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San Francisco Bay 1800s.

New Hampshire

Because of the vast forests in America at the time of its settlement by Europeans fleeing various injustices in their homelands and because the early colonies were established close to the sea for many reasons, shipbuilding early became a profitable trade. This can be said of many towns up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Map of Portsmouth. 1877.

Portsmouth became the capital of the colony of New Hampshire in 1679. Surrounded by forests of oak and white pine and at the edge of one of the world's deepest harbors, Portsmouth early became a center of shipbuilding and trading. The town thrived on its agriculture and fishing businesses and the fast growing mast-building industry. 

Shipbuilding boomed as the colonies moved toward the Revolutionary War. During the conflict, Portsmouth's shipyards produced three ships the America, the Raleigh, and the Ranger along with numerous privateers. 

Following the war, many new wharves and shipyards were built along Portsmouth Harbor. In 1800 a government yard was added, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, to build and repair warships. In the meantime, commercial trade was brisk, as Portsmouth formed one of the points in the New England-West Indies-Great Britain triangle. Rum, molasses, sugar, and cocoa from the West Indies were shipped to Portsmouth and stored in its warehouses. Some of the goods were shipped on to England, along with cargoes of New Hampshire lumber. 

Portsmouth's merchant fleet also sailed south to the Indies, laden with lumber, oil, and livestock. Coal from England was distributed inland from Portsmouth warehouses, completing the trade triangle. Merchant mariners of Portsmouth lived profitably from the trade and were able to build large manors. The New Hampshire Gazette began publishing weekly in 1756.

Frank Jones' Brewery and Malt Houses.

Portsmouth's fortunes declined in 1808 when Concord was named the state capital. Its fortunes suffered further with the invention of steamships and the growing popularity of the Massachusetts ports.

After the Civil War, Portsmouth became known for its breweries and shoe factories. The city was wired for electric lights in 1870 and free postal delivery began there in 1887. The construction of the Little Bay-Dover bridge in 1874 undermined the usefulness of the Piscataqua River as an avenue to inland communities.

May 1, 1906, Tuesday, Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The Government Wins

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Navy Yard.

Building naval ships in private yards becomes every day more unsatisfactory. The conditions under unhich they are constructed makes them far more costly than they should be and and vexatious delays are invariable.

In this connection, Collier's Weekly makes the following pertinent observations: "The results of the race between the builders of the battleships Connecticut and Louisiana abundantly vindicates the policy of building at least part of our new warships in the navy yards. These two vessels are exact duplicates.

On April 2 the Connecticut, built at the New York navy yard, had advanced to 97.11 per cent, of completion, and the Louisiana, at the yards of the Newport News Shipbuilding Company contract for a ship, to 97.92 per cent. The difference was only .81 of one per cent, or about one week's work, although the Connecticut had begun two months later than the Louisiana, and the men had worked only eight hours a day upon her instead of nine. The cost of the Connecticut was a trifle higher, owing to the better wages paid by the government, but, of course, if the government thinks it a wise policy to pay good wages, it can not logically grumble about the cost. But the essential point was that under the stimulus of government competition the builders of the Louisiana broke their own and all other private records in warship construction."


It will be seen that the government workmen have actually cwon the race. While the builders of the Louisiana have been straining every effort to establish a record, the men at the New York navy yard have surmounted numerous obstacles and have to all intents and purposes beaten the private corporation when it was particularly desirous of making a good showing.

Collier's decides that, in vow of numerous handicaps, the government shipbuilder "have won a decided victory", and goes on to say that "not only have they come out neck and neck with the builders of the Louisiana after starting two months behind, working their men only eight-ninths the number of hours and giving all legal holidays, but they "have been hampered by long delays in the delivery of material. Moreover, they have had to depend on Congress for appropriations to keep the work going, and now the money for the finishing touches is held up."

The cost of the Connecticut may be at this time apparently slightly more than that of theLouisiana, but by the time necessary changes havo been made the latter ship will almost certainly be the more expensive of the two. Another thing to be considered Is that by paying better wages and allowing shorter hours the government can hire more capable men. This will result in a better constructed ship and a material reduction in the cost of repairs.

To quote again from Colliers, "the Missouri, nearly four thousand tons smaller than theLouisiana, and built by the same establishment, did not have her first commission until over to years after her contract date of completion. The Virginia, also built by the same establishment, and over a thousand tons smaller than the Louisiana, was likewise nearly two years behind her stipulated period. The Louisiana was almost ready in the contract time. That was a thing unheard of to private yard construction for the navy until the New York navy yard made it worth while to show that the thing could be done.

Before that time it was the custom of the private builders to keep their government work for slack times when they had nothing else on hand for their men to do, with the result that there are torpedo boats now under construction whose contract times of completion expired seven years ago. The Connecticut and Louisiana are the only vessels in the new navy that have been substantially finished on time.

Portsmouth's Heyday in Shipbuilding. Gertrude M. Pickett.

That government work has always been neglected by the shipbuilding companies is a fact too well established to be disputed. So long as these companies are sure of all the government work they can conveniently do it will be neglected. If the policy of building naval ships at navy yards should be abandoned before it is fairly adopted there would be an immediate return to original conditions.

Admitting for the sake of argument that it will be necessary to build some warships by contract, there is all the more reason for government competition.

New Hampshire. 1855. J.H. Colton, Mapmaker

New Hampshire map. 1855. Colton.By it, the private builders will be spurred to unusual effort and the navy will reap the benefit. The cases of the Connecticut and the Louisiana prove that the government wins by building all of its own ships that it possibly can. It wins at every stage of the game, because it is bound to get better service from the shipbuilding companies when a contract for a ship is let than it ever will as long as the private yards get practically all of the work.

Ships continue to sail into Portsmouth, now an official port of entry and foreign trade zone. Modern cargoes consist of oil, gas, salt, limestone, and other products, with petroleum products comprising 90 percent of the cargoes. Much of the waterfront is now devoted to parks and gardens.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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