Keeping the Economy Afloat

November 1st, 2012

Read excerpt from start of this article:

Naval vessel launching at BathGeneral Dynamic’s Bath Iron Works — BIW for short — builds Navy destroyers. Its cranes tower over the city. I mean that literally, as they’re visible from downtown and from just about any street in Bath. Closer up, the shipbuilding facilities are enormous — an awe-inspiring sight. If you want details about the mega-structures that make up the shipyard, take a look at the BIW web site.

Postcard view of the Bath riverfront, circa 1907.
Postcard view of the Bath riverfront, circa 1907.
View of Bath Iron Works from city park
View of the shipyard from a city park less than half a mile south.
Bath Iron Works crane visible from downtown.
This photo barely captures the looming presence of cranes from the nearby Bath Iron Works shipyard.

Bath Iron Works was founded by Thomas Worcester Hyde in 1884. Hyde initially manufactured commercial and maritime castings, but soon turned to building steel vessels — helping Bath recover from the end of the wooden-ship era (more on Bath’s booms and busts in a minute).

But it was before and during World War II that Bath Iron Works became a powerhouse:

“Beginning in 1934 Bath Iron Works completed 83 destroyers and destroyer-minelayers by the end of World War II — the largest destroyer output of any builder,” notes the Destroyer History Foundation (yes, there is such a group).

As recently retired Bath planning director Jim Upham adds, “During WWII, Bath Iron Works built more ships than did all of Japan.”

One of the many Navy destroyers launched from Bath during World War II
One of the many Navy destroyers launched from Bath during World War II.

Want to see a lesson in long-term productivity in defense of our nation? Just scroll down and down and down the Wikipedia entry on Bath Iron Works.

Over the past two decades, BIW has been cranking out the Arleigh Burke class of destroyer.

According to Portland Press Herald reporter J. Hemmerdinger (in “Assessing the future for Bath Iron Works,” Sept. 25, 2011) “the shipyard has built 33 Arleigh Burkes since the 1990s,” slightly outpacing its chief competitor, the Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. But production of this class of naval ship, if not yet at its end, is slowing down.

photo of USS Michael Murphy on the Kennebec River; photo by Jim Upham
The USS Michael Murphy, launched on May 7, 2011 was a recent Arleigh Burke destroyer built at Bath. It honors Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael P. Murphy who was mortally wounded in Afghanistan on June 28, 2005 while protecting his unit. In this photo by Jim Upham (taken from his back yard) the destroyer is on the Kennebec River steaming down river.

As Hemmerdinger notes, “most experts expect that continued demand for new destroyers will ensure the long-term stability of the company.” But that’s no sure thing, with potential heavy defense cuts in the offing.

Why is Bath Iron Works so critical for Bath — and for the State of Maine?

photo by Ted Kerwin from Flickr; Creative Commons license
View of giant cranes at Bath Iron Works from across the Kennebec River, by Ted Kerwin on Flickr; creative commons license. Click on photo to view it on Flickr.

As Down East magazine’s Joshua F. Moore explained (in “City of Surprises,” May 2010), Bath Iron Works “is Maine’s largest private employer, running three daily shifts comprising some 5,640 employees (about 9 percent of them Bath residents). It is also Bath’s largest taxpayer, contributing … more than a quarter of the overall tax base.”

That’s part of what Upham also stressed to us — that is, about a dozen planners attending the Northern New England APA conference — during a tour of his hometown.

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