Historical Markers
Dravo Corporation [Steel] Historical Marker
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Dravo Corporation [Steel]

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Neville Island Blvd. and Grand Ave., just west of Pittsburgh

Dedication Date:
August 18, 1995

Behind the Marker

"I, along with some 10,000 other people, attended a ship launching today. And I don't think either the Japanese or the Nazis would have enjoyed the ceremony. It was an ocean-going ship, built for Uncle Sam's Navy, built out here at Pittsburgh and launched here at Pittsburgh. A ship of steel, more than 173 -feet long, to be manned by a Navy crew of 60, and to do the job of a destroyer. The most interesting thing about it is that this sea-going vessel launched here in the Ohio River, marker came off an assembly line!"

                                                            -Lowell Thomas, March 5, 1942

Tank Being Unloaded from a Landing Ship
A Dravo built LST landing a tank on a beach during World War II.
At the beginning of World War II, when the federal government funded a massive buildup of the Navy, one of its top priorities was attack landing craft that could sail the oceans and land men and arms on defended beaches. With it great steel mills and easy waterway access down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, Pittsburgh also became a major shipbuilding center. Two giant shipyards sprang up–one operated by the Dravo Corporation at Neville Island and the other American Bridge Co. at Ambridge.

During the war, Pittsburgh's Dravo Corporation was the lead designer and builder for a new class of attack landing craft that made possible the successful Allied invasions in Italy, Normandy, and all the major island campaigns in the Pacific. The LST - Landing Ship Tank - was a cavernous vessel that could carry more than twenty tanks and trucks along with 160 soldiers at one time and land them directly onto the beach, instantly overwhelming the defenders and securing a beach-head. Produced in large numbers, they became one of the most important weapons of the war.

This photograph was taken at the launch of this ship on Memorial Day, 1944.   U.S.S. Jenks celebration
Launching of the U.S.S. Jenks by the Dravo Corporation at Neville Island. Memorial...
Founded in 1891 by Francis R. Dravo, the Dravo Corporation made a name for itself constructing the barges and paddle-wheel workboats for use on the Ohio, Monongahela, and Mississippi Rivers. Dravo's craftsmen and designers gained skills and experience building the shallow-draft vessels that were needed to transport coal, ore, and materials to and from the booming steel mills and other riverside industries of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Dravo was a natural choice when the Second World War presented the U.S. Navy with the challenge of how to deliver the tools of war to enemy-held beaches quickly and efficiently.

After the United States went to war in December 1941, the Navy Department realized that victory would only be possible through the physical invasions of Europe and Japanese-held territories in the Pacific. Special ships were needed for this new type of warfare. In January 1942, less than two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral S.M. Robinson, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ships, approached Dravo chairman J.D. Berg and president V.B. Edwards with a preliminary design for an invasion craft and a large purchase order. Converting quickly to emergency wartime production, Dravo expanded its Neville Island facility on the Ohio River and created a new East Yard on a 66-acre riverside field. The company set-up state-of-the-art assembly lines for high-speed production; prefabricating large or complicated sections that workers then assembled by electric welding, which replaced the older and slower method of riveting.

Aerial view of the Dravo Corporation's McKees Rock Terminal, circa 1945.
Aerial view of the Dravo Corporation's McKees Rock Terminal, circa 1945.
On September 7, 1942, Dravo launched LST-1, its first Landing Ship Tank, under a sign that read "Forward to Victory, America." Using its cutting-edge techniques Dravo and its associated shipyards were soon able to produce a completed LST in three days. The strategic proximity of U.S. Steel and other Pittsburgh-area industries, combined with the skill of its workforce, enabled Dravo to send over 670 LSTs down the Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers to contribute to the American war effort. Four other Ohio and Mississippi River boatyards also upgrade their facilities to produce LSTs at Dravo's rate. The American Bridge Company constructed the largest of these facilities, an integrated shipyard for the U.S. Navy on 64 riverfront acres adjoining its Ambridge plant. In less than five months, American Bridge also was constructing landing ships for tanks.
This photograph was taken at the launch of this ship on Memorial Day, 1944.
Launch of LST-750, Dravo's Neville Island Yard, Pittsburgh, PA, Memorial Day,...

The Landing Ships that sailed out of the Dravo and Ambridge yards were marvels of modern shipbuilding. At 328 feet, they were longer than a football field and over 50 feet wide. They could sail across the ocean carrying 700 tons of cargo and equipment and drive a battalion of men and tanks right onto the enemy-held beach. The 1,051 LSTs built by U.S shipyards during the war enabled the U.S. Navy to deliver men, ammunition, tanks, trucks, fuel, and even railroad locomotives to the bloody beaches of North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific.

Allied forces used 173 LSTs in the D-Day landings at Normandy and over 340 were in service for the Marines during the crucial invasion of Okinawa. On their return trips, LSTs transported casualties and prisoners, and performed other essential tasks. Initially criticized as "Large Slow Targets" by their crews and Marines, due to their lack of speed and considerable bulk, LSTs were later dubbed "Beach Angels" for their quick provision of much-needed supplies and the timely evacuation of wounded soldiers.

After the war, Dravo became an important facility for scrapping warships that were no longer needed. Dravo recycled much of that steel for buildings, bridges, and industrial development. The company continued to build river vessels until the 1980s, and expanded its activities into the design and engineering of machinery for the mining, ore-processing, and chemical industries.
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