John H. Dialogue

If the measures of success are how long the items of one's manufacture remain in use, and how far around the world they have traveled, John Dialogue surely should be one of Camden's more recognizable names. In truth, in his time and for many years thereafter he was.

Born in Philadelphia in 1828 to Adam and Sallie Dialogue, John Dialogue founded a successful shipbuilding business in Camden. It was at one time on of the four largest shipyards in America. There are tugboats produced in his yards that remain in use today, over 100 years after his passing. He also produced patrol craft for the United States Navy. 

John Dialogue deeply involved himself in the civic affairs of the city, and devoted much time to education. He served two terms on the Board of education, and was greatly responsible for the erection of the Richard Fetters, Isaac S. Mulford School, and John W. Mickle schools in the 1870s. He also served on City Council, was its president at one time, and was elected as a Democrat to the State Senate from Camden, which was heavily Republican at the time. He also served as president of the Electoral College delegation from New Jersey.

In 1850 he married Mary Easby in Philadelphia, and subsequently moved to Camden. There were four children, son John Dialogue Jr., and daughters Adelaide, Stella, and Lillie. Mrs. Mary Dialogue passed away in 1882. 

John Dialogue's first business in Camden was repairing locomotives for the Camden & Amboy Railroad, at South 2nd Street & Bridge Avenue, and also repaired ferry boats. In 1854 bought the Elias Kaighn foundry at South 2nd and Stevens Street, where he did general machine work and built Corliss stationary engines. In 1858 he moved his operation to Kaighn’s Point, where he eventually built a large shipyard. 

In 1862 with several partners John H. Dialogue founded the National Iron Armor and Shipbuilding Company in Camden. The first vessel built was the propellor-driven Lookout, of 25 tons, for W.P. Clyde. This business, however, closed before the Civil War ended. John H. Dialogue then worked as a subcontractor for the A. & W. Desmond firm at Baltimore, Maryland, in the construction of the monitor USS Waxsaw. 

The business was renamed in 1870 as the River Iron Works, Dialogue & Wood, proprietors. It was then that he started building iron ships. The first ship the new firm produced was the 48 ton propellor driven Frank G. Fowler. John Dialogue came into full control of the firm after the death of Mr. Wood.

The Dialogue shipyard was one of the first to adopt the compound marine engine and Scotch boiler. Best remembered for the many tugboats they produced, the Dialogue works built many noted vessels for private interests and for the United States government.  In the 1880s the yard produced a ship for the Lighthouse Board that was the first stem vessel having two sternpost and two rudder-posts and was used at Galveston, Texas. The Dialogue was also involved in the restoration of the USS Constitution in the 1870s. The shipyard had 34 acres, 2000 feet of waterfront, and employed from 200 to 800 men.

John H. Dialogue passed away on Sunday, October 23, 1898. His son, John H. Dialogue Jr., ran the operation for several years, before being forced out of business shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Below you will find the biography of John Dialogue published in George Reeser Prowell's History of Camden County, his 1898 obituary, a 1908 article from a book about the history of Philadelphia, a June 1939 article about him by Camden Courier-Post columnist Gordon Mackay, and much more recent article by Kenneth Kogan. There are also pictures and information about Dialogue produced ships.

If you have information or material concerning the Dialogue Shipyard, please e-mail Phil Cohen

Philadelphia Inquirer - April 20, 1871

New York Daily Graphic - February 24, 1875 

Philadelphia Inquirer - March 16, 1878

William Abels - J. Willard Morgan - A.B. Cameron - Crawford Miller - Mr. Knight
John Dialogue Sr. - Elwood Kemble - Dr. John Donges - Frank F. Michellon
Frederick W. Taw - William A. Turner - James E. Hayes - John H. Shultz -
John M. Gray Sr.
Robert S. Bender - William W. Mines - Wilbur F. Rose - H.M. Sharp - Joseph A. Porter

Philadelphia Inquirer - May 1, 1883

Philadelphia Inquirer - August 5, 1884

Philadelphia Inquirer - August 5, 1884

USLHS Madroño, photographed in 1891 on the West Coast.

The Madroño was laid down in 1884 by John H. Dialogue, Camden, New Jersey and was commissioned USLHS Madroño September 14, 1885. She was designed as an inspection tender for service on the west coast as a replacement for the tender Shubrick. She arrived in San Francisco, California, in January of 1886. She was the third tender to serve in the Pacific. During her career, she had two service launches assigned to her, the Hazel and Madroño.  The ship was acquired by the Navy  November 27, 1917 and was returned to the Department of Commerce July 1, 1919. She was decommissioned in 1927 and sold. In 1941 Madrono was acquired by the U.S. Army and renamed USAT Colonel Charles L. Willard.

