Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company records

Identifier: GLMS-0112

Collection Overview


Corporate records, photographs, and films detailing the history and work of the marine construction and dredging company, 1899-1998. Projects such as the straightening of the Chicago River, extension of Lincoln Park, and land reclamation for the construction of the new international airport in Doha, Qatar, are documented.


  • Creation: 1899-1998


32.44 Cubic Feet (39 letter manuscript boxes, 1 half letter manuscript box, 9 legal manuscript boxes, 11 clamshell boxes, and 6 record storage cartons)


Scope and Contents

The bulk of the collection is made up of photographs documenting nearly a century of marine construction work conducted by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company (GLD&D). A wide range of projects is represented, from building seawalls for residential customers to conducting large-scale land reclamamtion operations for locations both foreign and domestic, including Lincoln Park, Chicago; Hart Miller Island, MD; and Doha, Qatar. Most of the jobs undertaken by GLD&D up until the mid-20th century were centered around Chicago and Wisconsin, as the corporate headquarters of the company was located there until the late 20th century. As a result, projects in the Chicago area are especially well-documented. Significant works include land reclamation for the extension of Lincoln Park and the building of Lake Shore Drive, bridge superstructures for the Michigan and Torrence Avenue Bridges, and the straightening of the South Branch of the Chicago River. Most of the images were created by professional studios and by staff photographers of GLD&D, resulting in excellent quality. Photographs span 1906-1998.

Another portion of the collection contains a run of corporate records, most notably the Board of Directors Minute Book for 1905-1918. Other records include calendars, pubilcations, publicity and marketing, case histories, and lists of projects.

The final portion of the collection consists of films and videotapes of GLD&D projects. The videotapes are copies of the content on 35mm films found in the collection. For the 8 and 16mm films and MiniDV tapes in the collection, the content is mostly unknown since they cannot be accessed. Several additional films are present on DVD, but it is unclear whether this duplicates any of the preivously mentioned material. Dates are roughly 1929-1961.

Company History

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company's operations span the period between 1890 and the present day, and have helped shape the living environment and transportation resources of communities across the world, including America's largest cities and their ports. Great Lakes has played a major role in creating shorelines and waterways through both its dredging and construction activities. Through this period, Great Lakes has grown to be the largest dredging contractor in the U.S. and a major international competitor.

Founded in 1890 as the partnership of William A. Lydon and Fred C. Drews, Lydon & Drews' first project was construction of an off-shore tunnel to extend the water intake at Chicago Avenue to a new intake farther out in Lake Michigan. The company experienced tremendous expansion in the 1890s, growing in Chicago and opening satellite operations in virtually every major city on the Great Lakes. Projects at the time included the shoreline structures for Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1892, including the foundations for what later came to be known as Navy Pier. In 1905, the company changed its name to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. The company's assets had expanded to include thirteen dredges and ten tugboats. Projects involving dredging, pile-driving, construction of foundations, bridges, breakwaters and lighthouses were completed in Chicago, as well as in such cities as Toledo, Indiana Harbor, Waukegan (Illinois), Mud Lake (Michigan), and Racine (Wisconsin). By 1920, Great Lakes was operating in Albany, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and other east coast locations. Accordingly, an Atlantic Division was established in the Whitehall Building in downtown Manhattan.

Between 1900 and 1950, the company completed a number of significant projects, including:

- A massive water intake tunnel for U.S. Steel's then new Gary (Indiana) works. - Construction of the Sabin Lock at Sault Ste. Marie. - Straightening the Chicago River in sections of the city west of the Loop. - Construction of the Outer Drive Bridge on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, the LaSalle Street tunnel, the lower level of Wacker Drive, and the foundations and approaches to the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Landfill and reclamation in Chicago where the Adler Planetarium, Soldier's Field, Meigs Field and the Field Museum of Natural History stand today, as well as landfill for Lincoln Park, Jackson Park and Chicago's nine-mile shoreline - Harbor and breakwater work at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Waukegan.

During World War II, Great Lakes was awarded the coveted Naval E-Flag for its superior work in construction of the large MacArthur Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, a facility still in use. This vital project, needed to keep iron ore moving freely on the Great Lakes to steel mills for munitions manufacture, was completed a full year ahead of schedule.

After World War II, the company participated in extensive oil-related dredging in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to numerous bridge and other marine construction projects across the country. In the 1970s the dredging industry experienced a fundamental change, as the Corps' fleet was reduced to a size and configuration considered necessary only for emergencies and national defense, and a robust private dredging sector took its place. Great Lakes' president at the time, John A. Downs, was instrumental in promoting legislation which ultimately mandated the reduction of the Corps fleet. In 1976, began to build its hopper dredge fleet to replace the reduced capacity of the Corps of Engineers. At the same time, the company expanded its operations into the Middle East, South America, and Africa. In addition, Great Lakes added restoration of storm-eroded beaches to its project resume while continuing with other traditional work. This work to protect coastal assets has become a major activity for the company.

In 1979, Great Lakes International, Inc. (GLI) was incorporated as a holding company for Great Lakes and other subsidiaries. In November 1985, Itel Corporation purchased GLI through a friendly stock tender offer. Previously, GLI had been traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In October 1991, the company was purchased by Blackstone Dredging Partners LP, an affiliate of Blackstone Capital Partners, and in 1998, Vectura Holding Company, LLC, an affiliate of CitiCorp Venture Capital, purchased the company. In December of 2003, Citicorp sold the company to Madison-Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private capital firm. In December 2006, the company merged with a publicly traded subsidiary of Aldabra Acquisitions Corp., thus becoming a new holding company in the name of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation, traded on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange.

The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (the so-called “Deep Ports” legislation) authorized deepening projects in major U.S. ports. This increased activity required Great Lakes to focus on deploying its equipment in the U.S. market from 1986 to 1992. However, by 1990, it was apparent that the newly authorized projects were not delivering the volume of work proposed, and that its contracts would be spread over a longer period of time. This, coupled with a weakening dollar, prompted Great Lakes to launch a renewed international marketing effort. In 1993, this marketing effort resulted in the award of a $115-million project at Doha, Qatar, followed in succeeding years by other successful projects in the Middle East, Denmark, Spain, Ghana, Egypt, India, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and the Caribbean. Revenue from the company's worldwide work has approximated twenty percent per annum since 1993. The domestic market also produced major opportunities during this period, including major port expansions in Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbors and the Port of New York/New Jersey.

Recently, several large projects have been undertaken in the Kingdom of Bahrain, notably the construction of the Hidd Container Terminal, reclamation dredging for the construction of a new resort community at Durrat-al-Bahrain, and Diyaar al Muharraq, a reclamation project to build an island using some 80 million cubic meters of material to reclaim 6,000,000 square meters of new land.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection contains 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm motion picture films. Many of the 35mm films have been transferred to VHS for access. The CAC does not have the equipment to view the other films. The colleciton also contains MiniDV video tapes, which the CAC also does not have the equipment to access.

Conditions Governing Use

The collection is in the public domain.

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the materials in this collection were donated to the HCGL by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, LLC, in 2010, with Douglas Mackie signing on behalf odf the company. Keith Lance donated an addition in 2011.

Processing Information

Preliminary processing completed by graduate assistant Pam Bayer and student assistants Chris Vogelsong, Jonathan Filler, and Jessica Schmidt from 2008-2009. Processing completed by Archivist Mark Sprang in October 2021.

Guide to the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company records
Mark Sprang
October 2021
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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