Marine Link
Thursday, January 18, 2018



THE banks of the East River on both sides are identified with the most important incidents connected with the development of shipbuilding. In the old days of the packet ship many of the stoutest and best were built in the yards that skirted this stream, and though the "clipper" ship originated in Baltimore, New York soon became the foremost center for the building of vessels of this type, and many of the fastest and best, including the great and never-equalled clipper ship "Dreadnaught," first found the water from East River ways.

While the large shipbuilding interest on the East River in the period of its greatest activity before the Civil War was largely centered on the Manhattan waterfront, there were several yards established on the Brooklyn side of the river. This was especially true of the section known as Green- point, both before and after the annexation of that section to Brooklyn in 1855, in which there were several yards in the early forties engaged in the building of wooden ships and of river steamboats which, in that period, were famous as the most improved type of steamers engaged in river traffic anywhere. In the decade before the Civil War the East River yards were kept busy with a demand for the building of vessels, both steam and sail, for owners in every port of the United States, and many a vessel famed for beauty and speed was turned out from the ways in Greenpoint as well as on the Manhattan side.

Of vessels launched from the Brooklyn side the most notable was the "Monitor," the most famous craft of the Civil War period, the building of which wrought a revolution in sea warfare. It was built at the Continental Works in the yard now owned and ope'rated by The Continental Iron Works Company.

The site was occupied for some years by Samuel Sneden, who was engaged in the building of wooden ships. In 1859 a New Orleans customer of this yard, for whom Mr. Sneden had built several wooden steamers, asked him to undertake the building of an iron ship. Mr. Sneden had no experience in the construction of iron ships, which were a new feature of the merchant marine at that time, and his plant lacked facilities for iron- working, but he was anxious to keep his customer and determined to build the iron vessel if possible. He knew a young engineer by the name of Thomas F. Rowland who was a skilful mechanic, familiar with iron work and who had also had some experience in drafting and ship design. He prevailed upon Mr. Rowland to undertake the job, and a rude equipment of a forge, punch and shears was improvised, with which the shaping of the plating and frames was accomplished. Before the job was completed Mr. Rowland was taken into partnership by Mr. Sneden under the name of Samuel Sneden & Company. The iron ship was successfully launched and delivered to its owner soon afterward.

In less than a year after its formation the partnership was dissolved and Thomas F. Rowland acquired the plant and business. He was a native of Connecticut, born in 1831 at New Haven, and after leaving school had been employed by the New York and New Haven Railroad, had practised engineering and mechanics and had done drafting and designing work. When he became proprie-tor of the Continental Works he built the water pipe across High Bridge in New York and did other important iron work. When, in 1861, John Ericsson had designed his "Monitor," a floating battery which was the first completed vessel to carry a revolving turret, an invention which revolutionized the art of naval warfare, and which demonstrated the value of armored vessels and the relative uselessness of the old-style wooden warships. The "Monitor" was built in the yard of the Continental Works at Greenpoint in a little more than three months, and was launched January 30, 1862. Its part in the Civil War is historic, and its name became generic for vessels of similar type built by all the great maritime nations. Other monitors built at these yards for the United States Navy were the "Montauk," "Passaic," "Catskill," "Onondaga," "Cohoes," "Puritan," "Monadnock" and the double-ender "Muscootah," each successive vessel containing some improvement suggested to Mr. Ericsson by the experience of its predecessors.

When the proposition to build the "Monitor" was accepted the only drawing completed by 

Ericsson was a mere outline and section to illustrate the stability of the structure; but, with extraordinary energy and executive skill, calculations and working plans were made, and the "Monitor" launched, with steam machinery complete, in one hundred days from the laying of the keel.

After the war the works were engaged in building ferryboats for the Union Ferry Company and several other vessels, but the general decline of shipbuilding after the war led the company to embark in other branches of iron works for which the plant was adapted, and made a specialty of building and installing municipal gas works, which work it did for cities and towns in all the eastern part of the country. Gradually the character of the business drifted away from both the marine and gas-works branches of its activities. In 1887 the business was incorporated as The Continental Iron Works, with Thomas F. Rowland as president and Warren E. Hill, who had for some years associated with Mr. Rowland, as vice-president of the company.

The company took up a line of welded plate steel work, and in this line is included corrugated boiler furnaces for marine boilers, which is still a very important department of the business and one which has been greatly increased and accelerated by the shipbuilding boom which has come upon the country as the result of the world war. The company also does much work in connection with water-tube boilers, and the manufacture of digesters for making wood pulp, and similar digesters for use in Government explosive plants. They also have an important department for the manufacture of welded oil stills and varied productions of a similar kind on special orders. Their business in welded drums is largely upon Government work for use on torpedo-boat destroyer boilers. Many of which now being built are equipped with them.

Thus the company, although for many years its work was more largely connected with work for land installations than for marine business, has always been an important factor in the wonderful work done in this country in the upbuilding of the shipping interest.

When the company was incorporated in 1887

Thomas F. Rowland, Jr., eldest son of Thomas F. Rowland, became secretary and treasurer of the company. He was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1856, but has always been a resident of Brooklyn. He was graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in 1877, and immediately after graduation became connected with his father in the Continental Iron Works. His father retired from active business some years before his death, and Mr. Warren E. Hill succeeded to the presidency of the company, holding that position until his death in 1908, when Mr. Thomas F. Rowland, Jr., became the president of the company, an office he continues to fill.

His brother, Charles B. Rowland, who was born in Brooklyn in 1863, was graduated from the Columbia University (School of Mines) with the class of 1884, and following the graduation entered the business of his father, and has since been with it in continuous service, now being the vice-president of the company. George A. Tib- bals, who is secretary and treasurer of the company, is also a graduate from the School of Mines of Columbia University, class of 1883; and his brother, Samuel G. Tibbals, who was graduated from Columbia University (School of Mines), is assistant secretary and assistant treasurer of the company. Both of the Messrs. Tibbals entered upon the service of the company soon after their graduation.

The company, therefore, is managed by an official personnel which represents the highest quality of technical education, supplemented by many years of practical experience which they have applied toward the building up for it a large business and a most enviable reputation.

The plant is a most complete one, occupying about two and a half blocks on the banks of the East River, supplied with every requisite for effective operation along the lines of production.


The company is historically and industrially entitled to a large and prominent place in the history of American shipbuilding, in the development of which it has been a prominent and vital factor and is still an important contributor.

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