|"Mrs. L.D. Reilly, Sponsor U.S.S. 'Ambridge'"|
Federal Shipbuilding Co.
May 24, 1919
courtesy Beaver County Industrial Museum
The stately ship above is the U.S.S. Ambridge at her launch on May 24, 1919. And, yes, she was named for Ambridge PA, where much of the ship was made by the plant that gave Ambridge its name, the American Bridge Co., once the largest structural steel fabricating plant in the world.
During WWI, demand for ships was greater than available shipyards. Ships could not be built as fast as they were needed, even before the U.S. entered the war in 1917.
In 1915, naval architect Chas. P. M. Jack, had a rather brilliant idea. While the Ohio River at Ambridge was too shallow for a shipyard that could construct large ocean-going ships, the American Bridge Co.'s plant there had churned out hundreds of barges over the years. Could the plant construct at least the hull for an ocean-going ship, which could be then be sent to a shipyard where the work would be completed?
So the Ambridge plant was given a contract for 12 more hulls to be constructed in 1915 and '16--eight oil tankers and five freighters, all finished by the Chester Shipbuilding Co. Later, American Bridge added new equipment, was awarded more contracts, increased its production, and was able to fabricate enough hulls for as many as four 9,000-ton ships a month. (Daily Times, May 17, 1919)
Eventually, American Bridge and other fabricating plants could produce enough ship parts that the U.S. Shipping Board's Emergency Fleet Corp. built new shipyards to keep pace with the capacity of the plants to supply them. One of the new shipyards was U.S. Steel's Federal Shipbuilding Co. in Kearney N.J.
The Ambridge was christened by Mrs. L.D. Reilly, wife of the manager of Ambridge's American Bridge plant. She's the woman in the photo below holding the Ambridge pennant, front row, second from left. Her husband also attended, as well as R. G. Manning, the plant's chief engineer, and A. J. Carpenter, shop superintendent, none of whom are identified in the photo. Perhaps Mr. Reilly is the man holding an Ambridge pennant on the far right, front row.
|"Launching Party, U.S.S. "Belfort" and "Ambridge"|
May 24, 1919
Federal Shipbuilding Company
courtesy Laughlin Memorial Library Archives
The Ambridge was not a military ship, but rather a commercial freighter. The Daily Times article about the christening gave the ship's dimensions as 400 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 35 feet deep, with a speed of 14 knots, and capable of carrying approximately 9,000 tons.
The U.S.S. Ambridge wasn't as imposing when she was at sea as she looked at her launch
|"The U.S.S. Ambridge"|
The Federal Shipbuilder
Aug. 1919 - Jan. 1922
American Bridge's work was admired enough that the issue of The Federal Shipbuilder with the above photo also included a poem, "General Philip Kearny Asks" by Fred T. Llewellyn, that included these lines:
From Gary come the boiler shells,During her career, the Ambridge carried cargo as varied as Dutch flower bulbs and $2,000,000 in gold bullion destined for a U.S. bank, sailing primarily to and from European ports, but also South Africa and Central America.
Farrell the sheet-bar tonnage makes,
And Ambridge with her quota swells
The multiple array of strakes,
I don't know how common smuggling via commercial freighters was during the period when the Ambridge was sailing, but she was caught with contraband at least twice.
In February 1927, customs authorities found 4,200 bottles of champagne, valued at $50,000, hidden in a coal bunker on the Ambridge, as well as 13 cases of narcotics. (New York Times, Feb. 17, 1927).
Then in June 1930, customs officials found smuggled champagne again, this time 3,168 bottles valued at $31,680. (New York Times, June 3, 1930)
The Ambridge was scrapped in 1935.