When Newport News shipyard built its first boat, the Dorothy, on Virginia’s James River in 1890, it was the beginning of an American legacy.
Not long after the Dorothy’s launch, Newport News Shipbuilding became renowned for the quality of its ships and the size of its yard, the largest in the world during the early 20th century.
It’s a different world in the shipyard; everything is on a scale that’s tough to wrap your head around, even the length of its employees’ tenure. It’s not uncommon for Newport News workers to retire from the company with more than 50 years of service. This is the shipyard where the world’s most expensive ship is being built after all.
The company’s human resource officer and corporate VP, Bill Ermatinger, told Business Insider that he has fifth-generation employees today following in the footsteps of their great-great-great-grandfathers.
The following photos offer a glimpse inside this unique shipbuilding facility with a grand history, and the long relationship with those who defend this country on the seas.
Newport News is located next to the Naval Station at Norfolk, Va., the largest naval base in the U.S. This is no coincidence.
The Newport News, Va., shipyard is home to more than 22,000 employees, massive work spaces, and some of the largest equipment of its kind in the world.
The 1,050-ton capable gantry crane is required for building new U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
The ships built weren't always so immense. Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company formed more than 126 years ago and built its first ship, the Dorothy, in 1890.
Large or small, the size of the ship doesn't matter. The shipyard's motto for generations has been: 'We shall build good ships here, at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good ships.'
And build good ships they have. Newport News built nearly half the United States' battleship fleet leading to WWI.
A long respect and relationship is held with the U.S. Military. This Victory Arch was built for returning troops to march through on their way home.
That long history lives on today at the shipyard where many workers ride bicycles handed down from grandparents who spent 50+ years on the job.
'Those bikes are the third rail of shipbuilding,' Newport's HR VP Bill Ermatinger says. 'It's a sub-culture. Shiny bikes are the least coveted and everyone knows not to mess with someone else's bike.'
1,218 employees have more than 40 years of experience each, meaning they've accumulated more than 48,000 years of combined expertise among them.
That kind of lineage and long-term employment are what kept the man who machined each of the propeller shafts for every U.S. aircraft carrier ever built on the job until August 2, 2013.
He stayed on for so long because he wanted to know the results of his hard work would be installed on the new Ford carriers. They were.
Newport News VP Bill Ermatinger tells Business Insider that his shipbuilders feel they're serving their country just as much as the Navy crews they work beside.
But building ships does forge unique bonds among Newport workers and Navy personnel. Sharing a culture and workplace where anchor chains have 360-pound links is just a part of it.
Newport workers built the Gerald R. Ford's gigantic propellers and the Navy's sailors rely upon them.
They've not only built aircraft carriers, but submarines. Here, a ring section awaits placements on a new ship under construction.
Much of the work Newport News performs is classified and must be done inside shelters with restricted access. The refueling of the ship's nuclear reactor was done long before we arrived and its location inside undisclosed.
Newport News also builds the highly clandestine Virginia-class submarines, of which we could only photograph a model.
But we could photograph the USS Abraham Lincoln after it came in for an overhaul that will last four years.
Each carrier has a 50-year life span and its maintenance schedule is plotted out from the day each keel is laid.
Nuclear powered carriers have an unlimited range and only pull into Newport News for refueling every 25 years.
Combined with some stunning scenery and access to the outdoors, there are definitely worse duty stations than Newport News for a crew to be stationed during a long overhaul.
A tour of duty here isn't all sunsets and seafood, though. Some enlisted members might spend the entire time refurbishing flooring to make something like this ...
As a result of some of the monotonous and drab duties, maintaining stationed Naval crew morale can be a challenge during long-term missions like the USS Lincoln's.
The bottom line is, civilian and Navy coexist here in a world fully dedicated to producing the most powerful machinery for the most powerful navy in the world.
'These are military shipbuilders; they're unique.' Ermatinger says of his employees. 'If they were building Carnival Cruise ships it'd be a different story.'
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