Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Dry Dock Company

With a legacy in shipbuilding that began in Cleveland, Ohio, Captain Stephen Kirby started what eventually became known as the Detroit Dry Dock Company when he purchased a shipyard in Wyandotte, Michigan in 1872.

Two decades earlier, Campbell, Wolverton and Company opened a ship repair business at the foot of Orleans Street in Detroit. By 1860 the firm (known at this time as Campbell and Owen) built a dry dock that seven years later completed construction on its first steam ship. A decade later they reorganized, obtained Kirby’s Wyandotte operation, and adopted the Detroit Dry Dock Company name for the new organization.

The Dry Dock Engine Works was formed on an adjacent property across from Campbell and Owen in 1866. Between 1867 and 1894 this company produced 129 marine engines, its primary product. A young Henry Ford is said to have worked there between 1880 and 1882 as an apprentice machinist.

In 1899 the Detroit Dry Dock Company, the Dry Dock Engine Works and the Detroit Sheet Metal and Brass Works merged and evolved into the Detroit Shipbuilding Company, a subsidiary of the American Shipbuilding Company, headquartered in Cleveland. In 1900 the Detroit Shipbuilding Company became the fourth-largest Detroit employer with over 1,300 employees. The company produced many ships, including several Frank Kirby designs for the D&C line.

In the first decade of the 20th Century the Detroit Shipbuilding Company built five still-surviving structures including the foundry and an industrial loft building, thus enclosing the block where the original Dry Dock Engine Company stood.

Although shipbuilding continued at the Detroit Shipbuilding Company throughout the 1920s, business soon declined, forcing the closure of the Wyandotte yard in 1920. The final two steamers, Greater Detroit and Greater Buffalo, fitted out in 1924, proved to be the last constructed in Detroit by the American Shipbuilding Company and the business was forced to close its doors in 1929.

In 2015, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources opened its Outdoor Adventure Center, an interactive interpretive center inside the original Dry Dock complex. A bronze monument lies nearby in the William G. Milliken State Harbor and Park in remembrance of the 241-foot steamer Pioneer, a testament to the city’s place as an important North American shipbuilding center.



Ship plans prepared by the Detroit Dry Dock Company

Photo of the freighter LAKEPORT

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