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Bath Iron Works (BIW) is a major United States shipyard located on the Kennebec River in Bath, Maine, founded in 1884 as Bath Iron Works, Limited. BIW has built private, commercial, and military vessels, most of which have been ordered by the United States Navy. The shipyard has built and sometimes designed battleships, frigates, cruisers, and destroyers, including the Arleigh Burke class which are currently among the world's most advanced surface warships.
Since 1995, Bath Iron Works has been a subsidiary of General Dynamics, the fifth-largest defense contractor in the world as of 2008. During World War II, ships built at BIW were considered to be of superior toughness by sailors and Navy officials, giving rise to the phrase "Bath-built is best-built."
Bath Iron Works was incorporated in 1884 by General Thomas W. Hyde, a native of Bath who served in the American Civil War. After the war, he bought a shop that made windlasses and other iron hardware for the wooden ships built in Bath's many shipyards. He expanded the business by improving its practices, entering new markets, and acquiring other local businesses. By 1882, Hyde Windlass was eyeing the new and growing business of iron shipbuilding, and it incorporated as Bath Iron Works in 1884. On February 28, 1890, BIW won its first contract for complete vessels: two iron gunboats for the Navy. One of these 190-foot (58 m) ships was the Machias, the first ship launched by the company. In 1892, the yard won its first commercial contract for the 2,500-ton steel passenger steamer City of Lowell. In the 1890s, the company built several yachts for wealthy sailors.
In 1899, Hyde was suffering from Bright's Disease and resigned from management of the shipyard, leaving his sons Edward and John in charge. The shipyard began construction of Georgia that same year, the only battleship ever built in Bath. It dominated the yard for five years until its launching in 1904, and was at times the only ship under construction. The yard faced numerous challenges because of the weight of armor and weapons. In sea trials, Georgia averaged 19.26 knots (35.67 km/h; 22.16 mph) for four hours, making her the fastest ship in her class and the fastest battleship in the United States Navy at the time. The company continued to rely on Navy contracts, which provided 86-percent of the value of new contracts between 1905 and 1917. The yard also produced fishing trawlers, freighters, and yachts throughout the first half of the century. These included Vanda, Hi-Esmaro, Aras I and Aras II, Caroline, and Corsair IV, which later served as a cruise ship before sinking off Acapulco, Mexico in 1949. The shipyard was at peak production during World War II (1943-1944) and launched a destroyer every 17 days. Bath Iron Works ranked 50th among United States corporations in the value of World War II military production contracts. In 1981, Falcon Transport ordered two tankers, the last commercial vessels built by BIW.
USS Samuel B. Roberts was commissioned at Bath in 1986, and it survived a mine explosion which tore a hole in its engine room and flooded two compartments. Over the next two years, BIW repaired the ship in unique fashion. The guided missile frigate was towed to the company's dry dock in Portland, Maine, and put up on blocks, where the damaged engine room was cut out of the ship. Meanwhile, workers in Bath built a 315-ton replacement, and the module was floated south to Portland, placed on the dry dock, slid into place under the frigate, jacked up, and welded into place.
In 1995, Bath Iron Works was bought by General Dynamics. In 2001, the company wrapped up a four-year effort to build the Land Level Transfer Facility, an enormous concrete platform for final assembly of its ships, instead of building them on a sloping way so that they could slide into the Kennebec at launch. Hulls are now moved by rail from the platform horizontally onto a moveable dry dock, which greatly reduced the work involved in building and launching the ships. The 750-foot (230 m), 28,000-ton dry dock was built by China's Jiangdu Yuchai Shipbuilding Company for $27 million.