The year was 1927 and the future had hardly ever looked brighter for the City of Camden. Times were prosperous, business and industry were booming, and the city was full of recently constructed public buildings, civic improvements, schools, the new Delaware River bridge and its new highway to the suburbs. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Depression that followed were in the unimagined future.
It was in these times that Camden prepare for its 100th anniversary, and in this spirit of optimism that the city fathers under the direction of Mayor Winfield S. Price commissioned the booklet whose text you will find below.
Electrical Equipment for Mightiest Power Plants Combined with Ship Construction at Big Camden Industrial Plant.
Camden for many years has been a center for the building of ships. There are yards which construct costly yachts and little fishing dories and others which build scows and tugs and everything up to the mightiest battleships.
The most noted of the Camden firms devoted to ship building, is the American Brown-Boveri Electric Corporation, which took over the big plant of the better known New York Shipbuilding Corporation.
This plant is one of the most modern in existence. When it is running at capacity about 12,000 men are employed and the works operate twenty-four hours a day.
Some of the ships turned out here have played an important part in making possible some of the most thrilling chapters of American naval history.
Today the American Brown-Boveri Corporation stands as the author of a daring plan for giving to the American merchant marine the supremacy of the seas some time ago relinquished.
Under the suggested policy, the Camden plant would build some of the largest passenger and freight steamships afloat. These would develop a speed which would cut down the time in crossing the Atlantic to four days and provision also is made for carrying planes which would handle mail and passengers from the ships as they neared their ports of destination on each side of the Atlantic. In this way the time of passage for travelers in a hurry could be reduced to as low as two days.
Looking backward we find that the first iron steamship was built here in 1871. The craft, then considered a new wonder, was turned out by the old Dialogue yards at Kaighn’s Point, in South Camden. This craft, the Colfax, was the successor to scores of staunch wooden ships which had slid into the Delaware from the ways of Camden plants.
Many of the old shipyards have gone the way of their early craft, but, the modern yards more than make up in tonnage production, what has passed into the realm of things gone by.
In 1912 the New York Shipbuilding Corporation ranked fourth among the yards of the world for tonnage produced.
It was during the days of the World War that the Camden yards set a record which enabled the Shipping Board to obtain greater construction speed in all the yards of the country.
In an effort to do its part in carrying to a successful point, the program of “Ships, Ships and More Ships,” the New York Shipbuilding plant built and delivered for operation in thirty-seven days, the 333-foot collier Tuckahoe. Camden received official praise from executives of the Nation for that achievement.
The story of the tanker Gulflight provided another interesting chapter of wartime activities. The ship was built at the New York Shipyard and proved its sturdy construction when both halves floated after an enemy torpedo had cut the craft in two.
The New York Shipbuilding Corporation started its plant in Camden in 1899. That was the first big modern yard to establish here. Since then this plant has turned out 324 craft, 51 of them warships of 337,738 total tonnage and 273 merchant ships of 828,662 tons gross.
One of the most unusual sights ever to appear on the Delaware River was when two huge caissons were towed from the shipyard to the points where the main foundations of the Delaware River Bridge were to be placed in the bed of the stream. The great, towering wooden boxes loomed higher than the big steamships traveling the river. They were a little out of the usual line of construction for the shipyard, but they were just another evidence of the elasticity in men and machinery at the plant.
Today this big shipyard can turn out the massive structural iron units used in construction of skyscrapers and bridges and also handle all kinds of electrical construction. Electric locomotives and other mighty powers in the modern streak of progress are other products of this industrial plant.
When the plant first was started, the usual methods used in construction of watercraft were revolutionized. Here was given the first example of covered ways capable of housing the largest of battleships. Because of this innovation, work could proceed on the ships in any kind of weather.
This in itself had much to do with the future success of the yard as it enabled the firm to complete war craft within contract time, and that was something our efficient naval authorities had been unsuccessful in accomplishing up to when the first ship was delivered to the U. S. Navy from the Camden yards.
