Maine Maritime Timeline
ca. 10,000 BC – ca. 1500 AD: Native Americans became skilled at using Maine’s maritime resources. They caught and ate many species of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans, as well as porpoises and whales. They designed and built dugout canoes and bark canoes which were extremely well-adapted to local use, and were capable of lengthy coastal voyages.
1604-1605: A French expedition with Samuel de Champlain explored both the Penobscot and Kennebec Rivers and much of the coast, making the first real charts of parts of the Maine coast and wintering on St. Croix Island in the St. Croix River.
1605: English captain George Weymouth explored part of the coast, and kidnapped five Natives.
1607-1608: A short-lived English colony was established by Plymouth Company at what is now Popham Beach, at the mouth of the Kennebec River. A shipwright named Digby built the pinnace Virginia there. This 30-ton vessel was the first ocean-going vessel built by English colonists on the mainland of the New World, and the first European-style vessel built in Maine.
Circa 1650: Clark & Lake settlement on Arrowsic Island established a shipyard.
1669-1673: Woolwich-born William Phipps (later Sir William, the first native-born Royal Governor of Massachusetts) served his shipbuilding apprenticeship at the Clark & Lake shipyard on Arrowsic Island.
1676: A large ship nearly completed by William Phipps at his shipyard in Montsweag carried Sheepscot settlers to safety in Boston at the outbreak of King Philip’s War.
1695: H.M.S. Falkland (a Fourth Rate, 2-decker) built at Kittery.
1775: Benedict Arnold’s army passed up the Kennebec River to attack the British at Quebec, buying a fleet of bateaux (220 of them) from boatbuilder Reuben Colburn at Pittston.
1777: John Paul Jones’s Ranger (a corvette) built at Kittery.
1779: The amphibious Penobscot Expedition, the largest of the Revolution, was assembled to attack the British fort at Castine, but failed. All the Patriots’ vessels – about 39 – were sunk, captured, or destroyed by their crews to avoid capture. One of these wrecks – Defense – was investigated by archaeologists in the 1970s.
1800: First government shipyard set up at Kittery by Navy, called Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
1813: Brig USS Enterprize captured HMS Boxer in a fierce engagement in which both commanding officers were killed, near the mouth of the Kennebec River.
1816: Hodgdon family began building boats in Boothbay area.
1820: Maine became a state.
1831: Waterville became the first successful steamer on the Kennebec River.
1833: In this year (the first year state-by-state statistics were published), Maine built more ships than any other state. This was true nearly every year following until 1894.
1841: Ship Rappahannock launched at Bath, at the time of her launch the largest merchant vessel yet built in the U.S., perhaps in the world.
1844: Amphitrite first steamer on Moosehead Lake for the lumber industry.
1850-1856: Approximately 89 vessels were built in Maine which were reputed to be clippers.
1851: Clipper ship Snow Squall built at South Portland. She became the last American clipper ship whose hull can still be seen – a piece of her bow is now at Maine Maritime Museum; she holds a New York to Rio de Janeiro round trip record of 53 days.
1851: Clipper ship Nightingale built at Kittery. She had a long and unusual career, and record passages of 72 days from Portsmouth, England, to Anjier, and 90 days Shanghai to London.
1853: Clipper ship Red Jacket built at Rockland. She holds the record passage, New York to Liverpool, of 13 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes; also made two single day runs over 400 miles.
1853: Clipper ship Flying Scud built at Damariscotta. She had a claimed day’s run of 449 miles, and a record run of 19 days 20 hours from New York to Marseilles
1856: This year, Bath was the fourth-largest port in the U.S. in terms of tonnage of vessels registered, enrolled and licensed there. Waldoboro was the seventh-largest, this year.
1857: Financial panic swept the country, many shipyards closed.
1861-1865: More than 100 Maine-built or Maine-owned vessels were captured by Confederate cruisers during the Civil War. Several coastal forts, including Gorges (Portland), Popham (Phippsburg), and Knox (Prospect) were built during the War.
1862: Screw Sloop-of-war U.S.S. Kearsarge built at Kittery. She sank the C.S.S. Alabama during the Civil War.
1870: First use of steam vessel in American fisheries, in Boothbay-region menhaden fishery.
1874: Ocean King, four-masted bark, built at Kennebunk.
1879: Steam bark Mary & Helen built at Bath; she was the first steam whaler built in the U.S.
