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CRONKITE: In the 1850s, shipyards on the Connecticut River and in Mystic and New London specialized in building shallow-draft vessels used in the coastal cotton trade in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

When the United States entered a commercial depression in the late 1850s, this cotton trade business enabled many Connecticut shipyards to survive. 

 When the Civil War arrived these shipyards were still active and during the Civil War played a very important role in shipbuilding.

WILLIAM PETERSON (Senior Curator, Mystic Seaport): Right here in Mystic, for example, 56 steamers were launched in a 4-year period.  Probably the most famous was the gunboat Galina which was the nation’s first ocean going ironclad vessel ever. And it was one of the first of the three ironclad vessels ordered by the ¾ by the United States Navy during the Civil War. The other two being the vessel called the ¾ the New Ironsides, and the most famous, of course, was the Monitor. 

CRONKITE: The Galena was built by Madison’s Cornelius Scranton Bushnell, a successful shipbuilder and owner of the Shoreline Railroad. 

After starting construction of the Galena, Bushnell met John Ericsson, a ship designer who had plans for a radically different  type of ironclad. Bushnell recognized the cutting-edge technology and brought the plans to Washington, where he lobbied Congress for another shipbuilding contract.

It was a Connecticut connection in Washington – Gideon Welles -- that helped win Bushnell his second ironclad contract, for a ship, to be called the Monitor.

WILLIAM PETERSON (Senior Curator, Mystic Seaport): Gideon Welles, is a good example of the broader influence that Connecticut has had on the nation’s maritime affairs over the years. 

He was Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy. And Gideon Welles, although he wasn’t really a seafarer himself, had great organizational skills and was instrumental in putting together the American Navy during the Civil War, and building that up to a ¾ to a point where it grew from a relatively small fleet of vessels to the largest naval fleet in the world by the time the ¾ the Civil War came to an end. 

EDWARD KUBLER (C.S. Bushnell’s Great Grandson): The story of getting The Monitor accepted by the  government in Washington is really where the story intertwines with Gideon Wells knowing Cornelius Scranton Bushnell. One thing led to another and a contract was let and simultaneously he was building The Galena and that was happening up the coast and meanwhile The Monitor was happening over in Green Point Long Island and in New York. On March 9th 1862  the Monitor fought the battle, with the Merrimack which was the first significant battle of ironclad vessel against ironclad vessel and it was the – the final proof that a wooden hull vessel really has no more utility in this form of warfare.


CRONKITE: During the American Revolution, Connecticut resident David Bushnell -- an ancestor of Cornelius Scranton Bushnell --  built the first submarine in America, the barrel-shaped Turtle.  

Although it attacked the British several times during the War of Independence, the reality of operating in open harbor waters proved too much for the technology of the time. But Connecticut’s place in submarine history would continue with Electric Boat in Groton.

John Welch (Sr. V.P. General Dynamics Marine Systems Group): The first time submarines were actually built here in New London was in 1924 when we set up the shipyard here

and the first submarine we built for the United States was in 1933, here in New London, The Cuttle Fish. And then we built … about 112, 114 diesel submarines. Most of those were delivered during World War II 

CRONKITE: Submarines built by Electric Boat  played a critical part in the Allied war effort in World War II.

At the peak of World War Two, Electric Boat employed 12,500 people and was launching a submarine every two weeks.

But when the war ended, EB struggled to adapt to peacetime.

John Welch (Sr. V.P. General Dynamics Marine Systems Group): And it really wasn’t till the early 50’s that we started building submarines again post World War II and that really was to start to build the workforce, the production workforce back up for the emergence of nuclear power. 


CRONKITE: USS Nautilus was christened by Mamie Eisenhower and launched into the Thames River in January 1954. 

It was a soul-stirring moment for the thousands who came to see her and the millions who heard or read about the launch.

From her maiden voyage a year later, she shattered records -- running deep, fast and long, powered by the first practical nuclear power plant.

Nautilus’ spectacular success was the beginning of the nuclear navy so critical to Cold-War strategy, andthe birth of the  controversial civilian nuclear electric power plant program

Meanwhile, business would never be better for Electric Boat.

JOHN WELCH (Sr. V.P. General Dynamics Marine Systems Group): We grew the workforce a total of about 28,000 people in the early 80’s and that was associated just with the high production rate of submarines. About 3, 4 submarines a year were being delivered out of this facility

CRONKITE: The USS Connecticut, commissioned in 1998, was the 98th nuclear submarine delivered by Electric Boat  to the U.S. Navy.

Since the end of the cold war the demand for submarines has gone down.  So today we’re just over 9,000 people but the engineering design workforce and the production workforce is as skilled as its ever been, 

John Welch (Sr. V.P. General Dynamics Marine Systems Group): There’s not much like designing and building a submarine. That’s probably one of the most complicated structures that ever comes together and it’s a huge systems integration job.

And a lot of the technology associated with the sonar, the combat system, the torpedo technology, much of that was developed here in the region. So there became sort of a cottage industry that supported the production, the research and engineering activities in this region.

I think you can easily call it the “submarine capital of the world.” The fact that the submarines are based here, that really becomes the ¾ the key ingredient and the submarine base is really the heart of the Navy’s submarine training program as well. 

And so that ¾ that core of both technology production skills and operational skills is as strong today as its ever been

CRONKITE: The Submarine Base New London was established in 1868 as a coaling station.’  It was built on land donated by the town of New London and the State of Connecticut to the Navy. 

Through the 19th and 20th Centuries, the base expanded each time there was international tension or conflict.

In recent years the number of people stationed at the base has declined, with the end of the cold war to about 9,000 Naval personnel and 1,000 civilians. The Naval impact on the area remains strong, however, with an additional 19,000 family members who live on the base or in surrounding towns.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012