William H. Todd joined the primary Erie Basin shipbuilding operators, the John N. Robins Company, in 1895 as the boilermaker. Todd’s diligence and business prowess landed him in the president’s seat of the company on December 31, 1909.
With the help of loyal supporters, Todd purchased the Erie Basin yard from Thomas Clyde family, the owners of Robins Dry Dock & Repair Company, to keep the yard from traveling into the hands of the British suitors. Todd intended to expand his newly formed William H. Todd Corporation, and in 1916 the corporation gained two more yards. Todd took a strategic step with the incorporation of Erie Basin’s biggest competitor in the New York Harbor: Tietjen & Lang Dry Dock Company. The other addition was on the western coast, a strong iron and steel shipbuilding-company, Seattle Construction & Dry Dock Company. This new corporation would grow and merge many more yards at each American coast and even yards abroad. These yards were located in Washington, California, Texas, Alabama, Maine, Louisiana, London and many other water-driven industrial locations.
Todd Corporation has experienced much success over the years. However, being in the shipbuilding industries many of its yards have encountered the ebb and flow of maritime and naval demands. The war times always brought much action to Todd Shipyards usually calling for expansion. This expansion and incorporation of new yards somewhat decreased the family aura that William H. Todd encouraged and worked so hard to maintain. In flourishing years Todd Corporation put out publications about the shipyard including the magazine The Keel which, between 1918 and 1944, was in print for over twelve years. The Todd Daily Maritime and The Bridge are other such publications that Todd distributed over the years and that during the bad times Todd abandoned to cut costs. In the early years, there were many celebrations embracing the whole “family” with parades and social events to honor long-time employees among other celebrations.
William H. Todd died in 1932, leaving behind a strong company in financial strain due to the stock market crash. The company did not go under after the crash; though the Depression was one of the most trying times in the company’s history, Todd was rescued by repair work and eventually massive orders on the onset of the Second World War. Between December 7, 1941, and August 31, 1945, Todd yards were busy with building, converting, or repairing ships: 23,450 ships were handled among the five shipyards and five repair yards. Of the many ships that saw the docks of Todd, there were large and small and over forty military and commercial types. The most impressive statistic was the aggregate tonnage, measured at 117,500,000. John D. Reilly followed William H. Todd, after his death, as a second president. During Reilly’s term, the corporation grew and flourished immensely. In the mid-1940s there were in-plant schools established to train and instruct the inexperienced employees. The corporation experienced diversification into non-shipbuilding industries including examples such as Todd Insecticidal Fog Applicator (TIFA).
Further diversification took place under the third president Joseph Haag, Jr. who came into the head office in 1953. Haag’s term saw a peacetime lull in shipbuilding. Yards, starving for work, looked into other building projects to keep up revenue. An upswing in Todd ship repair resulted from the Navy’s policy of assigning work to private yards. Conversations and repair became the main business in the ’50s. At the end of the decade, 1958, John T. Gilbride became the fourth president of Todd Corporation. Todd celebrated its 50th anniversary on February 17, 1966, in the middle of a decade where Todd was making contributions to the space program along with continuing the thriving conversation and repair business. During peacetime, the government was a crucial component with maritime and naval repairs and with governmental orders such as the Merchant-Marine Act of 1970 and the Patrol Flight program in 1972. However, in 1975 Todd Corporation saw some of the hardest times since the Depression. These dire straits were mainly contributed to inflation in addition to bad luck in its diversification investments. In that same year Arthur W. Stout, Jr. was named president. With refinancing, the corporation was set back on its feet. Today Stephen G Welch, president and CEO, presides over Todd Shipbuilding Corporation as it continues to strive on in a narrowing industry.
