Summary Information
Title: Records of Dravo Corporation
Collection Number: MSS#288
Creator: Dravo Corporation
Collection Dates: 1900-1995
Collection Dates: 1943-1986
Extent: 3.25 cubic feet (6 boxes and 1 shelf volume)
Originally, Dravo produced steam engines but then they branched out to produce other steel products such as ships, mine shafts and caissons. Adverse economic conditions in the 1970-80s forced Dravo to sell many of their facilities. The collection includes materials related to the history of the company along with biographical material on its founders.


The material in this collection is in English.


Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222


This finding aid has been encoded as a part of the Historic Pittsburgh project a joint effort of the University of Pittsburgh and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Funding for this portion of the project has been donated by the Hillman Foundation.
Date Published:

Winter, 2001-2002

This guide to the collection was originally prepared by N. Weikers and C. Moore on August 14, 1998. Revisions occurred to the finding aid as a part of the encoding process in Winter, 2001-2002.

Encoded by Doug MacGregor on February 14, 2002 from an existing finding aid. >Reviewed by Curator on
Revision Description:
July 1, 2006:
Converted from EAD Version 1.0 to EAD Version 2002

History of the Dravo Corporation (1890-1985)

Francis R. Dravo, founder of the Dravo Corporation, received a Mechanical Engineering degree from Lehigh University in 1887. In 1890, he decided to go into business for himself as a Pittsburgh representative for a manufacturer of steam engines. In 1891, he hired a mechanic by the name of Thomas Doyle. Doyle was engaged only 35 hours per week, but remained with Dravo for 35 years as both a partner and friend. In 1893, Francis' brother, Ralph Marshall, joined the business. He too had graduated from Lehigh University, but with a degree in Metallurgy.

In the late nineteenth century, nearly every office had a steam engine to generate its own electricity, and the exhaust steam was used for heat in the winter. F.R. Dravo & Company sold such engines, but also sold all the accessories, completed the installation, and operated the equipment for a trial period before acceptance. This was a new idea that was fraught with financial hazards, but which attracted customers.

In 1898, the firm expanded its activities into the general construction field in building mine shafts and, later, reinforced steel caissons, the first in the United States. At this point, it was decided to divide the business into two parts: the Dravo Contracting Company, which would do construction work, and the Dravo-Doyle Company, which would handle the sale and installation of machinery.

In 1902, a contract was obtained covering the lock, guide walls, and abutments for a dam at Six Mile Island, on the Allegheny River. Dravo was soon building locks, dams, and bridge foundations for many subsequent projects, including those for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Needing a dependable supply of raw materials, the three men established the Keystone Sand and Supply Company. This led to the construction of dredges, barges, and towboats to produce, handle, and transport, these materials. It also led to the development of deck-type barges to save time and money that was being wasted on the repeated pumping of water out of wooden hopper barges, in use at that time. Dravo launched its first steel barge in 1915, and shortly thereafter, a steel dredge. A steel steam-powered towboat was built the following year, but soon, steam power was replaced by the diesel engine. Following World War I, a barge assembly yard was established at Wilmington, Delaware, to serve the East Coast market and to provide floating equipment for construction projects in that area. A subsidiary, the Fullerton-Portsmouth Bridge Company, was established to operate bridges being built by Dravo.

Due to inadequate terminal facilities for handling sand and gravel, Dravo designed and installed full-revolving broad base cranes of large capacity. These became popular among shipbuilders, and many were sold, especially during the boom after World War I. Another advance in marine construction was the use of welding to replace riveting. Dravo's first all-welded hull was launched in 1929. Simultaneously, the sale and installation of machinery was broadened. The centrifugal pump geared to a high-speed steam turbine was introduced for water works and industrial services.

In 1929, Dravo completed a nine-foot channel in the Ohio River from its origin in Pittsburgh to its confluence with the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, enabling year-round barge traffic and leading to increased transportation and industry along the Ohio. Dravo acquired interest in the Union Barge Corporation, which provided lower cost river transportation, and in its subsidiary, the Southern Transfer Company at Memphis, a river-rail transfer terminal. The Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers became such major river ways that the Port of Pittsburgh became the largest inland port in the world, handling more freight than either the Panama or Suez Canals, or the Ports of Philadelphia, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

In 1930, a holding company was organized under the name of the Dravo Corporation. It acquired all the stock of the various enterprises that had been established by Dravo previously. R.R. Dravo was Chairman and R.M. Dravo, President. Doyle had already retired in 1926. In 1934, both brothers died. Subordinates who had been carefully selected and who had already been given maximum responsibility replaced them. During the worst of the Depression years and the gradual recovery that followed, Dravo's activities initially declined but then resurged. Shaft, tunnel, bridge foundation, dam and power plant construction, and the production of towboats, barges, material-handling equipment continued, as did sand and gravel dredging and transportation and the barging of coal.

