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Chesapeake Bay -
Our History and Our Future
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Shipbuilding on the Chesapeake

The years immediately preceding World War I saw a boom in shipbuilding on the Chesapeake Bay. In the summer of 1914, approximately twelve merchant ships were under construction throughout the nation. By the fall of 1915, over 150 contracts had been made for merchant ship construction. Approximately 2, 300 merchant ships were built throughout the nation during World War I under the Shipping Board's emergency programs.

Major shipyards on the Chesapeake Bay were located in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and Newport News and Portsmouth, Virginia. In addition, smaller shipyards popped up throughout the region to help meet the demand for ship construction and repairs - a demand created by the greater need for transportation of men and goods and by German submarine attacks on shipping.

Destroyer Hopewell
Destroyer Hopewell
The Newport News Shipyard, located on the James River in the southernmost part of the Chesapeake Bay, was one of the largest in the nation. Once the United States entered the war, the navy ordered Newport News Shipyard to focus on naval ship construction over the building of merchant ships. Between 1914 and 1920, this shipyard alone delivered:
        13 cargo ships
        4 lumber carriers and colliers
        20 tankers
        3 battleships
        25 destroyers
        2 coast guard cutters
        1 ship conversion (the passenger ship Carolina was "remodeled" with a
                different engine and propeller system.)

As the numbers of employees increased, so did the need for housing in the towns supporting the shipbuilding industry. In Newport News, the labor force increase from 7, 600 workers at the beginning of the war, to over 10, 000 within a year; before the war was over, this number had increased to more than 12, 000. Housing demands surpassed available homes, and some workers were forced to sleep in tents; even the president of the Newport News Shipyard opened his house up for boarders. In response, Newport News became the site of the first United States government housing project, called Hilton Village.

Hilton Village, Newport News, Virginia, 1918   Independence Day, 1918   Hilton Village, Newport News, Virginia, 1918
Hilton Village, Newport News, Virginia, 1918   Independence Day, 1918   Hilton Village, Newport News, Virginia, 1918

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