Crane's Shipyard and Dry Docks
Crane’s Shipyard and Dry Docks, established in 1867, was located in Erie Basin. A history of the company is provided in George Weiss’s America’s Maritime Progress, published in 1920, and in the 1922 Pilot Lore.
According to Weiss, Theo. A. Crane grew up in Brooklyn and then worked at the shipyard of Devine Burtis (in business from 1840–1905, at the foot of Conover Street). By the time of the Civil War, Crane had risen to superintendent and was one of the most respected shipbuilders in Brooklyn. In 1867, he started his own business, first at the foot of 16th Street and then eventually settling at the Breakwater Gap in Erie Basin.
Crane designed and built his own ships, including tugboats, lighters (flat-bottomed barges), steam barges, and car floats. He is noted for successfully launching a lighter sideways, proving wrong an audience of doubters who thought it would roll over and sink.
Crane bought his dry dock from G.H. Ferris, but he learned to repair ships without one. Before the dry dock era, boats were run onto mud flats at high tide. At low tide the workmen would work fast on the exposed ship. Weiss writes that to work under a ship, “they would pull the boat up on a crib by means of a horse and a crab.” By 1920, only real old-timers remembered this method.Theo. Crane died in 1891, and his sons Edward and Alfred took over the business. Edward died of typhus nine years later, and Alfred incorporated the company in 1901. By 1920, the company operated three dry docks, the largest of which could accommodate a 330-foot-long vessel, and had built and launched around 1,000 harbor crafts of various kinds. A full-service shop, Crane’s Sons and Co. also had machine, blacksmith, and boiler shops.
In 1929, Theo. A. Crane's Sons Co. merged with five other yards—Staten Island Shipbuilding, James Shewan and Sons, W.A. Fletcher & Co., New York Harbor Dry Dock Co., and Morse Dry Dock & Repair Co.—to form United Dry Docks (later United Shipyards). Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation bought the company in 1938 and closed the smaller yards after World War II.