In October 1941, Dravo launched the Submarine Chaser "PC 490," the first of 385 ships built by Dravo during World War II. Included were 150 landing ships for tanks (LST's), 65 landing ships medium (LSM's) and a variety of other vessels. Dravo undertook numerous other production and projects, totaling nearly $500 million in government contracts during the war. Dravo's work schedule increased to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and its workforce increased from 1,500 to 25,000. Dravo was given the first All-Navy "E" Award presented to a company and later received five renewals.

The post-war era required downward adjustments. Employment was cut back to 4,500 in 1946. Many practices and procedures had to be eliminated or reduced, and efforts were made at diversification. There were renewed emphasis on the use of steel sheet pile cells for icebreakers and dock structures. Construction of dams and locks, which had been suspended during the war, was resumed. Gravel production methods were improved. Towboat efficiency was increased. All of these efforts have continued through the years.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars too resulted in increased defense contracting. A new venture for Dravo was the construction of carriages for mobile artillery pieces capable of firing nuclear weapons. Subsequently, Dravo has become heavily involved in the production of and installation of heating and air conditioning for industrial plants and for large commercial and waste disposal plants, gas compressor stations, and oil pipeline pumping stations.

In the late 1970s and 80s, Dravo was affected by adverse economic conditions and forced to sell some of its facilities, including its light metals plant, which produced heating and air conditioning equipment.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Dravo Company Records are housed in six archival boxes and one scrapbook. It includes materials related to the history of the company along with biographical material on its founders. Abundant company publications including annual reports, brochures, The Dravo News,The Dravo Slant, and The Dravo Review, among others, can also be found. The scrapbook contains news clippings and other publicity from 1934 to 1948.

Controlled Access Terms
  • Bridges -- design and construction
  • Cranes, derricks, etc. -- manufacturers
  • Hoisting machinery -- manufacturers
  • Industries -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
  • Shipbuilding -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
  • Steel castings -- Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh
Corporate Names
  • Dravo Corporation
Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

This collection is open for research.

Aquisition Information:

These materials came in one accession in 1997.

Acc.#1997.0362 Gift of the Dravo Seniors (Records).

Preferred Citation:

Records of Dravo Corporation, 1900-1986, MSS# 288, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by N. Weikers and C. Moore on August 14, 1998.

Revision and rearrangement for the encoded version of the finding aid provided by Doug MacGregor on February 14, 2002.


Property rights reside with the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permissions to reproduce or publish, please contact the curator of the Archives.

Contents List
Historical and Biographical Material

Box 1
folder 1 Biographical Material 1960-1994
folder 2 Burns Harbor Installation c1970
folder 3 E-insignia Presentation 1942
folder 4 "A Foundation for Better Government" 1946
folder 5 Historical Material 1941-1986
Library Acquisitions and Distributions
folder 6 1954-1960
folder 7 1960-1963
folder 8 LST's 1942-1995
folder 9 Patent Report 1983
folder 10 Personnel Policy Manual 1981
folder 11 Policy Statement 1960
folder 12 "Reminiscences" by J.S. Miller 1950
volume shelf Scrapbook 1934-1948
Annual Reports

Box 2
folder 1 1971-1975
folder 2 1976-1978
folder 3 1979-1980
folder 4 1981-1984
folder 5 Brochures n.d.
folder 6 The Cross Section 1982-1985
folder 7 DCI Global News 1984-1985

Box 3
folder 1 "The Design Features of a Modern Dravo-Lurgi Sinter Plant" n.d.
folder 2 Dravo Makes the News 1977-1978
Dravo News
folder 3 1981-1982
folder 4 1982-1987
Dravo Review
folder 5 1948-1953
folder 6 1954-1956
folder 7 1957-1959

Box 4
folder 1 1960-1962
folder 2 1963-1965
folder 3 1966
folder 4 1967-1968

Box 5
folder 1 1969-1970
folder 2 1971-1972
folder 3 1973-1974
Dravo Slant
folder 4 February-June
folder 5 June-December

Box 6
folder 1 EWD Matters 1977-1980
folder 2 External Publications 1943-1966
folder 3 Interchange 1982-1985
folder 4 Interface 1977-1980
folder 5 Pamphlets 1981-1984
folder 6 Personnel Publications 1948
folder 7 "Proposal to Agricultural Products Corp." 1974
folder 8 Sales News Update 1977-1980