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Fore River Apprentice School

Quincy, Massachusetts



A History of Shipbuilding at Fore River by Anthony F. Sarcone and Lawrence S. Rines provides a history of both the shipyard and the school.  The Library of Congress has a history of the school as well as images of the building, prepared by the National Park Service.  The Boston Herald covered some sporting events.


Thomas Watson’s Fore River Ship & Engine Company opened at Quincy, Massachusetts in 1883; he was the first of three owners of the Fore River shipyards.  In 1906 Watson’s company opened an apprentice school to train young shipyard workers.  Candidates for admission had to be between 18 and 20 years of age, have a high school diploma, and to have passed a rigorous physical examination.  In addition candidates were admitted only on a quota system:  50% had relatives working in the same department at the shipyard; 25% had relatives working at the shipyard; and 25% were from outside the shipyard.


The school day was 7:30 until 4:00.  During this time students were on company time, learning or practicing trades essential to ship building.  Sarcone and Rines list these as pipefitter, plumber, coppersmith, electrician, shipwriter, joiner, pattern maker, machinist, sheet metal, boilermaker, shipfitter, loftsman, electrical draftsman, foundrymen, and  outside machinist.  In addition, students had four two-hour classes each week in mathematics, mechanical drawing, reading blueprints, and physics.  The program covered four years.


Listed enrollment in 1909 was 45, taught by four instructors. .  Enrollment in 1939, on the eve of World War II, had jumped to 250, taught by a staff of 14.


Apparently the school had some social life.  A note in 1916 shows a school dance.  In order to recruit dance partners, the apprentices selected the six prettiest girls attending a baseball game and awarded them free dance tickets.   There was also as note that the Quincy Women’s Club sponsored the apprentices as a welfare project.


Sarcone and Rines note that in the 1960’s and 70’s, enrollment decreased as other industries paid higher wages.  The apprentice school closed some time around 1984.   Former Michigan Senator Patrick V. McNamara (upper right) was a graduate of the school and worked as a pipe fitter.

Bricks and Mortar

The apprentice school opened at the Y.M.C.A., moving to the shipyard  a year later.  In 1916 on the brink of World War I, Bethlehem Steel Company, which now owned the yard, built a new school.  Known as Building 41, it was two-story frame structure measuring 56 by 72 feet.  It had wood floors and “functional” pressed wood walls.  Above the classrooms was a mold attic under the gable roof.


In 1943 as enrollment increased for World War II, the building gained an addition.  The addition added office space, more classrooms and a larger mold loft.  Total floor space was now 4,055 square feet.  As welding began to replace riveting in ship manufacturing, another building was created to teach welding.


Surveyed in 1989, the building was determined to be in “poor condition” and scheduled for demolition.  The area was now owned by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.


General Dynamics Corporation Shipyard, Apprentice School, 97 East Howard Street, Quincy, Norfolk County, MA.  The original building with four vents is to the left.  The part with the flat roof is the 1943 addition. ( accessed 12-21-2017


Before the creation of the apprentice school, Fore River shipyards had a tradition of sports teams in baseball and association football.  The apprentice school fielded baseball teams as early as 1916 (see the note above on the school dance), and that same year at least one student ran in the Fourth of July five-mile handicap road race.  The Boston Herald reported football activity starting in 1938.   Bethlehem Steel Company operated apprentice schools at both the Fore River and Newport News, VA shipyards.  The apprentice schools met yearly in football between 1938 and 1941.  Fore River gained a tie against 3 losses.  Other football opponents included Marianapolis College, Bridgeton (ME) Academy, St. John’s Prep, Wentworth Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Dean Academy. 


Note: Images are used in accordance with their “terms of use” as I understand those terms.  Recopying or republishing these images may be restricted or forbidden.

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