The Story of “New York Ship”
The New York Shipbuilding Corporation, often called New York Ship for short, was established in 1899. As its name implies, its intended location was New York City. However, at the last minute the real estate deal fell through; having already incorporated the name, the company owners were stuck with it.
They selected Camden, NJ as home base because it already had an established iron industry, was located on a major river, and there was plenty of available real estate for future expansion. The young company enjoyed secure financing from men such as Andrew Mellon, but it was also blessed to be headed by shipbuilding innovator Henry Morse.
Morse was similar to other game changers of the industrial age like Eli Whitney or Henry Ford. Instead of the traditional ad hoc piecemeal approach to making a vessel he introduced the concept of interchangeable parts. New York Ship became famous for the number and sheer variety of vessels it built and launched; ocean liners, passenger steamships, lightships, oil tankers, and at least one houseboat. Not only did New York Ship build ships, submarines, and landing craft for the U.S. Navy, but for other countries too: Greece, Russia, Japan, Argentina, etc.
During Prohibition the company filled orders from the U.S. Treasury Department to build revenue cutters to thwart rum runners. The influence of New York Ship was felt beyond just building ships; during World War I so many people were needed at the shipyard a whole community was established in Camden to house them: Yorkship. Later renamed Fairview, this was one of the world’s first “scientifically planned” neighborhoods. Its streets were named after famous ships, and its circular design can still be seen on maps today.
During World War II, New York Ship was the largest and most productive shipyard on earth. Here is a sample of the ships launched in Camden made famous between 1941-1945: Saipan, Indianapolis, Reuben James, South Dakota, Princeton, Oklahoma.
At the war’s conclusion New York Ship found itself competing against other shipyards for a dwindling number of Navy contracts. An aging infrastructure and a changing corporate hierarchy made New York Ship’s future tenuous. However, several vessels made postwar kept New York Ships’ fame alive, such as the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and the world’s only nuclear civilian cargo/passenger ship ever built, Savannah. New York Ship closed in 1967 and was reorganized into the South Jersey Port Corporation (SJPC).