“We shall build good ships here; at a profit, if we can; at a loss, if we must; but always good ships.”— Collis P. Huntington
Homer L. Ferguson
Homer Lenoir Ferguson was an important figure in the City of Newport News. He was president of the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company from 1915 to 1946 and chairman from 1940 to 1953. Ferguson was born in North Carolina and entered the Naval Academy at the age of 15. After graduation he studied at the University of Glasgow and served in the Navy. When he resigned from the Navy in 1904, Ferguson began working at the Newport News Shipyard. Homer Ferguson is well known for leading the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company through both World Wars and the depression. Shown on postcard dated February 22, 1920, from left to right are: Mr. D. L. Wood, General J. J. Pershing (Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, Europe), Mr. H. L. Ferguson, and Mr. F. P. Palen.
In 1886 the Virginia General Assembly granted a charter for the Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company, which was changed in 1890 to the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company. The first land used for the company was purchased from the ODLC as 425 feet on Washington Avenue from 39th to 41st streets and to the James River.
The dry docks were built by J. E. Simpson & Company. The Chesapeake Dry Dock and Construction Company officially opened on April 24, 1889 with the docking of the Navy’s warship Puritan. Collis P. Huntington brought the famous poets Walt Whitman and Joaquin Miller to the event.
The shipyard prospered during both World Wars. During World War I alone, the shipyard had over $100 million in government contracts. The first battleships built at the shipyard were contracted in 1896 and were the Kearsarge and the Kentucky. In the early years of WWI many ships took refuge at the shipyard. Most ships were launched without ceremony in the absence of time. However, on one occasion, the shipyard held Liberty Launching Day. On this day, July 4, 1918, the three destroyers Haraden, Abbot, and Thomas were launched.
During World War II the shipyard once again experienced a surge in contracts mainly from the military. One of the major projects was the construction of aircraft carriers. Under Ferguson’s direction, the shipyard built eight carriers in less than 30 months.