The Moore Dry Dock Company

10 Mar

The Moore Shipbuilding Company, circa 1918.

The Tryon was built by Moore Dry Dock Company.  This company, or some form of it, had operated for many years near the entrance of the Oakland Inner Harbor.  Started as the Moore and Scott Iron Works in 1905 by brothers Joseph and Robert Moore and their business associate John Scott, the company had existed only a short while before the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 caused it to be totally destroyed by fire.(1)

Undeterred, the trio rebuilt immediately on the inner harbor, at the foot of Adeline Street, and found ample work in the rebuilding of San Francisco’s buildings and infrastructure.  They soon outgrew their original site and purchased Boole and Sons Shipyard, at the foot of Union Street, in 1909.  They also found steady work building and repairing tankers, ferryboats and dredges, launching their first vessel, the oil tanker Coalinga, in 1910.

1899 view of Oakland and the Inner Harbor.

Business remained brisk, and in 1917 Robert Moore bought out John Scott’s interest in the company and changed the name to Moore Shipbuilding.  The name was changed again, to Moore Dry Dock, in 1922.  The company won contracts from the US Shipping Board (predecessor to the US Maritime Commission) for cargo ships intended for the WW I war effort, but none were finished in time to be used as intended during the war.  During this period the workforce swelled to 12,000 men.  On one day in 1919, three tankers and three freighters were launched in one tide, setting a world record.(2)

After WW I the demand for new ships declined (as discussed in an earlier post) but the company shifted it’s focus to the repair of ships in dry dock and production of structural steel for building and bridge construction.  In spite of the trying economic times during the 1930s, Moore Dry Dock remained both busy and profitable.  Among numerous projects that allowed the company to stay viable during this period were the fabrication of steel for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as structural elements for the Paramount Theater and the cyclotron at UC Berkeley.  During this time the work force at Moore Dry Dock averaged about 2,000 workers.

We’ve already seen that hard economic times cause the closure of many, if not most, of the shipyards across the country, but Moore Dry Dock’s ability to be flexible during tough times allowed them to be one of the few operational shipyards available for expansion under the Merchant Marine Act of 1936.  They were awarded matching $9 million grants from the US Maritime Commission and the US. Navy, which they used to upgrade and modernize production facilities, as well as increase the yard’s size to three slipways.  A fourth way was added in 1941 and war production ramped up.

The first cargo ship built by Moore Dry Dock under contract through the U.S. Maritime Commission (MARCOM) was the Sea Sparrow, laid down on March 18, 1939, and delivered to the Navy on July 8, 1940 as the USS Tangier.  Moore DD went on to build 107 ships during the war period.  In addition, it was one of the primary repair facilities on the west coast.  At it’s peak in 1943 Moore Dry Dock employed over 37,000 people, many of them women and African Americans, working shifts around the clock.

The SS Mormacsun, later the USS Florence Nightengale, one of the few Navy ships ever named after a woman, awaits lauching, August 28, 1940.

To the modern mind the hiring of women and African Americans appears forward thinking of the company, but in actual fact it was based on availability.  With so many men away at war, Moore DD used what labor was available to them, and didn’t always treat all workers with equality.  A very interesting glimpse into what it was like to work at Moore Dry Dock was given by Lois Lettow:

“Because I had 2 children, I could not enlist in one of the services, so decided to work in a defense industry.  The moor Dry Dock Company was located on the Oakland estuary, so I applied there and was accepted for training as a sheet metal helper in April of 1843.  I worked there until September of 1945.

“My first day of work I thought would be my last.  I was assigned to the Sheet Metal Shop on the Outfitting Dock.  My job was to use a 3G hydraulically operated grinder which was used to grind rough edged of the flanges for connecting lengths of ventilation ducts, which were install throughout the ships’ cargo holds.  The flanges were low enough to require bending down.  I had never been so tired and achy.

“On my second day, one of the men told me that the foreman did not approve of women working in the shipyard, and that was his method of trying to discourage us.  Needless to say, may aches and pains were forgotten,and after the third day, the foreman relented and assigned me to other tasks . . .

“Thinking about hulls and outfitting docks reminds me that until I worked in the shipyard, I had assumed that when ships were launched they sailed away completely built.  There I learned that on the ways, only the hull, deck and bulkheads are put together.  After launching, the hulls are towed to the outfitting docks for completion.”(3)

The War Hawk about to be launched at Moore Dry Dock, April 3, 1943.

Starting with the Sea Sparrow, and ending war-time production with the Carrier Pigeon (delivered on June 30, 1945), Moore Dry Dock produced a total of 105 ships.  Of these ships, four were Type C-3 cargo ships, three were C2-S1-A1 (Tryon Class) evacuation transports, seventy six were C2-S-B1 cargo ships, eight were dock landing ships (Ashland Class LSD’s).  The remaining fourteen were a variety of tenders and salvage ships constructed for the Navy.(4)

View of Moore Dry Dock, August 6, 1941. I would love to find a higher resolution copy of this photo - among the ships labelled are "Hull 201", the Tryon, "Hull 202", the Pinkney, and the Tangier, Moore DD's first ship constructed under US Maritime Commission contract. This photo also shows an outline of the Moore shipyard boundaries.

The end of World War II marked the end of cargo ship production by the Moore Dry Dock Company.  After the war the yard liquidated much of it’s infrastructure to repay war loans, but continued in operation primarily as a ship repair facility.  The decline in US merchant shipping led to the closing of the company in 1961.  The site that once was the home of Moore Dry Dock now is the location of Schnitzer Steel company.  Sharing a portion of the old shipyard is the Port of Oakland, one of the busiest container ports in the world.

2 Responses to “The Moore Dry Dock Company”

  1. T. Klimek April 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    A great account of the Ship and her crew. I have a bracelet with name and ID number of Ken Moffett who I believe passed away in San Diego in the past decade, any contact info? I’d like to return this item to his family.

    • rememberthetitans April 24, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

      Hi Tom –

      Thanks for your kind words. I haven’t written about the Tryon for a while, and have much more to add – I need to get back to work!! I’m sorry that I don’t have connections or contact info on any of the Tryon crew. I wish I could help you out!

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