Marine Link
Monday, November 19, 2018

The W. And A. Fletcher Company

IN the evolution of steam navigation from its earliest practical application to the most recent development of the steam turbine, the harbor of New York has had a pioneering and constructive part. Of those who have had an effective share in the development, in type and mechanism, of marine engines, boilers and machinery, the firm now known as the W. & A. Fletcher Company takes the lead among those located in New York Harbor

Its record extends back for two-thirds of a century, for it was in the year 1853 that the business was started by the late William Fletcher, Joseph G. Harrison and Andrew Fletcher under the firm name of Fletcher, Harrison & Company. Andrew Fletcher was the designer; William Fletcher, manager of works, and Mr. Harrison in charge of the office. Their shops, then known as the North River Iron Works, were located on West Street, in New York City.

The firm of Fletcher, Harrison & Company built its first marine engine for the steamer "James H. Elmore," and installed it in 1854. This was a small vessel, 60 x 18 x 5, but it was only a short time afterward that the firm had established a fame as engine builders and was building engines for the largest Hudson River, Sound and coastwise trade. Their next two engines were the "Sylvan Shore" and "Sylvan Grove," belonging to a fleet for which they continued to furnish engines, the "Sylvan Dell," completed in 1872, being the largest.

The "Mary Powell," built in 1861 and equipped with machinery by Fletcher, Harrison & Company, was 296 feet long, 34 feet beam, and had a draught of 9feet. It was the largest of the river steamers built up to that time, and had a speed of 22 miles per hour, which was then unprecedented in river craft. After that the business of the firm grew rapidly and it was called upon to furnish machinery for steamers of all kinds in river, lake, sound and coastwise traffic and steamships for overseas trade. The development of the business came not only because of the uniformly fine workmanship which had marked all their production, but because of the exceptional results they had attained in speed.

The first change in the title of the firm came in 1880, when Joseph G. Harrison retired from the firm, which continued under the name of W. & A. Fletcher. Mr. William Fletcher died in 1883, and following that event the business was organized into a corporation called the W. & A. Fletcher Company, of which Mr. Andrew Fletcher, of the original founders, was the president. He continued at the head of the company until his death, August 7, 1905, at the age of 77 years.

Following that event Mr. Andrew Fletcher, Jr., his son, became president and treasurer of the company; William H. Fletcher, son of William Fletcher, became vice-president, and Henry N. Fletcher, son of Andrew Fletcher, Senior, became secretary. These young men, sons of the founders, came into their various offices after a full preparation, it having been the policy of William and Andrew Fletcher, the founders, to thoroughly train their sons in the business.

Up to the time of the organization of the corporation the firms of Fletcher, Harrison & Company and W. & A. Fletcher had been identified with the production of more than one hundred American-built steamers of every type, including in the list many that had obtained unique distinction for the excellence of their equipment, and especially the quality of their engines and other machinery built in the Fletcher shops.

After the corporation was organized the company secured a site in Hoboken, because the shops in West Street had been outgrown by the advance of the business; and the Hoboken plant, with subsequent enlargements, has continued to be used as the home of the constantly growing and continuously successful business.

The original firm had not been in business for many years before the scope of its activities had been so enlarged that, in addition to the building of engines, it became a contractor for the complete construction of vessels, from the laying of the keel to final delivery completely equipped. The younger Fletchers, as they came into the firm, were given a thorough education in the technical and practical details of engine building and ship construction, and by that means the company has been enabled to retain its place of mastery in the art of ship and engine construction and to secure recognition of this excellence from the owners of ships, yachts and vessels of various kinds.

Among the yachts built by the company is the widely famous steel steam yacht "Corsair," built for the late J. Pierpont Morgan, the beauty, speed and elegant equipment of which gave it much distinction; and the company also built the "Sovereign," "Isis," "Intrepid" and other famous yachts.

Mr. Andrew Fletcher, the president of the company, had for several years before his father's death had a large share of the responsibility for the design of machinery and for the carrying out of the contracts for construction of entire vessels. He had much to do with the various improvements in engine construction that gave special distinction and superior efficiency to many of the famous steamers coming from the Fletcher yards, and which, at the time they were built, were recognized as representing the highest examples of construction in their particular types of vessels. In this category may be included the Fall River liners "Puritan," "Priscilla" and "Plymouth," which were recognized at the time of their construction as marking a new departure in engine design, and, because of their excellence in equipment and speed, became great favorites with the traveling public. Another type of vessel which this firm pioneered in new design is that known as the screw-at-each-end ferryboat, of which it built several for the Hoboken Ferry Company, each fitted with double compound engines, thus creating a new type of boat for ferry purposes which has since been universally adopted for that class of service.

