Moore Dry Dock and the Ship Builders of the Estuary 

The waterfront in Oakland and Alameda provided an ideal location for shipbuilders who, in turn, provided jobs for carpenters, caulkers, sailmakers, riggers, rope makers and shipsmiths. As early as the 1860s, shipwrights were building ferryboats at the Central Pacific Railroad yards in West Oakland. By 1910, estuary shipbuilders included Hay & Wright and Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp. in Alameda, and Hanlon Shipyard and Moore Dry Dock in Oakland.

Moore Dry Dock was the largest of the shipyards on the estuary. The company first moved to the foot of Adeline St. in Oakland in 1909. Work included building and repairing ships such as tankers, ferryboats and dredges. Business was good, but it was the need for ships in World War I that swelled the workforce to 12,000 men. In one day in 1919, three tankers and three freighters were launched in one tide, setting a world record.

After the war, demand for new ships declined and work shifted to the repair of ships in dry dock as well as production of structural steel for buildings and bridges. Projects included building both the Park St. and High St. bridges as well as structural elements for the Paramount Theater and the cyclotron at UC Berkeley. The work force between the world wars averaged around 2,000 workers.

World War II caused the next boom in shipbuilding. Moore Dry Dock expanded dramatically, leasing additional land and building slips, steel fabricating and machine shops, and worker housing. The workforce reached a peak of 37,000 workers employed around the clock in 1943. Workers welded literally miles of metal seams in the construction of 112 ships between 1938 and the launch of the last sea-going vessel from Moore Dry Dock in 1945. Moore Dry Dock closed in 1961.

The nature of shipping and shipbuilding has changed dramatically since 1945, and the impact has been felt on our estuary. A modern tanker can be up to thirty times the size of a World War I vessel so that fewer ships are carrying more cargo. Greatly improved navigational devices prevent many of the accidents that formerly required dry dock repair of ships. The cost of land and labor as well as environmental controls protecting the waterfront make it difficult to compete for the small amount of remaining shipbuilding business. Wars notwithstanding, it is unlikely that this industry will return to our waterfront.

From James R. Moore, The Story of Moore Dry Dock Company

Oakland Museum of California Logo  "Walk Along the Water"
  Oakland Museum of California, used with permission.