How Ira Bushey Built up his Ship Building Plant, 1920

For a fuller exploration see our featured article on
the Life and Ships of Ira S. Bushey & Sons.

To a man endowed with the driving, force and executive ability that was Bushey's, ship caulking could only serve as a stepping-stone.

Starting out as a caulker of wooden ships, Ira S. Bushey, by dint of hard work, was the owner of the biggest shipyard constructing wooden ships in the country in 1920 - located in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Ira S. Bushey was the first builder and operator of an electrically-driven drydock.

The family-owned business had a payroll of about 1,000 men in second decade of the 1900s.

These are some of the highlights featured in an article written about Bushey and his company in 1920.

Text of Article,

The Brooklyn Standard Union, August 14, 1920

How Ira Bushey Built Up His Ship Building Plant

American is noted for its captains of industry, its stalwart figures, who starting with nothing save, perhaps inherent skill in some branch or activity and dogged determination to succeed, build up a successful business which serves as a lasting monument to their industrial genius.  Of such caliber is Ira S. Bushey & Sons, whose yard runs along a thousand feet of waterfront from the foot of Court street to the foot of Smith Street and is the biggest wooden ship construction plant in the country and fourth among the ship repair plants of all classes in the world with a payroll of about 1,000 men.

This distinguished citizen of Brooklyn was born in Oswego fifty-eight years ago of a family whose male members had almost without exception for years and years followed the lure of the sea. His great-grandfather had been one of the largest owners and operators of sailing ships from France and his father and grandfather had also sailed the seven seas as masters and owners.  It was not unusual, therefore, that the young Ira, with this family precedent, should turn to the sea for his living and make ship caulking his trade.  Before adopting it as his life-work, however, he had pursued many other vocations in many lands from railroad building in the Rocky Mountains to herding cattle and fighting Indians on the great plains and deserts of the young West.  However, his inheritance proved too potent, and he eventually landed in an Eastern port caulking hulls.

To a man endowed with the driving, force and executive ability that was Bushey's, ship caulking could only serve as a stepping-stone, and soon Bushey had his own little ship repair plant in Hoboken. His first offices were on the site of the present Tietjen & Lang yard of the Todd Shipbuilding Corporation.

A shipbuilder by nature and conscientious in his work to the last nail, it was not long before Bushey's plant had acquired an enviable reputation, and his force of men was constantly being increased to meet the demands occasioned by the accumulating work. Somewhat later the plant was moved to West Brighton, Staten Island, where the firm of Bushey & Hanley established the plant now owned by F.A. Vardon.

In 1905 Bushey came to this borough and purchased the old Matheson plant at the food of Twentieth street, which he operated under his own name until 1913 when he organized his five sons, Francis S., R. J., R. F., Ira S. Jr., William T. and one son-in-law, Howard A. Fox, in the incorporated firm of Ira S. Bushey and Sons, under which name the firm had been doing business ever since.  The newly incorporated firm then abandoned the yard at Twentieth st and acquired the Downing & Lawrence plant at the foot of Court street.  At the time this yard was much smaller than it is to-day, having but 400 feet of waterfront, as against a 1,000 foot frontage to-day, and the buildings were old-fashioned and poorly equipped for the work of modern ship construction and repair.  The buildings were remodeled b the new owners and new brick buildings and up-to-date dry docks built. 

The plant is now engaged in the construction of the second section of its immense contemplated three-section dry dock, which, when completed, will be one of the largest dry docks in the world.  The first section was launched several months ago and is in operation, and the second section will be ready about Oct.  The dry dock will be electrically driven and thoroughly modern in every way.  Each section has a lifting capacity of 3,500 tons.  Ira S. Bushey, by the way, was the first builder of an electrically driven dry dock.

Another big project under way at the Bushey yard is a marine heavy hoist derrick, which will be the largest in the world.  This derrick is being built for the Merrit and Chapman Wrecking Company.

The unique "family management' of the concern makes it an exception to the general accepted business principle that a large business can not thrive if there are a number of members of the same family in control.  Not only are Mr. Bushey's sons in active partnership with him in his big enterprise, but several of his nephews and other relatives are on the payroll of the firm.  Nevertheless Ira S. Bushey & Sons is a smooth-running machine, in which no family dissension of quarrels ever cause friction or slow up the works.  In fact, close co-operation and loyalty has been one of the favorable factors which has been one of the favorable factors which has worked to the recent success of the company and which, under the controlling eye of "Senior" or "Boss" as the elder Bushey is variously designated, has expanded into a business of world-wide magnitude and importance.

The story of Ira S. Bushey reminds one of the irrepressible "Cappy Ricks" or of the old admiral and head of a big shipping concern in Hergesheimer's "Java Head," and the analogy is carried out further when it is considered that both of these characters made of their business a family institurion.  Furthermore, Bushey's sons are unanimous in declaring that their father is as good a boss in real life as either of the others in fiction.

At present the elder Bushey's attention is taken up in looking after the interests of the company in various ports all over the world.  He is in Havana just now. 


How Ira Bushey Built Up His Ship Building Plant

How Ira Bushey Built Up His Ship Building Plant

Source: The Brooklyn Standard Union, August 14, 1920 View File Details Page



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  • The Brooklyn Standard Union, August 14, 1920

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