1880: Four-mast schooner William L. White built at Bath, the first four-mast schooner built on the East Coast.
1884: Ship Henry B. Hyde built at Bath, a type called a Down Easter, she is considered the finest American full-rigged ship of the post-clipper era.
1884: Bradford C. French, the largest three-mast schooner, built at Kennebunk.
1885: Steam mackerel seiner Novelty built at Kennebunkport, the first steam vessel in the New England offshore fisheries.
1885: North Haven dinghies were first raced (they are now the nation’s oldest active racing class).
1888: Five-mast schooner Gov. Ames built at Waldoboro, the first five-mast schooner built on the East Coast.
1888: The North Haven Dinghy emerged as a racing class.
1890: Bath Iron Works became Maine’s first steel shipyard.
1890: First use of steam-powered well smack in lobster fishery.
1892: Four-mast bark Roanoke built at Bath, the largest wooden square-rigger ever used in the U.S.
1892: Four-mast jackass bark Olympic built at Bath, the only vessel of this rig built in the U.S.
1893: Ship Aryan built at Phippsburg, the last wooden full-rigged ship built.
1893: Bath Iron Works delivered the first steel gunboats to the U.S. Navy.
1894: Arthur Sewall & Co. became the only 19th-century Maine shipyard to switch from building wooden vessels to building steel ones. Between this date and 1903, they built the nation’s only fleet of steel sailing vessels.
1894: Four-mast bark Dirigo built at Bath, the first steel sailing vessel built in U.S.
1896: Percy & Small set up a shipyard in Bath to build large wooden schooners. The buildings still stand as part of Maine Maritime Museum. This historic site is now the only intact shipyard in the country which built large wooden sailing vessels.
1896: Bath Iron Works built the only steel ram, Katahdin, built for the U.S. Navy.
1898: The battleship Maine blew up at Havana, Cuba. She was built at New York, but several Maine men were in her crew.
1898: Steam freighter Winifred built at Bath, the first steel tramp steamer built in the U.S.
1898: Passenger steamer Portland lost in gale with all hands and all passengers.
1899: Naval training ship Chesapeake built at Bath, the last steel full-rigged ship built in the U.S.
1900: Six-mast schooner George W. Wells built at Camden, the first six-mast schooner built on the East Coast.
1903: Five-mast schooner Kineo built at Bath, the only steel five-mast schooner built.
1905: Steam schooner Roosevelt built at Verona Island for Commander Robert Peary’s arctic explorations.
1909: Six-mast schooner Wyoming built at Bath, the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built in U.S., and the last six-mast schooner built.
1913: Single Customs District created for Maine and New Hampshire.
1914: Bath Iron Works built Moosehead Lake steamer Katahdin.
1914: Northeast Harbor A-Boats (17-footers) were first raced, off Mt. Desert Island.
1919-1940: 90 yachts built by Hodgdon Bros. of East Boothbay.
1921: Schooner Bowdoin built at East Boothbay for Donald B. MacMillan’s arctic explorations.
1924: Harvey F. Gamage began building, South Bristol.
1925: Bath Iron Works went bankrupt and closed.
1926: Rice Brothers of East Boothbay started building steel yachts.
1927: Bath Iron Works Corporation organized and shipyard re-opened.
1930: J.P. Morgan’s turbo-electric yacht Corsair IV built at Bath, the largest yacht built in the U.S.
1931: Diesel yacht Aras built at Bath, later became Presidential yacht U.S.S. Williamsburg.
1932: Hinckley boat yard founded at Manset.
1937: Harold Vanderbilt’s J-Class sloop Ranger built at Bath; America’s Cup Defender (successful, of course).
1939: Submarine U.S.S. Squalus sank off Kittery.
1941: Maine Maritime Academy established at Castine, for training merchant sea officers.
1941-1945: During World War II, Bath Iron Works delivered more destroyers than any other U.S. shipyard, and more than the shipyards of Japan and Germany. At the peak of production, BIW was building on eight ways and launching a destroyer every 17 days.
1941-1945: During World War II, Maine shipyards built 1,358 vessels for the U.S. government, ranging from work boats and lifeboats to submarines, destroyers and Liberty ships. 404 were made of steel, 954 of wood.
1942: Destroyer O’Bannon (DD-450) built at Bath, saw more action than any other U.S. destroyer in World War II.