Todd Brooklyn Division
This shipyard includes the yard that started it all. The first of Todd shipyards that William H. Todd, founder of Todd Corporation, put his hard work into was then known as the John N. Robins Company. The name was changed to Robins Dry Dock & Repair Company, by which it was known until 1943 when the yard’s name was again changed to Erin Basin Dry Dock Company to reveal the yard’s location in the New York Harbor. Many yards have made up the Brooklyn Division over the years at many New York locations. The main root of this division is Robins Dry Dock & Repair Company that came under Todd control in 1916. The Erie Basin Towing and Hoisting Company was established as a Todd subsidiary also in 1916. “Satellite plants” such as Tebo Yacht Basin Company, White Fuel Oil Engineering Company, Clinton Dry Docks Incorporated, and Quintard Iron Works Plant all came under one name in 1925: Todd Dry Dock Engineering & Repair Company of Brooklyn, NY. This company along with Erie Basin Towing joined with Robins in 1934. It was not until 1944 that the title Brooklyn Division befell the Robins Company when the yard merged into the parent firm, Todd Shipyards Corporation.
Over the years and among the various yards, many ships were built and many repaired. Slowly the family atmosphere that William H. Todd established faded as the industry’s demand grew. There still lived a community feel in the establishment of workshops and in-plant schools as well as in the presence of women workers (starting in the 1940’s). Some of the most memorable prosperity of Todd was seen in the early 1940s. In 1943 the Maritime Commission presented an “M” to the Brooklyn’s Erie Basin yard for outstanding repair and construction. In the late 1930s, the average amount of employees was 2000; however, in 1943 the number of employees peaked at 19,617. An example in construction of this boom was the manufacturing at the Erie Basin yard of 24 of the 350 LCI’s (Landing Craft, Infantry) commissioned to Todd by the Navy. This building project was one of the most important Todd contributions to the second world war and possibly one of the most exciting, for these were some of the most closely guarded secret weapons of the Navy at this time. Another statistic revealing Brooklyn’s success in wartime was the 3000 ships and 30.5 million tons handled. One more noteworthy fact about the Brooklyn yard was that in 1944 it hosted the world’s second largest ship of the time; unfortunately, the repair of this ship, USS Lafayette, was unsuccessful due to the impossibility of its restoration and it ended up in the New Jersey scrap yard. After the wartime high had fallen, Todd turned to alternative building projects at many of its yards. One notable development at Brooklyn was a jet turbine test stand for the Air Research and Development Command.
Later in the 1950s and on the next decade conversion by jumboizing became the main aspect of the reconstruction business. Todd also adopted an assembly line of ship repair where the yards teamed-up to complete a project using a technique, referred to as a “forward pass”, in 1954 Brooklyn converted the big war-built C-4 cargo ship Marine Star to the Great Lakes passenger and auto carrier Aquarama. Since the ship could be converted up to only fifty-six feet above the waterline in order for it to pass under the bridges on the way to its final destination, the unfinished ship was towed to the Todd New Orleans Division to complete the conversion. Fortunately for Todd the Navy recommenced assigning repair work to private yards, and the orders helped to bring an upswing in repair business in 1954. In this year the Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service procured Brooklyn’s services for the alteration of two standard motor freighters, USNS Short Splice and Col. Wm. J. O’Brien, to heavy lift-vessel for hoisting and stowing 47-foot, 70-long-ton locomotives. Conversion and repair remained the biggest money-maker in the industry in the late 1950s and early 1960s while jumbo-containership was practically the sole business in Todd yards in the mid to late 1960s.
An example of this type of conversion was the contract Todd had with United States Lines and the Maritime Subsidy Board in 1969. Brooklyn worked on one of the three Mariner-type vessels to jumboize and containerize the ship Pioneer Ming. Also in the late sixties, the Vietnam War delivered government-requested, both maritime and naval, repair work to Brooklyn. Specifically, the Erie Basin yard handled former Reserve Fleet freighters returning from the Far East. Into the 1970’s Brooklyn handled more advanced projects. In 1972 the Brooklyn yard repaired the ultramodern integrated tank barge-tug unit consisting of the I.O.S 3301 and its power source Martha R. Ingram. Brooklyn’s career into the 1980 and beyond followed the same fate as all shipyards seen in the past with prosperity seen in wartime and a lull in production during the peacetime years.