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Neafie and Levy Ship and Engine Building Company

Philadelphia, from its nearness to the iron and coalmines and from the remarkable development of the iron-manufacturing industry in the towns lying back of and around her, had always enjoyed a great advantage in iron-ship building. The city has a large number of engine-building works, and is exceptional in the cheapnessof her iron and coal. It was natural that she should take a lead in iron-ship building the moment the industry had reached a point where the price of materials and convenience of access to rolling-mills near by should begin to tell.

There is no record of the building of an iron vessel in the United States until 1825, when the little light-draught steamboat Codorus was launched in Pennsylvania for service on the Susquehanna river. In the thirty years following 1825, quite a number of small iron vessels were built in the city-steamboats, revenue-cutters, etc.- I.P. Morris, James T. Sutton & Co., and Neafie & Levy building from time to time, the hulls being designed and laid down on tho mold-loft floor by practical ship-carpenters. It does not appear, however, that the product of the industry was so large and important as that at New York until after the beginning of the war of 1861.

The Penn Works, Philadelphia [1838-82] was started in the year 1838, with a very limited capital, as the "Penn Works," by Reany, Neafie & Co., the firm consisting of Thomas Reany, Jacob G. Neafie, and John P. Levy. Thomas Reaney was a native of the north of Ireland, of Scotch-Irish descent, and came to the United States in 1830, locating in Philadelphia. Thomas Reaney was engaged in ship-building and engineering in that city, and in 1844 he established the firm of Reaney, Neafie & Co., a ship-building company. It became very successful, doing nothing but first-class work, and established a reputation second to none in the country. During the Mexican war a number of vessels were at these works for the Government.

Shipbuilders found it hard to break away from his early business education that wooden hulls would rule for ages. They did not let go until forced by surrounding conditions. The building of iron hull vessels in the US up to 1850, outside of those built for experiments, consisted of 21 steam vessels for inland waters of 175 feet in length and less, two naval vessels, eight steam revenue cutters of an average length of 160 feet, one coastwise propeller 120 feet long, and two fine river passenger steamboats of about 240 feet in length. There were at this period but three iron shipbuilding yards in this country, Harlan & Hollingsworth Company at Wilmington, Del.; Reanie Neafie & Co., at Philadelphia, Pa., and Pusey & Jones Company, Wilmington, Del., besides Robert L. Stevens' works at Hoboken, N. J.

By 1859 Propeller Engines were a leading article of manufacture in the great establishment of REANEY, NEAFIE & Co., who had built and put in successful operation a greater number than any other firm in the United States. For the last fourteen years they have made this subject almost their entire study ; and, with an experience derived from having built over two hundred Engines of this class, may be not inaptly called "the Propeller builders." It would be tedious to name a fractional part of the vessels constructed by them. Messrs. Reaney, Neafie & Co. were also proprietors of the patent right for the " Curved Propeller," which had attained deserved popularity ; and the demand for their peculiar wheel had been so great from the Canadas and on the Lakes, that they had found it necessary to connect themselves with several extensive establishments on the Lakes.

From a small beginning within twenty years The Penn Works grew to a magnitude that placed them among the foremost establishments of the city. Down to 1860 the proprietors of these works had constructed over four hundred marine engines, of various sizes, and had consequently accumulated a stock of patterns, and an amount of experience, that qualified them for executing any work of this description. Among the vessels whose engines were supplied from these works, may be mentioned the U. S. Frigate Lancaster, the Gunboats Pawnee, Pontiac, Nshannock, Liberty, Electric Spark, John Rice, Thomas Scott, Belle Vernon, and others. During the late rebellion, the engines for about one hundred and twenty vessels, of all classes, were built here, some of them among the largest in the service.

The area of ground occupied by this establishment in 1860 was about seven acres, and within these limits were the buildings, tools, and facilities necessary for constructing not only marine and stationary engines, high and low-pressure boilers, heavy and light forgings, but for building all sizes of iron and wooden vessels. Having a front on the river of over four hundred feet; docks in which twelve ships can ride abreast in safety ; a marine railway capable of bearing a ship of a thousand tons; shears and tackling that will lift a hundred tons; a machine shop one hundred and sixty-five by sixty feet, three and a half stories high ; a boiler shop one hundred and eighty by sixty feet ; a blacksmiths' shop one hundred and thirty by forty feet; an erecting shop eighty by seventy feet ; a foundry one hundred and fifty by sixty feet - all equipped and provided with the best tools - their facilities arc unquestionable.

In one special but important branch of naval architecture, this firm had a pre-eminence amounting almost to a monopoly. Among the first, or probably the first, to engage in building Propellers, and owning the patent for the curved propeller wheel, more of this description of vessel had been built at the Penn Works than in any othfer in the country. It has been said that at least two propellers may be seen on their stocks at all times ; and on the western lakes, probably two hundred were performing valuable service.

Besides its advantages of location and equipment, the "Penn Works" had another, in the practical skill of its proprietors, Jacob G. Neafie and John P. Levy. Mr. Neafie served his apprenticeship in the machine shop of Thomas Holloway, the first marine engine builder in Philadelphia, and thus, from boyhood, has been identified with the pursuit in which he was engaged ; while Captain Levy had a thorough and practical knowledge of hulls, rigging, and outfit of steamers - a combination that completes the resources, both mental and material, necessary for constructing any vessel of wood or iron, and furnishing it with all machinery and equipments ready for sea.

