Historical Markers
Dravo Corporation Historical Marker
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Dravo Corporation

Pittsburgh Region


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

Dedication Date:
August 18, 1995

Behind the Marker

Francis R. Dravo standing.
Francis R. Dravo
Generations of Americans have marveled at the courage of the soldiers and marines who stormed enemy beaches in World War II. During the war, Pittsburgh's Dravo Corporation was the lead designer and builder for the landing ship tank (LST), a new class of attack landing craft that could carry 160 soldiers and more than twenty tanks and trucks, and land them directly onto a beach. It was Dravo designed and built LSTs that made possible the successful Allied invasions in Italy, Normandy, and all the major island campaigns in the Pacific.

Dravo was established in the 1890s by brothers Frank and Ralph Dravo, who had graduated from Lehigh University with degrees in mechanical engineering and in metallurgy. In 1891, Frank set up shop in Pittsburgh to sell heavy machinery and soon developed an interest in machinery installation. At the time, concrete foundations for machinery often failed. Frank Dravo remedied this problem by constructing foundations with his own concrete for the machinery he sold. This led the company into the construction business.

Dravo Contracting Barge docked.
Dravo Contracting Barge, 1926.
In the early 1900s, Dravo established a separate Engineering Division to provide the equipment necessary for its many ventures. The Contracting Division involved Dravo in a variety of high-profile projects, including building part of the substructure of the San Francisco-Oakland bridge. More importantly, Dravo began work on dams and riverfront improvements. Dravo's skill in waterway projects made it stand out among engineering and construction firms.

In the 1910s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a major series of river improvements, which dramatically increased inland river traffic. These improvements proved a boon for Dravo, whose barges, tugboats, dump scows, and floating concrete mixers plied the rivers improving docks and harbors, and building pump houses, intakes, ice breakers, submarine pipelines, and foundations.

An expert in inland shipping construction, Dravo also introduced cost-saving horizontal shipways, which replaced the sloping ways of the past. Instead of floating ships up a slope into a dry dock, the company used a series of powerful cranes to lift the ship out of the water and into its proper place.
Tank Being Unloaded from a Landing Ship
A Dravo built LST landing a tank on a beach during World War II.

After the United States went to war in December 1941, the Navy Department realized that victory would be possible only 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. Dravo quickly converted its Neville Island facility on the Ohio River and another in Wilmington, Delaware, for LST production.

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...
The company set up state-of-the-art assembly lines for high-speed production, prefabricating sections that workers then assembled by electric welding, which replaced older and slower methods of riveting. Dravo also had the ability to rapidly switch from producing LSTs to DEs (destroyer escorts) and LSMs (landing ship-medium), according to the Navy's needs. These techniques allowed Dravo and its associated shipyards to produce a completed LST in three days from start to finish.

Dravo also helped four other Ohio and Mississippi River boatyards to upgrade their facilities to produce LSTs at Dravo's rate. The strategic proximity of U.S. Steel and other Pittsburgh-area industries, combined with the skill of its workforce, enabled Dravo to send more than 670 LSTs down the Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers to contribute to the American war effort.

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 LSTs that sailed out of the Dravo yards were marvels of modern shipbuilding. At 328 feet, they were longer than a football field and over fifty 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 more than 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.

By February 1945, Dravo also had produced 20 sub-chasers and minesweepers, 27 DEs, and 65 LSMs for the war effort, in addition to a large number of cranes, heaters, barges, and tugboats. In terms of manpower, Dravo had expanded its peacetime labor force of 2,300 shipbuilders to more than 25,000.

Aerial view of the Dravo Corporation's McKees Rock Terminal, circa 1945.
Aerial view of the Dravo Corporation's McKees Rock Terminal, circa 1945.
After the war ended, the American shipbuilding industry suffered a massive decline, for the war had produced a glut of ships which would remain in service for decades. In addition, foreign competition eventually spelled doom for an industry that had prided itself on winning the naval war and being part of America's industrial backbone. For Dravo, the transition back to peacetime was as sudden as the gearing-up had been. Neville Island employment numbers dropped from 16,000 to 1,123; at Wilmington they dropped from 10,500 to 126. The company continued to prosper, however, by focusing on river transport, specializing in barges and tugboats, and by moving into new lines of business.

From the 1950s through the 1990s, Dravo's shipbuilding skills translated nicely into steel fabrication of everything from intake and outtake pipes to steel frame construction to nuclear reactor cores. Its new air conditioning and heating division installed units in major factories, hospitals, and universities. A pipe fabrication department serviced the growing needs of oil pipelines across the continent. Despite its many successes, Dravo would not remain an independent company; the last division was sold in 1998.
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