Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Genea-Jaunt to Neville Island, Pennsylvania; the previous site of Dravo Shipyard.

I had the pleasure, recently of going to Neville Island, near Pittsburgh.  Situated in the middle of the Ohio River just north of the city, it was the site of Dravo Corporation’s shipyard, which played a major role in designing and manufacturing ships for the Navy during WWII.  My father’s ship, LST 899 was launched there on Dec. 23, 1944 and my parents both attended the ceremony.
The company was founded in the 1890’s by brothers Frank and Ralph Dravo, who attended Lehigh University and graduated with degrees in metallurgy and mechanical engineering.  They first built heavy equipment, steel super structures, dams and engineered riverfront improvements.  The company became a leader in waterway projects.

Courtesy of Pennsylvania State Archives

On 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 to design an invasion craft.  With an investment of 12 million dollars, the shipyard was expanded to 64 acres and fitted with state-of-the-art assembly lines which brought high-speed production to ship manufacturing for the first time in history.  Dravo also developed the use of cost-saving horizontal submerged railways, which allowed the shipyard to produce an LST in an average of 6.1 days.  In advance of D-Day Dravo managed to build 16 LST’s in just 6 weeks.

Launching of LST 750 on Memorial Day 1944. Courtesy of Carnegie Library.

The first destroyer escort launched into the Ohio River, the U.S.S. Jenks.

By February 1945, Dravo also had produced 20 sub-chasers and minesweepers, 27 Destroyer Escorts, and 65 Landing Ship Mediums 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 which required more roadbuilding, police, and housing in the area.  The work force toiled around the clock.  Experts agree that without the LST’s the Allied Forces may not have succeeded during the invasion of Normandy.

After the war, the work dwindled and despite the company’s successes, the last division of the company was sold in 1998. Now, there is a Penske’s Truck Rental Company and several scrap yards on the property.

Photo showing the original property lines of Dravo Shipyard. 

View from the eastern side of Neville Island.

View from the bridge of the eastern side of Neville Island

My previous post on the launching of LST 899 with my father’s commentary can be found at:

Sources for this post:  

"Dravo Corporation Historical Marker," Expore PA (

"Original Document: History of the Dravo Shipyard During World War II, 1945, " Explore PA (

Vondas, Laura Baccelli, "Pittsburgh Shipbuilder Produced 'workhorse' of the Navy" for the Tribune Review, 12 Aug 2001, Pittsburgh; citing 

"Dravo Corporation, Pittsburgh PA - Ships/Boats," Shipbuilding History: Construction records of U.S. and Canadian shipbuilders and boatbuilders (

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