The works, throughout their history, have demonstrated their great ability to turn out every variety of marine machinery in quality representing the best of its type. In the early years of the business the firm gained distinction for the quality of its walking-beam engines, which were especially noteworthy for their economy in the use of fuel and their low cost of maintenance. These engines, which the company built both of the compound and simple beam types, were made for many vessels, but in later years the company has built many other types of engines, including numerous varieties of simple, compound and triple expansion inclined engines, and screw propeller engines of every kind, the list embracing every kind of engine suited for harbor, river, bay, sound and ocean-going vessels. As the business grew an increasing proportion consisted of the execution of contracts for the building of vessels complete. It is greatly to the honor of the firm that it has thus been the responsible designer and builder of many vessels that have, each of them, at the time of their completion, been recognized as typical of the progress of the shipbuilders' art. This was true of the "Priscilla," "Puritan" and "Plymouth," hailed as the finest of their class produced in the world.

Equally world-wide is the fame of the magnificent vessels of the Hudson River Day Line and the Hudson River Night Line, the latest, fastest and largest of which have been designed, built and equipped by the W. & A. Fletcher Company. Upon no river in the world are there lines of passenger steamboats that equal those in equipment or reputation. The "Hendrick Hudson," completed by this company in 1906, with a capacity for five thousand persons and a speed of twenty-four miles per hour, held the record as the largest and finest day passenger steamboat in existence, undisputed, until the same company built the steamer "Washington Irving," the largest and fastest of the vessels of the Hudson River Day Line, and the recognized expression of highest achievement in the, art of building liners for river service. So also of the Hudson River Night Line, for which this company has furnished several vessels, of which the steamer "Berkshire" is the latest and largest, and an exemplar of the most advanced principles of design and construction of river craft.

Many other vessels have been constructed by the Fletchers for river service, including the steel steamer "C. W. Morse," the "New York," "Albany," "Adirondack" and others on the Hudson, the "Onteora" of the New York and Catskill Steamboat Company, and many others operating on the Hudson River; the "Ticonderoga," "Saga-more" and "Vermont" of the Lake George and Lake Champlain Navigation Company. The fame of the work of the W. & A. Fletcher Company in the design and production of marine machinery extends to the Great Lakes, where the finest and fastest steamers owe their speed and efficiency to the engines, boilers and other ma-chinery made by this company, including the lake steamers "City of Erie," "City of Buffalo," "City of Cleveland," "City of Chicago," "City of Alpena," "City of Machinac," "City of Milwaukee" and others for lake service.

But great as have been the achievements of the W. & A. Fletcher Company in the building and equipping of these famous vessels, its most prominent contribution to the American art of shipbuilding comes from the fact that this firm was the pioneer in the introduction of the steam turbine on American-built ships. The United States was late in adopting the turbine, and although C. A. Parsons, the inventor of the leading type of marine turbines, built his first turbine in 1884, it was about twenty years later before an American owner evinced such recognition of its established success as to desire to have one built in an American yard.

Few if any American engineers then had sufficient experience in the building of steam turbines to build one, and as the turbine to be installed in an American ship was required to be built in this country, under the laws then in force, it was necessary to have here some engineer who was competent to design it and to superintend its manufacture and installation.

It having been determined that the W. & A. Fletcher Company would enter the turbine field, Mr. Andrew Fletcher (now president of the company) was selected to make investigation into, and intensive study of the steam turbine, as made and applied abroad. He spent several months at the works of the Parsons Marine Turbine Company, in England, and afterward at Clydeside shipyards where turbines were being installed, and at the Dumbarton (Scotland) works of William Denny and Brothers, builders of the "King Edward," the first commercial turbine vessel, and of many more steam turbine ships. These works had built many turbine-propelled vessels, and their work was so uniformly successful that Mr. Fletcher completed his investigation there, returned to the United States, and immediately set to work to build a turbine-propelled ship ordered for the Eastern Steamship Company. This vessel, the "Governor Cobb" (288 feet 8 inches long, 51 feet 6 inches beam, and 18 feet deep), was completed in 1906, and, although the first turbine-propelled ship built in America, was correctly built and admirably equipped, and qualified in every test made up to the time of her delivery to the owning company. But the "Governor Cobb," after going into service, passed the severer and final test of actual service that proved, through years of successive voyages, the superior value of turbine propulsion over anything previously known, and the absolute reliability of the Fletcher work in the building of a turbine-driven steamship.

