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Quincy Shipbuilding Division
General Dynamics Corp.
Fore River Shipyard, Quincy MA

The Fore River facility in Quncy MA (pronounced "quin-zee"), which opened in 1885, was closed by General Dynamics in 1985 citing a lack of orders. High labor and production costs made Fore River, which employed 7,000 workers, uncompetitive in the commercial ship building market. It built such prestigious naval vessels as the USS Lexington and the USS Salem. The United States Naval Shipbuilding Museum and USS Salem are located at the former Fore River Shipyard.

Less than 10 miles south of Boston, the Fore River Shipyard is an 111-acre site, 2/3 in Quincy and 1/3 in Braintree. History records that shipbuilding has been carried on in the Quincy area since 1696 when the ketch Unity was launched from Ship's Cove (Quincy Neck). Once one of the great shipyards in the United States, Fore River Shipyard was founded in the early 20th century by Thomas Watson, Alexander Graham Bell's former assistant. Thomas Watson's Fore River Ship & Engine Company controlled the destiny of the yard between 1883 and 1913; Bethlehem Ship­building Corporation, Ltd., which controlled the yard between 1913 and 1964; and then Quincy Shipbuilding Division of General Dynamics Corporation.

When the yard at Quincy Point was started up in 1901, Fore River Engine Company was awarded a large Navy contract for the construction of two 14,600 ton battleships, the Rhode Island and New Jersey. Fore River Engine Company was to be paid $6,810,000 for the pair. They were 441' x 71' x 23' 9" and had a top speed of 19 knots. Both were delivered to the Navy in 1906, but Fore River Ship and Engine Company found out that this Navy contract was more complex and more costly than originally anticipated.

When the Holland Company passed into the hands of a new group known as the Electric Boat Company, the company had no yard of its own. It contracted with Fore River shipyard to built most of its submarines that it contracted. This arrangement with Fore River shipyard lasted for twenty years. The US Navy imitated the diesel propulsion of French submarine Aigrette when the Electric Boat Company began building the F class (SS-20 through 23) and the E class (SS-24 and 25) at Fore River Shipyard in 1909.

Until its purchase by Bethlehem Steel Corporation in 1913, Fore River Shipyard was quite busy completing the contracts that it had received during the first decade of the twentieth century. But financial strain at the yard and a backlog of work held up the completion warships. The acquisition of new contracts was an immediate boon to the yard, and made Fore River shipyard respected around the world, it did place a great strain on the available resources of Fore River Ship & Engine Company. It forced the sale of the yard to a corporation that could stand the trauma of having a great deal of capital laid up for extended periods of time. Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel Corporation was looking for shipyards as extensions of his steel business. Schwab agreed to buy Fore River shipyard for $4,800,000.

During World War I, Bethlehem Steel Company began the first major enlargement of Fore River shipyard since its establishment at Quincy Point at the turn of the century. The steel mill was the most important of the improvements at this time. A record number of nineteen contracts were secured in 1916. Eight of these were for "0" class submarines and eight for destroyers. The United States entrance into World War I could not but have a great effect on Fore River shipyard. The government immediately placed orders for a total of 28 destroyers, 15 "R" class submarines, and one battle-cruiser, the Lexington. In all the Squantum yard turned out a total of 35 destroyers while Fore River shipyard produced 36 destroyers over some 27 months and 5 days. This grand total of 71 destroyers was better than all other American yards combined. Fore River shipyard's record time for the completion of a destroyer was 174 working days.

On January 8, 1921 the keel of the battlecruiser Lexington was laid at Fore River shipyard. The Lexington, delivered as an aircraft carrier, and commissioned by the Navy in 1928, was one of the largest warships built at Fore River shipyard to that time.

The decade of the 1930's saw a downturn in productivity at the yard which stemmed from the Great Depression. The only major work undertaken as this timewere a number of Navy cruisers and destroyers, and a carrier. Because of a lack of new contracts in the post-war period, Fore River shipyard entered into repair work.

