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Saginaw Shipbuilding Company Supports WWI

On April 21, 1921, the United States Government accepted the S.S. Lake Miraflores, the last vessel constructed for the government by the Saginaw Shipbuilding Company. The S.S. Lake Miraflores, a 253-foot long tanker, had the ability to carry both dry and liquid cargo. In the 1930s, it was utilized as a factory ship off the Pacific Coast at a site that processed sardines to produce fish oil and meal. Eventually, renamed the George F. Downey, it was allocated to War Shipping administration during World War II and scrapped in 1947.

While the Saginaw Shipbuilding Company was short-lived, there was great excitement at its establishment, and the Saginaw papers carefully covered its activities. Shortly before the launch of its first vessel, the Saginaw Daily News reported on June 22, 1918:

“The Steamer Lake Pachuta, first of the Saginaw Shipbuilding Company’s merchantmen, floats Saturday on the muddy waters of the Saginaw River ushering in a new era in the city’s industries and marking the advent of another way that Saginaw is assisting to win the war.”

Before leaving Saginaw, ships constructed by the company were painted with Dazzle Camouflage. The complex geometric patterns were not designed to conceal the ship; however, the patterns, executed in shades of blue and gray, were intended to distort the form and distance of a ship. The technique was used extensively during World War I. 

Organized in 1917, Saginaw Shipbuilding Company constructed 18 cargo ships for the Emergency Fleet Corporation that was established by United States Shipping Board. Located on the banks of the Saginaw River in Carrollton, north of the Sixth Street Bridge, the yards were across the river from Grey Iron Foundry. The steel hulled, ocean-going vessels constructed at the facility were sized to pass through the Welland Ship Canal connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario and eventually gain access to the Atlantic Ocean.

The company employed between 1,000 and 1,500 workers. According to tradition, Mrs. Woodrow Wilson selected the names of the ships. Although 24 ships were ordered, the war ended and the order for the last six was canceled. In 1921, Ruggles Motor Truck Company used the shipyards as the site for its factory.

While the Castle Museum of Saginaw County History has a number of photographs of ships constructed by the Saginaw Shipbuilding Company, there are no images of the S.S. Miraflores in the collection.


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