August 26, 1870


The shipbuilding industry is declining in the U.S. due to the lack of shipbuilders, as many have switched occupations or no longer take apprentices. The lack of cheap manual labor and materials also makes foreign built ships cheaper and more desirable, causing American companies to not be able to compete.


There is n great dearth of occupation in ship-building at the North, and the national interests are so seriously affected by it. Complaint is general and wide-spread amongst northern people. There is no shipbuilding going on, and if we want ships we will have to buy them from foreign countries. The New York Times states that one steam craft to carry market produce on the North river is the only craft in the hands of New York ship-builders. The Times takes a sad view of the state of this branch of industry, and gravely asks "Is .ship-build-ing to become a lost art ? " It is alarming to observe how useless have become the ship-yards, and still more to learn how the skilled mechanical ship-build-ers have changed their occupations and entered upon modes of life from which it will be difficult to withdraw them, even if a fortunate turn in affairs should make shipbuilding a profitable business. Besides this there are no young mechanics educated in this pursuit, because there have been no apprentices to it for some years. "When the business is resumed, therefore, mechanics will have to be imported. But the Times, with earnestness, deplores the loss of the American ship-builder on the score of his skill and energy. Large numbers of them have emigrated to the West and embarked in agriculture ; others have found occupations in which their skill was useful. The cause of this decline in ship-building is the cheapness of labor in England, with whose shipwrights ours cannot compete. The cost of labor must be reduced, or the hope of the successful resumption of the business will be very slight. The Government will be asked to reduce to the lowest rate of duty, or make free, all articles employed in ship-building. With this and the reduction of prices of labor the business may be resumed. A ship-builder writing in the Times on the subject declares that "there must be a reduction generally " among our own people ; and of course "wages would then have to come down "proportionately." It is true that wages and values of all sorts were enhanced by war, the people have not yet reached the point of yielding to circumstances and reducing rates of all things until our shipwrights may compete with the British. Our intercourse with Europe is now so intimate that we are brought directly under the effect of the competition in all mechanical industry in that part of the globe. Herein lies the chief cause of the decline of ship-build-ing. Until the American builder can get labor and materials as cheap as the English builder he stands a poor chance in competition.
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Bryce Smith




“Ship-Building.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed August 8, 2022,