During the 1930s Quincy was a relatively small community located on the fringes of Boston's metropolitan area, and was not a part of a larger maritime industrial complex. Quincy also echoed the Boston area's Protestant-Yankee and Irish-Catholic conservatism, and lacked a large pool of politically left activists that contributed to the Marine and Shipbuilding Union's success in Camden and Kearney. Also, Fore River Shipyard workers did not benefit from government intervention, and Bethlehem's stronger management and more successful company union aggressively fought outside organizers. Palmer uses these differences to demonstrate union successes and failures.

Fore River shipyard recovered from the depression of the 1930's due largely to the Naval Expansion Program of 1938. Fear of the outbreak of war in Europe and in the Pacific at that time no doubt had everything to do with this ambitious naval program becoming a reality. By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), employment at the yard had climbed to about 17,000.

During the Second World War the Fore River Shipyard, which was operated by Bethlehem Steel Corporation and employed 32,000 people, turned out more ships than any other shipyard in the country. This boom-and-bust cycle was not without precedent, as Boston's shipbuilding industry virtually collapsed in the late 19th century when the craft-oriented wooden shipyards failed to adapt to the assembly-line techniques of iron and steam-powered ship construction.

In December 1941 the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy set a world's record for building ships. At that yard a 10,000-ton cargo carrier was completed in 63 working days. The time of 80 days had been allotted, and that was considerecd remarkable, but, due entirely to the enthusiasm and the industry of the individual workers themselves, this ship was completed in 63 days.

"Winnie the Welder" was the nickname given to 2,000 women shipbuilders who answered the Nations call to duty in the dark days of World War II. These women labored in the shipyards as supervisors, welders, painters, pipe coverers, crane operators, burners, scrapers, nurses, sheet metal workers, and cafeteria workers. The `Winnies' put in long hours and performed diligently under adverse conditions. Winnie worked day in and day out to maintain the Nation's naval forces for about $1 a day. Nobody could question Winnie's work ethic as she tirelessly labored to pick up where the men had left off. When the call came, the tenacious Winnie was ready. She devoted herself to helping her country without hesitation of delay, often spending the day at the shipyard and serving at the United States Organizations clubs at night. The city of Quincy officially declared March 12, 1991, as `Winnie the Welder Day.' This commemorative event served as a `thank you' which was long overdue. These women, whose fathers, husbands, brothers, and friends were on the front lines, took up the heavy task of building ships in the Quincy and Hingham Shipyards during World War II.

During its peak in 1943, the shipyard employed 32,000 people. The Fore River Shipyard had a long and admirable history of naval ship construction. From December 7, 1941 until the end of the war, Fore River shipyard built 92 naval vessels of 11 different types.

In the first post-war years, Fore River shipyard turned over to the Navy its last major vessels from wartime contracts. These were two 17,000 ton heavy cruisers, the Salem and Des Moines. Unfortunately, times had changed. The economics of inflation, the high costs of material, labor union pressures for higher wages and benefits caused a greater strain than was immediately perceived by Bethlehem Steel management.

In 1955 the Navy undertook a program to update its carrier forces with the new Forrestal class carriers. Most of the contracts were given to Newport News Shipbuilding, which today is the only builder of aircraft carriers in the country. Fore River shipyard did not get even one of these contracts, even though it had built 8 carriers in the past. Newport News Shipbuilding had updated its building slips and wet basin facilities, and was in the best position for building the Forrestal class carriers.

Due to increased costs and the fact that the American merchant marine had practically ceased to exist, Bethlehem Steel Corporation put Fore River shipyard up for sale in 1963. Bethlehem Steel Corporation announced it would retire or pension off immediately, or within two years, some 1,300 of the yard's 1,800 employees. The new owner was General Dynamics Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri, a highly diversified company, and, at the time of the purchase, one of the largest defense contractors in the United States. General Dynamics began a $23 million plant improvement program on this 180 acre facility in order to make it more competitive within the shipbuilding industry.

