tingey, a twenty-six-and-a-half-knot torpedo boat, and the submarine boat Plunger comprising all of the naval construction under way there.

On 27 December 1899 a meeting of creditors or the Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company decided to request the Secretary of the Navy to extend the time limit for the completion of the torpedo boat, work on which had been delayed by the company's financial troubles. Creditors from Philadelphia and New York attended the meeting. It was decided that that Henry A. Parr should continue as sole receiver and the work should be continued. A movement has been started looking to a reorganization of the company. New York and Philadelphia capitalists were interested.

Seminole, a 188-foot, 845-ton steam cutter, was constructed by the Columbian Iron Works in Baltimore, MD for $141,000. She was commissioned in 1900 and saw service with the Coast Guard through 1934, when she was transferred to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

On 01 February 1901 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company filed a petition in the Circuit Court for a receiver for the Baltimore Dry Dock Company, and the sale of the mortgaged property provided that the principal and interest on the bonds, to secure which a mortgage of 110,000 was executed in 1870, was not paid by a certain date to be fixed by the court. The Baltimore and Ohio Company held $100,000 of the $110.000 worth of bonds, to secure which the mortgage was executed. The property of the company was located at Locust Point. The late Robert Garrett was President of the Dry Dock Company at the time the mortgage was executed. Members of the Garrett family and others interested in the Baltimore and Ohio Raijroad Company organized the Baltimore Dry Dock Company, and were said to be still largely interested in it. The property was leased to the Columbian Iron Works and Dry Dock Company, which in the hands of receivers. The rental was said to be amply sufficient to pay expenses. President Cowen of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad signed the petition for the sale and receiver.

Harry George Skinner, president of the most important shipbuilding company in Baltimore on the eve of the Great War, was born in that city, December 17, 1858. He was a son of William Henry and Martha Anne (Wilson) Skinner, and the family has been connected with shipbuilding industries for a great number of years. From the earliest days of its existence Baltimore has been foremost in the building of ships, and as years have passed it had not lost its supremacy in this line, which had in its front rank the company headed by Mr. Skinner.

The firm, which had been organized by the father and uncle of Mr. Skinner, was first known as William Skinner & Sons, and later as William Skinner & Sons Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore City, when, in 1899, the interests were combined, and Mr. Skinner, who had taken charge of affairs upon the death of his father and uncle, was made president and treasurer of the corporation. In March, 1906, Mr. Skinner and his corporation, capitalized at $1,600,000, obtained control for $287,500 of the shipbuilding plant, dry dock and machine shops formerly belonging to the Baltimore Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (ex.-Columbian Iron Works), and uniting these with the interests of the William Skinner & Sons Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore City, a new company was formed under the name of the Skinner Shipbuilding and Dock Company of Baltimore City, of which Mr. Skinner was president and treasurer.

William T. Malster died March 3, 1907 of paralysis.

On September 29, 1921 the Bethlehem Steel Corporation purchased the entire in the Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Corporation of Baltimore. The properties, according to the company, would continue in operation principally on ship repair work. These additional facilities located in the main harbor of Baltimore, supplementing Bethlehem's Sparrows Point plant, gave Bethlehem a complete equipment of dry docks and marine railways to accomplish all kinds of ship repair work in the port of Baltimore. The Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company carried on the business of building and repairing ships principally. Its property consisted of three large ship repair and shipbuilding plants, occupying about forty-eight acres in Baltimore Harbor.

William Taylor's Columbian Iron Works, an un-related entity, was at the corner Water and Adams Streets in the Borough of Brooklyn, New York. The earliest industrial establishment here was William Taylor & Sons's Columbian Iron Works, on Adams and Water Streets. Before the construction of the Manhattan Bridge led to the demolition of much of this block, it housed a brass foundry, a sign making company, a two-story machine shop and storage facility.

A different Columbian Iron Works had manufactured hydrants since 1908 and was located in Chattanooga, TN. Mueller Company started in in Decatur, Illinois in 1857. Mueller made a wide variety of products but it wasn't until 1933 when they bought Columbia Iron Works that hydrants became part of their product line.

For historically designated buildings, reconstructing, replacing or installing new metal stairs, fences or metal ornamentation requires a DC building permit. Columbian Iron Works of Washington DC is among the companies/contractors have repaired or installed metal work on historic buildings that has been reviewed by the Historic Preservation Office.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:46:17 ZULU