Diane E. Cooper
FROM SMALL WAYS TO BIG BUSINESS, SHIP CONSTRUCTION ON THE UNITED STATES PACIFIC COAST, 1850-1900.
(Under the direction of Professor Donald Parkerson) Department of History, May 1995.
The purpose of this study is to examine shipbuilding along the United States' Pacific Coast and determine whether or not a viable industry existed which contributed to the economic and social growth of the West Coast. It presents an historical overview of shipbuilding on the Pacific Coast between 1513, the year the first white man arrived on that coast, and 1900. The thesis reviews and examines the regional obstacles which confronted this industry-rugged Pacific Coast geography, an abundance of non-traditional and unproven ship timbers, the need for a solid population base and stable local government, and finances and economy-and the methods by which each obstacle was overcome. It identifies four major shipbuilding areas-Puget Sound, Coos Bay, Humboldt Bay, and San Francisco Bay-and compares and contrasts their development and productivity in light of the above-mentioned regional obstacles. A statistical study of a data base culled from the master carpenter's certificates presents valuable information about the ships, the builders, and the purchasing industries, and insights to the strength of the shipbuilding industry and the role which it played in the development of local economies and businesses. This study pays attention to the obvious regional bias for fore-and-aft rigged vessels, the geographic and economic reasons for it, and the innovations and modifications Pacific Coast shipbuilders devised in order to capitalize on that rig. The thesis also discusses the East Coast bias against the fledgling industry and the reluctance of eastern entrepreneurs to invest capital in a business they felt would only give them marginal returns.