By 1975, exclusive of the LNG tankers then under contract at the yard, Quincy Shipbuilding Division, which describes itself as a "surface ship facility," had constructed 24 ships since 1964, 21 of these for the Navy and the rest merchant. These included two ammunition ships (AE), two submarine tenders (AS), as well as six fleet replenishment oilers (AOR) and dock landing ships (LSD). Fore River shipyard began construction on four advanced nuclear attack submarines (SSN's) for the Navy. Named Greenling, Gato, Whale, and Sunfish, they were delivered to the Navy between November 1967 and March 1969. Much of this new ship construction was done by the modular system whereby complete ship units, preassembled in another area go into the ship at one central point.

In 1981 the U.S. Government stopped direct assistance to domestic commercial shipbuilding but did nothing to discourage foreign governments from continuing massive subsidy programs to bolster their commercial shipyards. Since then, the shipbuilding industry became almost entirely dependent on construction for the US military. The last ship was launched from the yard in 1986 by General Dynamics Corp., which was then the owner. By 2003 the shipyard employed fewer than 50 workers.

Massachusetts Heavy Industries

The defunct Quincy Fore River Shipyard, which President Clinton designated as a "public-private partnership project", was a political exercise in futility from the start. The yard's plan to build conventional product tankers on a commercial basis was flawed in concept and credibility, and the only way the project could win approval was to legislate away the fundamental economic soundness criterion of the statute.

The Quincy Shipyard project was the first of its kind. It was the first project to revitalize an inoperative shipyard and put it back into production as a State-of-the-art facility that would employ up to 2,000 workers in good jobs. This made sense, because the proposal to revitalize the Quincy Shipyard will turn it into a shipyard on the cutting edge of technology and one which will produce vessels that will be in demand in the international marketplace for years -- double-hulled oil tankers to carry petroleum safely around the world.

Title XI of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 (as amended) authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to make loan guarantees to finance the construction, reconstruction, or reconditioning of eligible export vessels and the modernization and improvement of shipyards. Under this Title XI program, which is administered by MARAD, businesses secure loans in the private sector and repayment is guaranteed by the United States Government. One of the criteria for eligibility for most loan guarantees is that the applicant's proposed project be economically sound. As a result of Congressional interest, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 1996 contained a provision temporarily amending requirements of the Title XI loan guarantee program. Specifically, the amendment waived the economic soundness requirement for reactivation and modernization of closed shipyards in the United States.

In 1996 the Quincy yard was the first to qualify for revitalization under this new legislation aimed at reactivating former military yards. The US Maritime Administration approved guarantees for $55 million in loans for modernization of the Fore River Shipyard. On 07 May 1997 the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority sold 130 acres of land, drydocks, cranes and warehouses at the facility to Massachusetts Heavy Industries, a company founded by Sotirios Emmanouil, a Greek national. Although the market value of the land was estimated as high as $35 million, the selling price was $10 million.

By 1997 the Fore River Watershed Association (FRWA) had established a reputation as a strong advocate for urban river stewardship in the communities of Quincy, Braintree, and Weymouth. The FRWA has made possible expanded watershed monitoring, strengthened ties with local communities and government, and broadened community educational efforts. The association has been a major influence on transportation and infrastructure improvements impacting the watershed by working on prevention and mitigation plans with the MBTA and on sewer overflow impacts with the Massachusetts Water Resources Association. Additionally, the FRWA continued to work with Fore River Shipyard officials to ensure that pollution prevention practices were employed as the facility moves closer to re-opening. The FRWA had taken a leadership role in coordinating a multi-town effort to protect and restore the Fore River Watershed that will have lasting effects on the revitalization of the Fore River basin.

On 18 December 1997 US Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater announced a $55 million federal loan guarantee to Massachusetts Heavy Industries (MHI) to modernize the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy. The federal government offered to use the federal ship financing program known as Title XI to guarantee private funds for the revitalization of the yard. Congress passed legislation in 1996 to authorize $100 million in Title XI loan guarantees for this type of project. The Transportation Department's Maritime Administration (MARAD) administers the Title XI program and had been working with MHI for since 1995 on the Quincy shipyard revitalization project. On Nov. 1, 1996, MARAD issued a letter commitment to MHI for the $55 million financing guarantee. The Quincy modernization project was expected to be completed by the end of 1998. Since its enactment of the National Shipbuilding Initiative in 1993, MARAD has approved more than $2 billion in loan guarantees under the Title XI program.

