Michigan Transportation History

Detroit Dry Dock


Detroit Dry Dock (DDD) was a shipbuilding company incorporated in 1874 through a merger of interests of Stephen R. Kirby and John Owen. The concern owned and operated the facilities and business of Campbell & Owen (C&O). Some sources note that Kirby had bought in to C&O sometime in 1871 and that the name change indicates a consolidation of interests, but others note that Owen retained a significant stake in DDD after the merger.1

Detroit Dry Dock had machine shops and offices located at 1801–1803 Atwater Street, the former C&O facilities. The dry dock itself was located at 1900 Atwater Street.

In 1878, Detroit Dry Dock merged with with Frank E. Kirby's Wyandotte Shipbuilding. From then, DDD jointly managed the two facilities as one innovative shipbuilding firm. Since the Detroit facility was a former repair yard, it had on site an engine shop (although the engine shop may have been a separate concern; see Klug), sheet-metal shop, foundry, and boiler works. Detroit Dry Dock manufactured hulls at the Wyandotte Shipbuilding facility and then towed them upriver to the Atwater facility for outfitting. Tim Colton claims that "the company was, in effect, practicing assembly line shipbuilding long before the emergency shipbuilding programs of World War I."2

Owen died in 1892 leaving the Kirbies in control of the firm. The Kirbies sold Detroit Dry Dock, including both the Atwater works and Wyandotte yard, to the American Ship Building Company? in 1899. American Ship renamed the firm first Detroit Shipbuilding, but in 1913 it became simply AmShip Detroit. American Ship stopped new construction at the Detroit works in 1920. Through the 1920s, it seems that both sites served only as a repair facilities. AmShips closed the Atwater works in 1929. It is not clear from Colton's research when the Wyandotte facility closed, but since it was used mainly for the erection of hulls, it is probable that it closed in 1920.


1. Colton (2010, p. 44) claims that Kirby bought out Owen, but other sources (suchas Wendell and Burton) note that Owen was the principle stockholder in DDD. Emory Wendell, Wendell's History of Banking & Banks & Bankers of Michigan (Detroit, MI: Winn & Hammond, 1902): 301.

2. Colton (2010), 44.


Shipbuilding history has a list of all known ships built at any of the above listed shipyards.

Klug, Thomas A. "Dry Dock Engine Works." Historic American Engineering Record, HAER MI-130, 2002.

This report documents the historical significance of the site but mainly concerns the engine works which was located across the dock from Detroit Dry Dock, but eventually was folded into the DDD Atwater works. Klug has an lengthy narrative and an excellent bibliography. /Dry_Dock_Engine_Works.pdf

Colton, Tim. "Shipbuilding History—Detroit Dry Dock: Henry Ford Learned His Trade Here." Marine Log 115, no. 8 (August 2010), 44.


Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Detroit Dry Dock," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on March 27, 2020, at 01:23 PM EST

Page last modified on March 27, 2020, at 01:23 PM EST