This evocative early 20th-century photo album contains 44 original cloth-backed silver photographs of shipbuilding in Oakland. The collection, arranged in a period three-ring leather binder, effectively documents the intensive shipbuilding activities in California during World War 1. Each photograph captures an event or element that can be traced directly back to this decisive period. Many photographs have captions added at the bottom, allowing for precise identifications, a few of which are discussed below.
The collection centers on Oakland’s Moore Shipbuilding Company, with some of the photographs also coming from the historically more obscure Shipley Construction & Supply Company. During WWI, the Moore Shipbuilding Company constructed numerous craft for the US Shipping Board, including several so-called ‘Empire Ships,’ U.S.-built merchant vessels in the service of Great Britain. Among the photographs are exciting processual images of the hull construction of such vessels, including the S.S. Nockum (Empire Starling, torpedoed and lost in 1942). Equally prominent are launching scenes of steel-hulled vessels like the S.S. Monasses (Empire Whimbrel, torpedoed and lost 11 April 1943), the S.S. Guimba (Empire Merganser, exploded and sank 1951), the S.S. Yaquina (renamed U.S.S. Borea in 1921, scrapped in 1946), and the S.S. Yamhill (renamed Arctic 1921, scrapped in 1946). Many scenes show excited participants and onlookers, sometimes engaged in christening the ships.
The collection includes several technical photographs documenting machinery, equipment, and installations. Many of these interior views are affiliated with the Shipley Supply Company, suggesting they functioned as outfitters while the Moore Company built the ships.
Context is Everything
During World War I (1914-1918), the Port of Oakland was a major shipbuilding center in the Bay Area. The biggest and most important production center was the Moore Shipbuilding Company. Established in 1905 in San Francisco as the National Iron Works, the company relocated to Oakland in 1909 following severe fire damage in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. They acquired the W. A. Boole & Son Shipyard along the Oakland Estuary and expanded operations there. In 1917, Robert S. Moore assumed sole ownership, renaming the enterprise Moore Shipbuilding Company. It was renamed once more in 1922 as the Moore Dry Dock Company. After the War, the company focused on repair operations in response to a significantly reduced demand.
During the interwar period, American shipbuilding either proceeded at a much-reduced rate or completely stopped. During World War II, the company experienced a resurgence, contributing over 100 ships to the U.S. Navy and merchant marine. Despite the wartime success, shipbuilding ceased at the end of the conflict, and Moore Dry Dock Company shifted its focus back to repair. The company ultimately ceased operations in 1961, and Schnitzer Steel Industries occupied its site on the Oakland Estuary.
This binder is unique. While other examples of the individual photographs may exist in institutional or private collections, this particular assemblage is the result of an individual’s commitment. It is an extraordinary documentation of the on-goings at the docks of Oakland during the last year of the Great War, and for those inclined an opportunity for further research into their exact contents.