Nineteenth Century Industries: Shipbuilding

Shipbuilding inside hull

From the late 1700s on, shipbuilding was a vital industry on Penobscot Bay. Between 1770 and 1920, towns around the Bay built about three thousand vessels.

In early years, most were small sloopsSloop

A sailing vessel with a single fore-and-aft rigged mast.
, schoonersSchooner

A sailing vessel of two or more masts, all fore-and-aft rigged. The Thomas W. Lawson, built in 1902, had seven masts. In comparison to a square-rigged vessel of comparable tonnage, a schooner is better for coastwise sailing.
, and brigsBrig

Vessel with two masts; both square-rigged.
used for coastal trade to Boston or to the West Indies. There was little capital to build larger vessels until the 1840s. By then, Bay trades were growing well, and the demand for larger vessels also grew. Most of the clipper shipsClipper ship

Fast, narrow-hulled sailing ship with tall masts, many sails, and large crews. Built and used primarily in the mid-19th century.
of the 1850s came from southern New England and New York; fourteen were built on Penobscot Bay. Most notable was the Red JacketRed Jacket

Red Jacket was a famous Maine-built clipper, built in Rockland by George Thomas and launched in 1853. She was the largest and fastest of the Maine clippers, 251 feet long and registering 2,305 tons.
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, built in Rockland. After the Civil War, as shipping declined nationally in the face of foreign competition, Maine builders became well known for their large square-riggedSquare-rigged

The arrangement of sails in a vessel where the main driving sails are laced to yards lying square to the mast. It is the oldest type of known rig. Such a vessel is called a square rigger.
ships now called Down EastersDown Easter downeaster; down-easter

Merchant sailing ship developed in Maine in the 19th century and designed for maximum carrying capacity with minimal crew size. Used to carry bulk cargoes such as wheat. Downeasters were developed after the development of the speedier but more expensive-to-operate and less-capacious clipper.
. From the 1890s to 1920, Maine shipbuilders built large four, five, and six-masted schooners, typically used to carry coal and lumber.

Caulking mallet

Unlike some of the Bay’s other industries, shipbuilding did not require a large investment in equipment and buildings. Shipyards were easy to set up, but needed money for materials and labor. Often neighbors chipped in and were aided by one or two investors from cities such as Boston or New York. Some lime, lumber, and granite companies owned their own fleets. Captains typically owned one eighth or more of the vessel. Fishing vessels were usually owned within one or two families.

Shipbuilding required specialized skills. Most of the craftsmen were subcontracted laborers rather than full-time employees, and included loftsmenLoftsman loftsmen

A shipyard worker who lays down the ship's lines taken from plans supplied by the drawing office.
, sawyersSawyer

A person who saws wood as an occupation.
, ship's carpentersShip carpenter ship's carpenter

A petty officer, responsible to the chief officer, whose duties include the opening and battening down of hatches and cargo ports, and maintaining wooden masts, spars, and decks. A ship's carpenter can also work in a shipyard, building vessels.
, caulkersCaulk caulking, corking

To drive oakum or cotton into the seams of a vessel's deck or sides, to make it watertight. After the oakum is driven in with a caulking iron or mallet, the seam is "payed" or coated with hot pitch or other compound to prevent the oakum from rotting.
, joiners, painters, and riggersRigging

The term for all ropes, wires, or chains used in ships and smaller vessels to support the masts and yards (standing rigging) and for hoisting, lowering, or trimming sails to the wind (running rigging.) Running rigging lines move through blocks and are not wormed, parceled, or served.