Naval History and Heritage Command

Shipbuilding Contracts

Shipbuilding Contracts


This collection is composed of shipbuilding contracts from the years 1892-1945. Most contracts concern individual ships identified by name and/or hull number. Others are for groups of ships, equipment, or for shipbuilding facilities. Pre-World War Two contracts are arranged by date; World War Two contracts are arranged by contractor name. The earliest documents were originally located at the Bureau of Construction and Repair until its disestablishment in 1940. Documents were then at the Bureau of Ships until its disestablishment in 1966. The collection was subsequently transferred from Naval Sea System Command to the Navy Department Library in the spring of 2004.

Information Included in Contracts

Contracts typically contain the following data: date of contract, name of contractor and its location of business, names of representatives of government (Navy) and contractor, price of procurement (the initial price; amendments might follow), place of performance, schedule of performance, delivery location. Many of the contracts also include the source of funding, such as an Act of Congress, which states the title and date of the appropriation.

Contracts for ships also typically include: name and use of vessel or the general name of the item such as steel plate, or boiler, etc.; general specifications (however, some detailed specifications find their way into the contract pertaining to consumption rates for coal, steam pressure levels, draught, duty cycles and weight of machinery); speed (sustained) of vessel; schedule of payments and penalties for failure to meet requirements (some contracts define degrees of deviation from specifications and their associated penalties in dollars; workmanship). Additionally, a statement that the contractor assumes all of the risk is included. Some contracts include a statement regarding the use of domestic steel or a workforce of US Citizens. The classification of vessel as defined by the American Bureau of Shipping (which was required during inspection of plans and during construction) is provided. This classification was a shorthand way to indicate the standards of construction given the intended duty location of the ship (river, lake, and ocean-going service) and the number of years of good service (with extension of certification with subsequent inspections).

Many contracts make mention of plans and specifications which would be provided separately. Not all contracts for ships included requirements for coal/fuel capacity or consumption.

Many larger dollar-amount contracts include a bond document, which served to provide a guarantee to the government that the contractor would perform in accordance with the terms of the contract. The guarantor was a financial institution, which typically specialized in such arrangements.

For an example of the contents of a contract see the contract for USS Indianapolis. No other contracts from this collection are available in electronic format.

Use and Reproduction Policy

These documents are unavailable for loan and must be consulted in the library. The contracts are in oversized and often fragile volumes; photocopying of them is not permitted. Use of digital cameras by researchers to reproduce pages from documents is encouraged. The library does not provide a document duplication service. Researchers who are unable to visit the library, but wish to obtain reproductions of documents, should contact the Naval Historical Foundation for duplication services.

Notes: US Navy ship contract documents through World War Two period should be located at the National Archives and Records Administration in the records of the Bureau of Ships in Record Group (RG) 19. Pre-World War II contracts should be at the National Archives’ Old Military and Civil Branch, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, 20408, telephone (202) 501-5385. World War II and later documents should be located at the National Archives’ Modern Military Records office, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001, telephone (301) 837-3510.

Naval Sea Systems Command likely controls post-World War documents not at the National Archives.

Published:Wed Dec 10 15:56:09 EST 2014