The success of the "Governor Cobb" was followed by the building for the Metropolitan Steamship Company of the American turbine steamers "Yale" and "Harvard," both completed in 1907. The initial run of the "Yale," on June 29, 1907, was 13 hours 47^ minutes from South Ferry, New York, to the Eastern Steamship Company's wharves in Boston. This run was at a speed more rapid than had ever been known, up to that time, for a passenger and freight vessel or any other American-built commercial ship in home waters. The average speed was 24.7 statute miles per hour.

Built to make the run in sixteen hours, these vessels performed better than they were contracted to do, and not only in speed, but also in fuel economy and easy running without vibration, were a revelation of the virtue of the turbine-propelled vessel as a passenger carrier. Among the factors which have combined to create the success of the turbine as applied to the propulsion of vessels none has had greater influence than the initial excellence and sustained efficiency demonstrated in the operation of the "Yale" and "Harvard."

These famous vessels were the forerunners of numerous other commercial vessels which have adopted the steam turbine for propulsion, and while other companies have entered the field the W. & A. Fletcher Company has done much and most valuable work in this line and has a reputation of uniform success in the turbine industry which is not surpassed and probably not equalled by any of the other American companies engaged in marine turbine building.

The record of the company in its turbine department is most gratifying. The constant policy of the company, steadily maintained, that ail work shall conform with the utmost exactness to the severest standard of fitness for the work it is intended to perform, has resulted in the building of marine turbines that work constantly and efficiently at all times. It has often been alleged against the turbine that it has a much greater tendency to get out of order than the ordinary marine engine. But while "turbine trouble" is often reported as a delaying factor, which brings vessels with frequency to the repair yard, such has not been the case with the work done by W. & A. Fletcher Company. As built by this company, the turbine has not only demonstrated its high efficiency but also stability in long service without need of repairs.

A demonstration of this is presented in connection with the turbine work done by this company for the Government. The company contracted with the United States Shipping Board Emergency Fleet Corporation for the Parsons marine turbines and gearing for fifty-two of the new ships being built in connection with the shipbuilding program. The work on this contract has been steadily pushed and in large part completed and delivered. Although turbines built for the Shipping Board in various factories have, in quite a large percentage of those built, been returned to the builders or taken to repair shops because of trouble developed on some part of the turbine mechanism, not a single one of these defects or drawbacks has been found in the turbines or gearing provided by the W. & A. Fletcher Company, all of which have not only passed the requisite Government tests but have maintained their full efficiency in actual service.

Another important connection of the Fletcher Company with war work has been the very large business done by the company in the converting of ships into transport steamers, to meet the emergency demand for ships to carry our troops to France to win the war. Thirty-nine vessels were so converted by the Fletcher Company.

The company's works have been largely extended during the war, and they now have in course of construction an 8,ooo-ton drydock, so that when all the improvements now under way shall have been completed the company will have not only a most complete equipment for the building of all kinds of marine engines, boilers and special machinery, but also a modern and im-proved plant for making every kind of repair to vessels.

The company employs about three thousand five hundred men, and while the prospects are for a great increase of business it will continue to be the policy of the company to keep its work on a plane of merit that will be beyond criticism, and in harmony with the old-established reputation built up by long years of leadership in its industry.

The W. & A. Fletcher Company is now being managed by Andrew Fletcher, president and treasurer, son of the late Andrew Fletcher, one of the founders of the old firm of Fletcher, Harrison & Company; by Henry N. Fletcher, vice- president, who is also a son of the late Andrew Fletcher; and by Andrew Fletcher, Jr., as assistant to the president and treasurer and assistant to the vice-president. Andrew Fletcher, Jr., of the third generation of the Fletchers in this firm, after graduating from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale, was given a thorough practical training in shipyards and shops of other concerns before coming to the W. & A. Fletcher Company, where he is taking an increasing part in the details of management.

Mr. Andrew Fletcher, with a long record of ability as an engineer and executive, has a prominent place in the business world. He is president of the American Locomotive Company, which under his executive control has made an unprecedented record of increased production; and as the executive head of the Eddystone Manufacturing Company, near Philadelphia, was one of the leaders in the munitions industry during the war.

Maritime Reporter Magazine Cover Nov 2018 - Workboat Edition

Maritime Reporter and Engineering News’ first edition was published in New York City in 1883 and became our flagship publication in 1939. It is the world’s largest audited circulation magazine serving the global maritime industry, delivering more insightful editorial and news to more industry decision makers than any other source.

Maritime Reporter E-News subscription

Maritime Reporter E-News is the subsea industry's largest circulation and most authoritative ENews Service, delivered to your Email three times per week

Subscribe for Maritime Reporter E-News