During the war of the rebellion engines were constructed there for 120 Government ships, some of them the largest in the service. The Civil War's first submarine (and the first such vessel accepted into the U.S. Navy), was designed by an immigrant Frenchman eager to help his new country, Brutus de Villeroi. on 01 November 1861 DeVilleroi got a Naval Contract to build his submarine in Philadelphia for $14,000. The submarine is built at the ship-building firm of Neafie & Levy in Fishtown on the Delaware River steam docks off Kensington Ward and next to the famous Penn Treaty Park. At the shipyard of Neafie & Levy in Philadelphia, constructors worked in the spring of 1862 to complete the "submarine propeller" designed by de Villeroi. Taking nearly five months to build the submarine is launched in Philadelphia on 01 May 1862 amidst great ballyhoo.

Mr. Reaney remained at the head of this firm until 1860, when he retired, and in connection with his son, William B. Reaney, erected the original plant of what was later known as the Roach ship-yards of Chester, the firm name being Reaney, Son & Co. This enterprise was one of the most importanr ever set on foot in the city of Chester, and probably did more for her industrial development and to make the city known abroad than any other single concern within her borders.

Since Mr. Reany retired from The Penn Works business, it was continued by Neafie & Levy as iron ship builders. The shops and ship yards occupied an area of seven acres. Every branch was carried on within them, and they had capacity for any work.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted law No. 866. on 10 April 1873 to Incorporate the Neafle and Levy Steam Engine, Boiler and Ship-Building Company, and to authorize the executors of John P. Levy to subscribe to the stock of said company. Jacob G. Neafie, Edward L. Levy, Charles Halyburton, and their associates, were created a corporation by the name and style of the Neafie and Levy Steam Engine, Boiler and Ship-Building Company, for the purpose of conducting the business of machinists, capital stock. iron and wooden ship-builders. The capital stock shall be seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, divided into shares of one hundred dollars each, with the privilege of increasing the same to one million dollars.

Jacob G. Nenfie, President of the Neafie Levy Ship and Engine Building Company, died January 16, 1898 in Philadelphia of heart failure. The concern of which he was President operated a large plant on the Delaware Rlver front in Philadelphia. Mr. Neafie was born Dec. 25. 1815. Despite his great age, he continued the active direction of his extensive business until within a few days of his death. His wealth was believed to run in the millions.

During the year 1900 the shipyard of Neafie and Levy Ship and Engine Buildiug Company in Philadelphia was crowded with work, and the machine and boiler-shop facilities had been greatly increased. The following vessels were completed and had gone into service : - Passenger Propeller "Augusta," 2,372 tons ; Passenger Propeller "Northumberland," 1,000 tons, and a number of steel tugs.

At the beginning of fiscal year 1904 the construction of vessels under contract to the Army included four 150-foot twin-screw steamers for use in connection with the submarine mine service of the Coast Artillery, ordered from the Neafie & Levy Ship and Engine Building Company, of Philadelphia, Pa., at a price of $122,000 each, to be completed in 190, 215, 235, and 255 working days, respectively.

On 09 December 1904 receivers were appointed by Judge Davis in Common Pleas Court for the Neafie Levy Ship and Engine Building Company on application of the S.B. Vrooman Company, Limited, which concern furnished lumber to the company. The receivers were John Grange, a retired banker, and Sommers N. Smith, Vice President and General Manager of the Neafie Levy Company. The creditors in their application said that for the protection of the creditors of the company, and of those for whom the company is constructing vessels, its operations should not be interfered with by writs or other executions. They added that if allowed to continue its business without interruption the company will be able to mee all its engagements. In confirmation of this the company's attorneys said that the assets of the company far exceed the liabilities, but were not at present available. The Levy Compay had done, and was doing, considerable work for the United States Governnent. The protected cruiser St. Louis, was then on the stocks and was two-thirds completed. Besides this the company had received contracts for the building of three steel tugs for the Government. The has built several torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers, and recently the cruiser Denver. The money expended on the St. Louis, which will eventually be repaid to the company when the government paid for the cruiser, was given as the cause for the company's stress.

It must not be thought that the United States Shipbuilding Company elements were the only ones to have trouble. Woeff and Zwicker of the West Coast, Trigg Shipyard of Richmond, Va., Townsend and Downey of New York, Neafie and Levy of Philadelphia, and in fact yards all over the country got into difficulties. Cramp after building vessels aggregating nearly $30,000,000 had to be reorganized. The Roach Yard and the Ramsay Yards were closed. Possibly the explanation is that the country was not prepared for the large volume of naval work contracted for in a short time. Yards undertook the most important and difficult work (torpedo boat construction) without experience or organization. Good men were bid for at a premium, and poor men undertook work they could not do.

Neafie & Levy closed in 1907. Problems delivering three Bainbridge-class destroyers and the armored cruiser St. Louis, as well as the fallout from a fatal boiler explosion on the river steamer City of Trenton and the impact of bookkeeping fraud drove the yard into receivership. Neafie & Levy delivered its last ship, the tug Adriatic, in 1908.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:53:39 ZULU