1944: U.S.S. Laffey (Destroyer, DD724) built at Bath, “The Ship That Would Not Die,” hit by five Kamikaze planes and three bombs in one battle near the end of World War II, but stayed afloat and was repaired.
1944: U.S.S. Maddox (Destroyer, DD731), 1944, fought in World War II, the Korean war and the Vietnam war; was involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incidents that escalated the Vietnam conflict in 1964.
1950s: Webbers Cove Boat Yard in Southwest Harbor became the first in Maine to build fiberglass boats.
1950s: Goudy & Stevens of East Boothbay started building steel vessels.
1953: U.S.S. Albacore, experimental submarine, built at Kittery.
1960: Friendship Sloop Society founded.
1960s: Webbers Cove Boat Yard in Southwest Harbor became the first in Maine to build fiberglass lobsterboats.
1963: Schooner yacht America built by Goudy & Stevens of East Boothbay for Schaefer Brewing Co.
1969: Jarvis Newman built a 25-foot Friendship sloop of fiberglass.
1969: Paul Luke began building aluminum yachts in his East Boothbay yard.
1973: Bath Iron Works modernized with addition of assembly building and 400-foot, 220-ton level-luffing crane, the largest crane in the Western Hemisphere at the time it was built.
1974: WoodenBoat magazine was founded in Brooksville, Maine.
1987: Bath Iron Works delivered the first of a series of Aegis missile cruisers to the U.S. Navy.
1991: Bath Iron Works delivered U.S.S. Arleigh Burke to the Navy, first of the Arleigh Burke Class of Aegis destroyers.
2001: U.S.S. Mason (Destroyer, DDG-87) was launched at Bath Iron Works, the last vessel to be slid into the water from inclined ways.
2001: Bath Iron Works constructed its Land-Level Transfer Facility, beginning to build its vessels on an even keel and launch them with a floating dry dock, rather than down inclined ways.
2003: Ketch yacht Scheherazade, 154 feet long, built by Hodgdon Yachts of East Boothbay.
2003: U.S.S. Chafee (Destroyer, DDG-90) became the first vessel built on the Bath Iron Works Land-Level Transfer Facility.
2007: U.S.S. Chafee (Destroyer, DDG-90) shelled al Qaeda operatives on the coast of Somalia.
Maine Shipbuilding and Boatbuilding History
In the Beginning – Virginia
Virginia of Sagadahock was described by historian William Strachey in 1612 as “a pretty pinnace of about some 30 tonnes.” Built by shipwright Digby from London at the short-lived Popham colony (at what is now Popham Beach in Phippsburg, at the mouth of the Kennebec River) in 1607-1608, this little vessel was the first ocean-going vessel built by the English on the North American mainland. She is certainly the first ship built in Maine by anyone, and can be thought of as the beginning of the industry that would launch 20,000 ships within the state of Maine. Virginia made at least two documented Atlantic crossings, and was later used to support activities at the Jamestown colony in Virginia.
Maine shipbuilding got off to an irregular start, with the first century and a half of settlement often interrupted by wars with the French and the Indians. Early Maine shipbuilding was concentrated on the southern coast, in Kittery, York, Wells, and Falmouth, with some vessels being built as far east as Pemaquid. However, many parts of the state were building ships by the time of the Revolution, both for local ownership and under contract for shipowners from other places. These vessels included warships, cargo ships, and fishing vessels.
By the time national records of the industry were being kept in the 1830s, Maine was building more ships each year than any other state. This continued to be true until the mid-1890s, when steel ships became dominant. Maine continued to dominate the wooden shipbuilding industry until it disappeared after the first World War, and every coastal and tidal river community in the state built at least some wooden ships when they were state-of-the-art technology.
Maine’s dominance in the shipbuilding industry came about for three reasons: in the beginning, the presence of large forests of shipbuilding timber; Maine’s 3,000 miles of tidal coastline, much of which is suitable for building vessels and launching them into deep water; and a large workforce (built up over the years) of people highly skilled in all the trades needed to construct some of the largest wooden vessels ever built.
Of the ships, barks and barkentines built in the U.S. between 1870 and 1899, Maine built 70%. Of vessels built on the East Coast, Maine built half of the three-mast schooners, 71% of the four-mast schooners, 95% of the five-mast schooners, and 90% of the six-mast schooners.