From a Skiff to a Battleship
Installation of a system whereby raw materials entered the yards and traveled a given course until they became part of the completed ship, was another new thought to be applied to this form of work. This was really a forerunner of the system used in auto factories where assembly methods have reached the highest point of efficiency.
Overhead, traveling cranes, reaching their powerful steel arms into any desired section of the large works, were installed when the plant was started and this also was something in advance of the usual means employed.
It was this initial introduction of the most modern methods which enabled the New York Shipbuilding Corporation to steer a course of success.
During the war the Government found it necessary to create new villages and build hundreds of homes to house the thousands of men who formed the army of shipyard workers.
It was four years after the yard was started that the first opportunity came to bid for the construction of naval craft. Two armored cruisers, the Washington and Tennessee, were to be built. Of course the older yards bid for the work, but the infant plant at Camden was successful in getting the Washington contract.
Then followed the usual predictions of failure that accompany so gigantic an undertaking by a new firm. But the New York Ship plant was more than equal to its task and delivered the cruiser Washington at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on July 30,1906, ten days before the limit provided in the contract.
That record assured the plant the confidence of the naval authorities and from that beginning there has come from the yard, a mighty fleet of battlecraft, not only for our own Government, but also for foreign nations.
The Washington was followed by the Kansas, then the New Hampshire and the Michigan, all ships of the first line in their day. Such excellent progress was made in this department of effort, that the plant turned out the battleship Utah, delivered to the Navy August 30, 1911, just 330 months after the signing of the contract. Then on top of that, another speed mark for construction was set when the battleship Arkansas was delivered in 35 months. These two records stand to this day for ships of their size. The U. S. S. Oklahoma and the Idaho were the next in line to add to the laurels of this South Jersey plant. The latter was delivered in 1919 and she became the Queen of the Pacific Fleet.
After the World War the Navy Department gave the contracts for the super- dreadnaughts Colorado and Washington to the Brown-Boveri Corporation.
These were the largest and most powerful ships built in which were embodied the important lessons gained in the World War. On the heels of these great construction jobs, successfully completed, came the new experience with the airplane carrier Saratoga. Originally laid down to become the world’s mightiest fighting craft, the Arms Conference caused a change in the plans. It was decided to make the craft an airplane carrier instead of the powerful fighting unit at first intended. Although the change necessitated a tremendous amount of work and engineering initiative, the manner in which these obstacles were overcome is best attested by the successful trip of the Saratoga through the Panama Canal, early this year.
Some of America’s finest merchant ships have been built at the Brown-Boveri plant. Some of these craft built in times of peace were able to render yeoman service during the war. On the other hand, ships built in time of war, have been able to take their place with the best in the succeeding times of peace.
Outstanding in the former respect were the Mongolian and Manchuria, which after fourteen years of service, were readily converted into troop and supply ships.
Twenty steel ships were turned out during the war to meet the emergency demand for hulls to rush supplies and men to Europe. In addition a mine planter was completed during those hectic days.
Battleships are not the only war craft built in Camden. Many destroyers which had an active part in the patrol system of the Navy had been constructed at the New York Ship Yard and so satisfactorily did they perform that after the war the Navy Department awarded contracts for ten of this class of fighter. These were delivered and then carne another order for twenty more.
On October 19, 1925, upon change of ownership of a majority of the stock of the company in connection with a plan to develop the manufacture of electrical apparatus, the name of the company was changed to The American Brown-Boveri Electric Company. In addition to operating today one of the largest self-sustained shipbuilding plants in the world, where specialists in 146 trades co-operate in the intricate tasks in perfecting its organization for the design and manufacture of complete utility, railway and industrial electrification equipment, with the distinct purpose of enlarging the American market and making readily available here those practices and devices which abroad have demonstrated their economic utility and satisfactory operation. The group of modern shop buildings at the south end of the company’s property, comprising what is known as the “South Yard”, have been extended and equipped for this electrical work at the expenditure of approximately $1,500,000. In these buildings, having a total manufacturing floor space of 500,000 square feet, have been installed some of the most efficient tools and apparatus for the manufacture of electric equipment that are available in either the American or European markets.