The 75th Anniversary of Marinship

by Steefenie Wicks

Many celebrities visited Marinship, as shown in this photo spread from the yard’s in-house publication, The Marin-er.

Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

World War II brought many people to Sausalito.  The names on the register rolls from that period were colorful, yet as diverse as the different parts of America.   During this time people came from the North, the South and the East.  Names like Annie Obedience, Orange Mary Green, Empress Lovely, Early Pluck Buggs, Cave Outlaw along with a few Papachristopulos made up this incredible roster.

Next year Sausalito will celebrate the 75th anniversary of that historic time.  Many current residents have no idea of the waterfront’s history or how the Sausalito shoreline would become Marinship. 

Jack Tracy’s book “Moments in Time” describes how in just a little over 3 months after Pearl Harbor, Sausalito’s shoreline began to change due to this national emergency.  In many ways, the change came with swiftness along with a certainty that dazzled many locals.

Tracy notes that “Marin City was a hastily built complex of wartime housing for the Marinship workers along with their families. Few today are aware that the slope behind Marin City at one time held the home of Colonel Obadiah Livermore.  He built his home in 1881 near the Old County Road.  The main house at that time was surrounded by a barn that included stables, along with thirty acres of fruit trees.  All of this would soon change, as this area came under construction for housing.”  This was not the only area placed under construction, for more than 40 homes were removed from the area known as Pine Point, which had become a familiar landmark jutting out from the Sausalito hills.  This area was literally cut in half, ground up and then spewed into Richardson’s Bay to become landfill for the new shipyard.  Later, one of the vacated homes on Pine Point became the place where each new worker would be processed.  It is said that while dynamite explosions rocked the hill for the construction of the shipyard, the first shipyard workers were being hired.

Construction along Sausalito’s shoreline was continuous.  By 1941 the railroad was coming to an end, along with the ferry service.  Many residents felt that this had been hastened by the completion of the new Golden Gate Bridge, which had taken place just 4 years earlier.  But Marinship was on its way to becoming the home of the T-2 Tanker.  

After first producing cargo-carrying liberty ships, Tracy notes, “Marinship switched to production of oil tankers in the fall of 1942”. These tankers would call for some modification in the shipyard facilities but Marinship hit its stride and was able to launch a newly built tanker every 10 days.  In its three and a half years of active service, Marinship produced 15 EC-2 Liberty Ships, 78 oil tankers, along with 20 Army invasion barges.  Other work during this period included the outfitting of three British coasters along with repairing twenty battle-damaged vessels.  Marinship also holds the distinction that not one Marinship-built vessel ever suffered a major structural or power failure, not even a bulkhead leak.

Tracy also discusses the importance of the female workers.   “Morale was high at the shipyard as innovations in work procedures became commonplace.  One such was brought about by an increasing shortage of manpower.  On July 7th, 1942, a new welder showed up for work, creating a minor stir in the work force.  Dorothy Gimblett, dressed in new welder’s leathers, was the first female yard worker, and something of an experiment by the Marinship management.  She would endure the whistles, grumblings, and laughter from her male counterparts.  But she would set a pattern of performance along with a sense of competency that would help shatter the myth that women could not stand up to shipyard work.” 

Because of women like Gimblett, by 1943, over 20 percent of the Marinship work force was women.  They worked as painters, shipfitters, machinists, teamsters and boilermakers.  In fact, by the end of WWII, women worked in every shipyard capacity, overcoming the early resentment of the men as they saw these women becoming skilled technicians and constructors.

As Sausalito begins its 75 Anniversary of Marinship, there is much for the community to celebrate.  For, without the people who came here to make it one of the most successful shipyards during WWII, this national treasure would not exist.  The Sausalito waterfront brought together people from around the country to work together.  It gave women jobs for the first time, showing the world that a woman can work alongside a man with the same confidence and intelligence.

As the war ended and all those unemployed began to scatter from the shipyards, a new organization was conceived.  It was suggested by Bechtel that the yards now become the Army Corps of Engineers operations center for the Pacific Island Reconstruction Program.  This idea was met with approval from all those involved and at midnight, May 16, 1946, Marinship became history as the Army Corps took over the shipyards.

Next time you visit the Bay Model, you are visiting our history.