Wooden shipbuilding continues in Maine. Decent timber is hard to get, but a small group of skilled shipwrights is still active. When the State of Virginia wanted replica ships to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of their Jamestown settlement, they hired Maine shipyards to build two of them.
Where are they now?
Collision, fire, stranding, foundering, and abandonment due to imminent sinking are all in the catalog of vessel casualties. Wartime brought other dangers. It was unusual for a wooden vessel to survive more than 15 or 20 years before succumbing to one of these disasters. Occasionally, a wooden ship would become so old that it was dragged into a back cove and “retired” to rot away on the mud flats.
Sometimes information about the loss of a ship can be used to identify the remains of an underwater wreck. In recent years a number of Maine vessels have been found among the wrecks in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Maine.
19th Century Boatbuilding
Boatbuilding has been going on in Maine even longer than shipbuilding, going back perhaps thousands of years. Boats are not as well documented as ships, not being as expensive to build, but there were many more of them. Used for fishing, transportation, and pleasure, boats were also carried aboard large ships as life boats or working craft.
Wooden boatbuilders experimented in the 19th century with mass production, and some boatshops were able to produce a large round-bottomed boat in a week or less.
The best boats are designed and built for local conditions. Still, many Maine boat types have acquired world-wide renown. The peapod and the Friendship sloop are classic examples of the perfect blend of beauty, performance, and safety desired by practical people who spend their lives on the water.
Maine started building steel ships with Bath Iron Works’ first shipbuilding contract in 1890. Other steel shipyards have existed at Bath, Kittery, South Portland, Woolwich, and East Boothbay.
Bath Iron Works’ shipyard has been in continuous operation since 1890, except for a bankruptcy hiatus in 1926, and has built nearly every type of vessel. They have been a source of jobs for generations of Mainers, and it is not unusual for local families to have several members working there at once, and for present workers at “the Yard” to have grandparents who also worked there. Bath Iron Works is one of the largest private employers in the state of Maine; about 6,000 people worked there in 2006. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has had a similar affect in the Kittery area.
In the 20th century, Maine shipyards became nationally important during World Wars. During those wars, many thousands of workers were hired to build ships, and women obtained jobs in the shipyard construction trades for the first time. During World War II, Maine yards built 1,358 ships and boats for the Navy, Army, and Maritime Commission. Three yards built 404 steel vessels, including 234 Liberty Ships, 64 destroyers, and 71 submarines.
Maine-built warships continue to have an effect on the modern world. Bath-built vessels have had significant roles in conflict in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and the coast of Africa. They also appear in films on naval subjects, like The Hunt for Red October. Since 1984, Bath Iron Works has built exclusively for the Navy.
Every coastal Maine community has built boats, and most inland communities on rivers or lakes. The vast growth of the pleasure boat industry and the continued importance of the commercial and sport fisheries have kept the Maine boatbuilding industry vital.
In Maine, boats were built exclusively of wood until the mid-20th century. It was not until the 1950s that a Maine boatyard started building in fiberglass. Boatbuilding traditions are strong here, and Maine remains one of the few states where wooden boatbuilding continues as an industry, kept alive by a demand for beautiful wooden pleasure boats. Still, timber is hard to find and the advantages of modern materials are obvious (strength, low maintenance, demand), and nearly all of the wooden lobsterboat builders have closed their doors or switched to fiberglass or composites.
The Switch to Composites
In the 1950s, the Webbers Cove Boat Yard became the first in Maine to build in fiberglass. Since then, many Maine builders have built in fiberglass, aluminum, and other materials. Even wooden yards frequently use plywood, cold-molded, WEST-system, or some other type of glued or laminated wood construction. In the last 20 years it has become usual to speak of building boats with composite materials. Technically speaking, plywood and fiberglass are composite materials, composed of a matrix (resin or glue) and a reinforcement material, but the term now usually refers to a synthetic or carbon fiber material.
There are probably about 200 firms in Maine which build boats, although many are very small (fewer than five employees) and many receive most of their income from other activities, like running a marina or storing boats. Boats are built for the fisheries, and for pleasure use. Luxury yachts are currently a growing part of the industry, with buyers from Europe and Asia coming to Maine yards to commission multi-million dollar boats. Builders are coordinating their marketing efforts with private organizations like Maine Built Boats and the Maine Marine Trades Association, and the State of Maine has helped with international marketing.