The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Shipbuilding in Oswego
Oswego Palladium (Oswego, NY), 30 Oct 1888

Full Text
Its Past and Present - Collector Cooley Interviewed on the Subject - He Gives some interesting Reminiscences - Attributes the Decline of the Industry Largely to High Tariff

The noticeable decrease which the ship-building industry has suffered in recent years and the comparatively few workmen who are at present engaged in that occupation is often a cause for comment in Oswego. To ascertain the facts on the subject, a Palladium reported called yesterday upon Mr. Clark Cooley, the Canal Collector, who probably possesses a more extensive knowledge upon the subject that anyone now living.

Commencing with the epoch beginning in the year 1835, during which the large hill extending from the foot of Third street to the river on the East, was leveled and occupied by numerous ship yards, he stated that shortly after the establishment of these, between six and seven hundred workmen were employed as ship carpenters, caulkers, joiners, sail makers and ship smiths.

The industry supported between 1,500 and 2,000 persons. The wages were good and commodities cheap, and a general prosperity was the result, many comfortable fortunes being accumulated. Among the earl shipbuilders were G.S. Weeks, who built steamboats, propellers and vessels; Doolittle & Mollison, who leaded the dry dock between Second and Third streets; Thomas Collins, Henry Doville, Peter Lamoree, John Lee and others.

At a later date there followed George Goble, James Navagh, Peter Dufrane, William Wilmott, Brower Morgan, P. Gallagher and Andrew Miller. Owners of vessels and canal boats were Truman Wyman, Fitzhugh & Little John, C.C. Cooper, Bart Lynch, Daniel Lyons, Morgan M. Wheeler, Dunn & Cummings, E. & O. Mitchell, A.G. Cook, Thomas Martin, McCarthy & Marsh, as well as others. During the winter from 150 to 200 men were employed repairing ships and canal boats, thus forming a separate industry in itself.

The reciprocity enjoyed with Canada formed a great aid and the navigation interest was at its height. Said Mr. Cooley during the interview: "I have seen the river so closely packed with vessels that I could cross it by walking from deck to deck and have known steamers to be obliged to run alongside schooners to land their passengers who then reached the shore by the novel mentioned above. Vessels brought immense quantities of grain which was partially used at the mills and shipped inland by canal. Now, however, he industry of building is practically extinguished and only about 15 to 25 persons find employment at an industry which formerly gave work to hundreds.

"What are the reasons for this decline?" asked the reporter.

"The railroads and free canals are in a measure responsible, but I consider the chief cause to lie in the huge tariff which followed in 1845, the low one under which these industries had flourished. Immediately after that period shipbuilding began to shrink, the expense of constructing being so great that it ceased to be profitable. Canada not being cursed in this manner soon proved herself more active competitor than we could withstand. Duties placed upon lumber, iron, cords and materials was very high and worked strongly against us.

"I remember the case of Captain John Joyce whose vessel was badly damaged in the Welland Canal and it was rebuilt in Canada, but before being allowed to return to the United States was taxed by the Custom house officers a duty of $4,000 in gold, which was then bringing so high a premium that he was forced to pay in the end almost the original value of the ship.

" This is one instance showing the disastrous effect, of a high tariff upon vessels built at this port. It is decidedly my opinion that the high tariff has operated detrimentally to Oswego's interests and without it we should stand upon a much more prosperous financial basis today, particularly as regards to the industry we have discussed."

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Date of Publication:
30 Oct 1888
Richard Palmer Collection
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Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.45535 Longitude: -76.5105
Creative Commons licence:
pd [more details]
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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Shipbuilding in Oswego