Once upon a time, the building and repairing done to sea vessels had been the most important industry growing on Staten Island prior to the First World War. The Rutan brothers, William and James had owned the earliest known company that had a significance to our history. This shipyard alone had produced over 100 schooners and sloops a year. In the 1880 approximately 17 shipyards were present on Staten Island mostly alone the north shore. Later in the 1800s the Navy and international shipping of goods raised demands for large shipyards, which formed around mariners harbor and port Richmond. By the 1920s, the now 18 shipyards had employed over 6,000 people.
Aerial view of Bethlehem's Destroyer building yard
The first company to take dock in Staten Island was Burlee Dry Dock. Originally known as McWilliams repair, the owner was William Burlee. He had been a superintendent for McWilliams Repair in Jersey City. When McWilliams retired, Burlee took over in 1895. In 1898 Burlee took over a neighboring company known as Port Richmond Iron Works, this started the building of engines and steel vessels along with the original wooden. Port Richmond Iron works was founded three years earlier and started as a machine shop. Five years later Burlee moved to expand in what is Mariners’ Harbor, two years later renaming the now large company Staten Island Shipbuilding. 1916 began the building a steel ships when a foundry had been available on the yard.
In 1929 SISB merged with five other yards finally becoming United Dry Docks later finalizing as United Shipyards. The company built a range of ships and between the different yards they had they were able to expand and divvy the work evenly. The yard in Brooklyn, Formerly Theodore A. Crane’s Sons, focused on barges and small ships. Mariners Harbor yards took care of the bigger ships that were to be built. In 1938 Bethlehem Steel company bought United Shipyards using the expansion to aid the now occurring WWII effort. The Navy donated over $5 million dollars to the effort. The company was working on 24-hour periods during the effort. Bethlehem had constructed and launched destroyers to aid in the war. Propellers had also been a strong product made during this time with a foundry on another yard of Bethlehem’s.
When the war ended the smaller yards had been shut down and reverted the remaining yards to building tugs and barges, finally closing in 1959. Many Ship Repair currently functions in the Mariners Harbor yard and are currently still building barges.