29 September 2003
THE AUCTION OF SPARROWS POINT LESS THAN A YEAR AFTER THAT OF QUINCY IS YET ANOTHER INDICATOR OF OUR INDUSTRY'S DECLINE.
As with Quincy, it can safely be assumed that the upcoming auction of the Sparrows Point shipyard will not result in it being sold as a shipbuilding facility. Like Quincy, it hasn't built ships since the mid-80s, the skills required to build ships are long dispersed, and the markets don't exist any more to support another large-ship shipbuilder. Baltimore Marine Industries tried hard, but never really had a chance.
Sparrows Point may not have been one of the world's great shipbuilders, as Quincy was, but it was a major shipbuilder by anyone's standards and certainly one of the world's great tanker builders. Let me briefly recap its history and see if you don't agree.
The Sparrows Point shipyard was originally built in 1889 - two years before Quincy - by Maryland Steel Company and delivered its first ship in 1891. It was bought by Bethlehem Steel in 1917, at which point it had built 176 ships, almost all commercial, but including three destroyers and six naval colliers. Bethlehem kept building tankers, ore carriers, cargo ships and coastal passenger ships there all through the inter-war years, even when many other big yards were reduced to barge building, and by the time the emergency shipbuilding program started they were up to hull number 327.
The World War II effort saw the Sparrows Point shipyard at its best. In the 8-year period from 1939 through 1946, the yard built 116 ships, made up of 68 tankers, 26 general cargo ships, 10 refrigerated cargo ships, 6 ore carriers and 6 passenger/cargo ships. At its peak in WWII, the yard employed over 20,000 people.
In the post-WWII years, U.S. shipyards struggled to find work but Sparrows Point, like Quincy, kept busy building 128 ships - 83 tankers, 11 ore carriers, 3 lakers, 21 general cargo ships, 7 ammunition ships and 3 miscellaneous types - in the 25-year period between WWII and the passage of the Merchant Marine Act of 1970. In the next 20 years, Sparrows Point broadened its horizons, building 21 tankers, 6 containerships, 8 jack-up drilling rigs, 6 tank barges, 3 container barges, 2 survey ships and a dry-dock. In the 1970s, Bethlehem invested heavily in the facility, converting the construction process from the traditional inclined ways to a single very large graving dock, 1200 feet long by 200 feet wide and served by four 200-ton cranes. They built five 265,000-ton tankers in it.
Of the great U.S. shipbuilders of the 20th century, only Newport News is left.
Let's hear some memories of the great days at Sparrows Point.