MHI missed a regularly scheduled $1.55 million debt service payment on June 1, 1999. Upon its request and the concurrence of the lending institution, Fleet Bank, MARAD deferred the payment until December 1, 1999. However, on December 1, 1999, MHI missed its second consecutive regularly scheduled payment of $2.1 million on the guaranteed obligations, as well as the payment owed from June 1st.

The fiscal year 2000 Labor HHS Education Appropriations conference report (H. Rept. 106-479) included $1,000,000 for the Massachusetts Corporation for Business, Work and Learning for the International Shipbuilding Training Demonstration project. However, the reopening of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy had been delayed. Workers dislocated from the closing of the shipyard still need job training; therefore, in 2000 the Department was directed to use the $1,000,000 in the fiscal year 2000 appropriation to fund the Corporation for Business, Work and Learning for the Training of workers in the Quincy area for jobs within the Marine and Shipbuilding industries.

MARAD and MHI had continuing discussions in an attempt to provide a funding mechanism for the December 1, 1999 payment, at the urging of Fleet Bank. MARAD extended until late February 2000 the date on which this payment could be made to give MHI the fullest opportunity possible to make those payments. However, MHI was unable to obtain the necessary financing -- in a form acceptable to MARAD -- to make this payment or to complete the shipyard without substantially impairing MARAD's security and increasing MARAD's liability under the loan guarantee. Thus, a demand for payment under the Title XI guarantee was made to MARAD by the lending institution. On February 25, 2000, the agency honored this demand by making a payment for $59.1 million on the defaulted loan, which was the principal amount plus accrued interest. MHI subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and MARAD moved to foreclose on the shipyard.

Recent Developments

On January 16, 2003, MARAD auctioned the shipyard real estate and personal property for an aggregate of $11.8875 million. Car dealer Daniel Quirk was awarded the shipyard with his bid of $9 million, while Perfection Machinery, an Illinois firm, was successful with its $3.3 million bid for the shipyard's equipment. Previously, MARAD had received approximately $23 million from an escrow account belonging to MHI, monies contributed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and fees paid by MHI. In February of 2000, MARAD had honored its guarantee of MHI's financial obligations and paid bondholders $59.1 million in principal and accrued interest. Subsequently, as custodian of the shipyard, MARAD expended substantial funds in the custodial upkeep and security of the property, environmental clean up and environmental studies to prevent the commission of toxic torts from materials improperly marked and maintained by MHI, payments to a bankruptcy court approved post petition senior mortgagee, and other foreclosure expenses, which are included in the $64 million total.

In March 2003 a federal judge rejected a request to stop the sale of the Fore River shipyard, but agreed to put in place a notice warning the buyer that a lawsuit could be forthcoming. In a ruling that could serve as a prelude to a much longer legal battle, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner said there was not enough evidence to grant a preliminary injunction requested by runner-up bidder Jay Cashman. Cashman argued that the bidding process used by the US Maritime Administration to sell the shipyard was unfair. He also claimed that the Maritime Administration violated its charter by failing to promote the maritime use of the property by selling it to Quirk, who planned to use part of the land for his automobile auction business.

The US Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Testa Corp., a Lynnfield, Mass., demolition contractor, for 15 alleged violations of safety and health standards following the collapse of a craneway at the former Fore River Shipyard in Braintree, Mass. Proposed penalties totaled $60,400. Testa Corp. was the general contractor for the demolition of the 190-foot tall steel craneway superstructure. On 26 January 2005, two workers were killed and several others injured when the craneway collapsed onto an adjacent building from which workers were removing asbestos.

OSHA's inspection found that Testa Corp. did not do an engineering survey to determine the craneway's stability before allowing employees to work in the adjacent building. An engineering survey would have shown that several of the steel craneway's members had been cut through by torches and cross-bracing supports had been removed, leaving the structure overstressed. Workers were also allowed into the building before the craneway had been properly braced or otherwise secured against collapse.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:55:53 ZULU