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Mare Island Shipyard Apprentice School


Vallejo, California


A long Line of Ships (1954) by Arnold S. Lott, Lt. Comdr., U.S.N. is the most complete history of the Mare Island shipyard.  The 1997 National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet gives a history of the shipyard, focusing on its buildings. An article by Kenneth Swezey, “Boys Build Battleships in Navy Yard Apprentice Schools,” provides the history of the apprentice programs.  The San Francisco Chronicle covered most sporting events.   The image (right) is from Lott's book.


Work at the Mare Island Shipyard began with repairing a leak in the U.S.S. St. Mary’s in 1855.    The U.S.S. Saginaw, a paddle-wheel gunboat, was the first ship built there in 1859.  Before the shipyard closed in 1996, it had built 512 ships and repaired 715 more.


Swezey notes that with the coming of steel ships, “Almost overnight, shipbuilding became a complex science demanding several dozen new skills, backed by first- rate technical knowledge.”  In 1912 the Navy Department authorized the creation of schools right in the yard.  The photo of the first class of the shipyard apprentice school at Mare Island is dated 1915.


Candidates had to be “between sixteen and twenty-two years of age, a citizen of the United States, physically sound, mentally capable, and in good health.”


Naval Shipyard Duty for Engineering Specialists notes that apprentices received 7,000 hours of instruction over a four-year period.  Each month they received three weeks of on-the-job training, followed by one week of classroom instruction.  One Mare Island student complained, "It was way tougher than high school. . . probably 10 times more homework than I was used to. If you flunked, you were fired."


According to The Status of Skilled Trades Training in U.S. Shipyards, apprentices were trained in fifty trades.  The most common ones were boilermaker, carpenter, electrician, insulator, joiner, machinist, painter, pipefitter, sheet metal worker, and welder.  Ultimately the Mare Island apprentices were directed to focus on pipe fitting and fabric work. 


The onset of World War II brought a great demand for all shipyard workers at Mare Island.  Lott observes that it was a situation “where the apprentice school paid off.”


In 1974 women were accepted as apprentices at Mare Island.


The Apprentice school closed with the yard in 1996.

Bricks and Mortar

The Continuation Sheet lists three buildings that had served at one time or another as the school for shipyard apprentices. The oldest—Building 45—dates from 1864.  Originally a two-story brick storehouse, it was redesigned in 1915, when the eastern half was removed and the roof was flattened.  Building 65 was designed as the apprentice school in 1901.  The two-story brick building features a gable roof, a large circular window and a monitoring system.  At another time it housed offices and the Yard’s printing facilities.  Building 208 was designed as the apprentice training building in 1917.  It is a wood frame building with corrugated metal sheathing.   At the end of World War II, it became home to the cafeteria and shipyard offices.  


All three buildings are part of the Mare Island Historical District.

Building 65(left)  Note the round gable window and the gable monitors.  Image from Library of Congress     Building 45 (right) after the 1915 renovation.  It is now home to a distillery. Image by Eugene Zelenko accessed 12-8-2017


        Team Name: Newspapers invariably referred to the team as the Apprentices          

        Colors: A 1901 Mare Island apprentice team had Yellow and White as colors


A Mare Island apprentice team lost to the Princeton club 18-0 in a lightweight football game in 1901.  Newspapers show no more sports activity until 1926 when the Call lists football losses to Benicia town team, the Vallejo Wanderers and the Livermore Cowboys.  Football activity continued through 1936.  The Apprentices played games against Bay area high schools—Polytechnic, St. Ignatius, Vallejo, Apache, and Galileo.  College competition included San Francisco State, Santa Rosa JC, and Marin JC.  The schedule also included freshman or reserve teams from San Jose State, College of the Pacific, and the California Aggies. 


The Apprentices played baseball against the same teams.


But the main sport of the Apprentice School was basketball, a sport played at least until 1953.  In addition to scholastic and collegiate opponents, the Apprentices played in a local league against other Mare Island entities. The highlight of each season was the three-game Pacific Coast Navy Yard Championship series played against either Puget Sound or Bremerton apprentices.

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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