Chicago Ship Building Company Records

Identifier: GLMS-0001

Collection Overview


The records of the Chicago Shipbuilding Co. span the years from 1890 to 1962 and document early twentieth-century shipbuilding on the Great Lakes. The bulk of the materials in the collection fall between 1900 and 1950. The most significant record series include dry dock ledgers and reports, legal and labor correspondence, South Yard surveys, financial records, and World War I shipbuilding activities.


  • 1832-1962
  • Majority of material found within 1900-1950


9.66 Cubic Feet (14 letter manuscript boxes and 5 record storage cartons)

3.33 Cubic Feet (19 volumes and 1 folder)


Scope and Contents

The records generated by the Chicago Shipbuilding Company extend from 1890 to 1962, with the bulk of the material falling between 1900 and 1950. A single record series included in the collection dates to 1832, but it consists of land titles that were not generated by the company.

The records are arranged chronologically by series where possible. It must be noted, however, that very early records of the company (ca. 1890) and later records (after 1950) are, for the most part, incomplete or missing.

The most important record series include: dry dock ledgers and reports, correspondence, surveys, and financial papers. Together, these documents help the researcher to grasp the administrative, fiscal, and historical importance of the Chicago Shipbuilding Company.

The dry dock ledgers and reports are records documenting typical activities of the company: what ships were repaired, how long it took to repair them, and what services were rendered. The records are in convenient column form for statistical analysis of, for example, linear growth trends in the company. The dry dock reports also include signatures of dock employees, which may provide leads for the researcher interested in turn-of-the-century worker or labor history. The dry dock reports comprise the most complete of all of the record groups in this collection, for they extend without gaps from 1907 to 1962.

Correspondence consists of a variety of series: official, legal, and labor correspondence. To glean information regarding expansion, property-leasing transactions, and labor relations, these documents would be most useful. The bulk of correspondence lies between 1915 and 1950.

Third, the South Yard surveys visually document the expansion of the main dry dock area of the Chicago Shipbuilding Company. The blueprints, charts, and maps extend from 1894 to 1932, which covers well the early-century years of South Yard improvements.

The daily and monthly financial papers are of importance primarily to statisticians, although the general researcher in Great Lakes history could benefit from perusing the financial statements, for example, to better understand the company's status at a given point in its history. This record group extends from 1909 to 1943, although many series are incomplete.

A feature of this collection is a record group entitled "World War I Shipbuilding." This group consists of contracts, payroll bills, correspondence and superintendent's reports for the years 1917-1918. For the researcher interested in the effects of the war years upon American industrial concerns, this record group would be of primary importance.

The remaining materials include building materials specifications, ship tests, and land titles.

Company History

The Chicago Shipbuilding Company was formed in 1890. In that same year, land was purchased from the South Chicago Brewing Company at 101st Street and the east bank of the Calumet River as a site for the new shipyard. The shipyard was constructed soon thereafter.

The company underwent a number of administrative changes in its early years. Initially, it was a branch of Cleveland's Globe Iron Works. Mr. John F. Pankhurst, the vice president of the Cleveland firm, also was the Chicago company's first president. Because of changes in stock ownership in 1892, the Chicago Shipbuilding Company was reorganized, became more independent of the Globe Iron Works, and sought its own contracts. At this time, William L. Brown was president and Washington Irving Babcock was general manager.

For the fledgling company, the 1890s were a prosperous decade. The shipyard expanded, more ships were built, and repair services were provided for Great Lakes ships. William Brown and Washington Babcock provided such effective leadership that toward the end of the decade, the Chicago Shipbuilding Company was one of the most highly regarded of all shipyards in the Great Lakes area.

By 1898, the company was to experience even further organizational changes. It became apparent that fierce competition among the various shipyards on the Great Lakes was undermining profit margins. The answer was consolidation; the Chicago Shipbuilding Company joined the newly created American Shipbuilding Company.

The Chicago Shipbuilding Company, as a subsidiary of American Shipbuilding Company, continued to build ships and to do repair work throughout the early part of the twentieth century. The company again expanded, and in 1912 it took over the Ship Owner's Dry Dock Company of Chicago. In 1913, it closed the North Yard and built a new dry dock area near the South Yard. Smaller numbers of ships were built in later years. By the time the Company closed in the late 1970s, it was only providing repairs services and was no longer building any new hulls.

Conditions Governing Access

No known access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers using this collection assume full responsibility for conforming to the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright, and are responsible for securing permissions necessary for publication or reproduction.

Language of Materials

Materials in English.


This collection is arranged into the following series:

  1. Correspondence, 1900-1950
  2. Subject Files/Case Files, 1915-1930
  3. Reports, 1906-1962
  4. Legal Documents, 1832-1906
  5. Financial Documents, 1890-1957
  6. Maps, Charts, and Blueprints, 1894-1932

Related Materials

Ship drawings for some vessels produced by the Chicago Shipbuilding Company are located with the records of its parent company American Ship Building Company, GLMS 75. Smaller numbers of additional drawings are held by the Great Lakes Historical Society and University of Wisconsin-Superior.

For a detailed history of the Chicago Ship Building Company and the American Ship Building Company, see the book Freshwater Whales by Dr. Richard J. Wright, Kent State University Press, 1970.

Follow this link to the website for a list of of all vessels built by the shipyard..

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers of the Chicago Shipbuilding Company, Chicago, Illinois, were obtained in the winter of 1967/1968 by Dr. Richard J. Wright. They became part of the Richard J. Wright Marine Collection at Bowling Green State University, and are now part of the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes.

Guide to the Chicago Shipbuilding Company records
Linda Jasperse, Mark Sprang
September 2017
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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