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From 1802, when Thatcher Magoun, Sr., ‘laid the first keel of that fleet of ocean merchants ships whose sails have shaded every sea and bay on the navigable globe,’ down to the laying of the last keel by Joshua T. Foster in 1873, ship building was the leading industry of the town. The business was of steady growth from the first, and reached its climax in the decade from 1843 to 1853, in which one hundred and eighty-five vessels were constructed. The banner year was 1845, in which thirty of the number slid over ‘the ways.’

Though the launchings in Medford did not excite the world as did that of the German emperor's yacht, Meteor, they were nevertheless occasions of much interest, and never failed to draw many spectators. They sometimes occurred at midnight, especially in summer, when the tallow on the ways was in danger of being melted under a meridian sun.

The ships were usually built by contract, but the builders often made sub-contracts with individuals or clubs to do certain parts of the work, and those subcon-tractors, by very earnest work and sometimes even prolonging the customary ten-hour day, usually made their jobs very profitable.

To construct the patterns for the ribs in the ship's [p. 43] frame required much skill, and, at the time of which we write, Elisha Stetson and James Ford had the monopoly of making them.

Ships, especially the larger ones, were usually launched when the moon was new or full, and consequently near the noon or midnight hour, as the tide was then the highest. To make the launching easy they were built on an inclined plane. In their construction the first act was to lay the keel, a very large, well-smoothed hard wood timber (rock maple being the favorite) extending from stem to stern. It was supported by blocks placed a few feet apart, and on it the vessel was to rest till finished. As the work progressed, shores were placed along the ship's sides to prevent it from careening. The end nearest the water was usually the stern, but sometimes the prow. When it was ready for the launch, ways were laid on each side at a distance, according to the vessel's size, of five to seven feet from the keel, and extended down to the low water mark in the river. These, about eighteen or twenty inches wide, were made of long and strong timbers, and had in the centre a securely fastened strip of wood a few inches in height and width which served as a flange to keep the moving vessel on the track. After these had been given a heavy coating of tallow, sometimes a sprinkling of flaxseed, but oftener a film of castile soap, in addition, heavy timbers, called bilgeways, with a groove on the under side to fit the projection on the ways, were drawn up under the ship, and, by blocking, made to fit well its bottom. A multitude of wooden wedges were then driven between the ship and the underlying timbers, in order to equalize the bearing upon the ways and remove some of the pressure from the blocks under the keel. Then, the before-named shores having been removed, the final act consisted in splitting to pieces with mauls and iron wedges (as the only means of removing) the blocks under the keel, commencing with those nearest the river. When all these or sometimes all but two or three were demolished [p. 44] the ship would begin to move, at first as slow as the hour hand of a clock, but faster and faster till the final dive.

The construction of a ship's frame required an immense amount of timber, enough, it was said, to fill another ship of the same size. An oak log too crooked to be worked into it could hardly be found. Almost the only square or straight timbers used were the keel which lay beneath the ribs and the keelson which lay inside the ship and above the keel to which it was firmly bolted. A rib usually consisted of six pieces firmly bolted together, and its shape depended upon the place it was to occupy. Sometimes the timbers were hewn in the forest where the trees were felled, but usually the hewing was done in the yard where the ship was being built. In this process the cubical contents of the logs were greatly diminished (in some cases by more than one half), and as in the cutting of diamonds, a large percentage of the gems takes the form of chips and dust, which still have a value, so the fragments of the hewn timbers, which thus became abundant, were distributed through the town to purchasers who paid for them, according to the amount of solid wood, at the rate of $1.75 to $2.25 per load of nearly half a cord. The workmen in the shipyards usually numbered about two hundred and fifty, and sometimes more.

The taking of shad and alewives for a brief period in spring had long been a profitable industry, and though its value had greatly diminished before 1847, yet in that year $253 were paid to the town for the privilege of capturing them. On certain days in the week nets were stretched across the river at convenient places, and on being drawn to the shore, would often contain a cartload or more of the treasure.

Messrs. Waterman and Litchfield were doing an extensive business in the manufacture of doors, blinds, sashes, etc., on what is now Swan street.

Robert Bacon had a factory at Baconville (in northwest Medford) in which he made hat bodies, feltings, etc. [p. 45] He is said to have constructed more than fifty thousand hat bodies per year.

Thomas R. Peck & Co. had, on Mystic avenue, a factory for making fur (commonly called beaver) hats, of which the product some years had been about ten thousand, valued at about $40,000.

But soon after the time of which we write, that department of industry was entirely ruined by the growing popularity and sale of the silk variety which, having been then a few years upon the market, obtained and held undisputed sway till a new style, with low crowns, was set by Kossuth on his visit to the United States in December, 1851.

In 1837 George L. and Henry L. Stearns commenced, on Union street, the manufacture of linseed oil from seed purchased in Calcutta. In one year they made 13,500 gallons from 7,300 bushels of seed. January 30, 1849,1 their factory was burned and never rebuilt. Its tall chimney was afterwards moved intact across the branch canal to the shipyard of J. O. Curtis, where it now stands, minus a few of its top bricks.

The tide mill on Riverside avenue, recently managed by F. E. Foster & Co., was simply a grist mill in 1847, and was run by Gershom Cutter.

All the above named industries, so far as Medford is concerned, are now ‘things of the past,’ but the famous Withington Bakery, carried on by machinery and without the use of fagots; the more famous Lawrence Distillery, by greatly improved methods; the Teel Carriage Factory, immensely enlarged, and the South Medford brick-making, by the ancient methods, all of which were then prosperous, are still in successful operation, but under different owners.

1 ‘Loss, $12,000; insurance, $8,000.’ Boston Post, February 1, 1849.

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