John Dialogue Biography to 1886
 from George Reeser Prowell's History of Camden County
Page 383

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Page 384
Page 385
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Philadelphia Inquirer - June 7, 1890
William Stroud - Cherry Street

Philadelphia Inquirer - May 22, 1897

Camden Daily Courier - October 24, 1898


Stretch of a Long and Busy L
ife Closely Allied With the Interests of the City
Some of the Vessels Built – Reconstruction of the Constitution

John H. Dialogue the ship builder of worldwide renown, whose serious illness was first made known by the Courier last Tuesday, died yesterday afternoon at his residence, northeast corner of Broadway and Pine Street. Heart disease was the cause of death. Since early last September Mr. Dialogue had been complaining of feeling unwell. He was then at Atlantic City, but the ocean ozone failing to restore his health, he closed his cottage and returned to his Camden home. Up to ten days ago he was able to be about, when he was compelled to take to his bed. He grew gradually worse and his sudden death yesterday came with a shock to on the community that knew him so well. 

The deceased shipbuilder was born in Philadelphia in May 1828, of French-German ancestry. Adam Dialogue, his father, was the inventor and manufacturer of leather riveted fire hose. Young Dialogue attended the central High School, Philadelphia, and graduated in 

1846. The deceased shipbuilder was born in Philadelphia in May 1828, of French-German ancestry. Adam Dialogue, his father, was the inventor and manufacturer of leather riveted fire hose. Young Dialogue attended the central High School, Philadelphia, and graduated in 1846. He learned the trade of machinist with his uncle and during his spare hours educated himself as a draughtsman. In 1850, when but 22 years old, he moved to Camden and began business at Second and Bridge Avenue. He first engaged in doing general repair work of locomotives for the Camden & Amboy Railroad Company, and the steamers of the Camden & Philadelphia and West Jersey Ferry Companies. In 1834 he moved to the southwest corner of Second and Stevens Streets, having bought the foundry of Elias Kaighn. In 1858 he began the erection of the extensive works at Kaighn’s Point, which were completed a year later. With enlarged facilities he manufactured Corliss engines under a special license for the inventor. In 1878 the name of the establishment was changed to the River iron Works, Dialogue and Wood, Proprietors. The firm engaged in the shipbuilding business in 1871.

In 1871, the United States Steamship Colfax, one of the first iron vessels ordered by the Revenue Marine department, was built at the works. The firm also built the United States survey steamer Hassler, and the Philadelphia Ice Boat No. 3. In 1878 the firm began the building of compound engine tugs, the first, the George M. Childs. In 1876 the firm was awarded the contract for reconstructing the United States frigate Constitution, famous in American history. Eight years ago the United States lighthouse tender America was launched at the works, and during the recent war with Spain the gunboat Princeton was completed and hurried off to patrol duty in Cuban waters. The New York fireboat Van Wyck was also a recent specimen of the firm’s skillful work. The present title of the firm is Dialogue & Son. The name and the build of the ships are familiar in every port of the civilized world.

During his residence in Camden of nearly half a century, Mr. Dialogue always manifested a deep and abiding interest in the development of the city and in return was elected to fill numerous offices by his appreciative fellow townsmen. In 1875 he was elected a member of the Board of Education from the Sixth Ward and was twice re-elected, serving three consecutive terms of two years each. He was the chairman of a committee superintending the erection of three school buildings. In 1878 he was elected to City Council, was re-elected in 1881 and 1884, and in 1883 was president of that body. In 1880 he was chosen by the Democrat Party on of the electors at-large on the Hancock and English Presidential ticket, and at the meeting in Trenton was chosen as the president of the Electoral College of the State. In 1881 he was nominated as the Democratic candidate for State Senate, but was defeated. In 1892 he was appointed by Mayor Westcott a member of the Board of Public Works, and continued as a member until the commission was abolished by legislative enactment.  

Mr. Dialogue was of a plain, unassuming disposition and very popular socially. He is survived by his widow, his second wife, one son and two daughters. The funeral will take place on Wednesday afternoon. 

The funeral of John B. Dialogue Sr.. the widely known shipbuilder, was largely attended by prominent citizens and officials from his late residence at Broadway and Pine Streets. Services were in charge of Rev. Gilbert Underhill, rector of St. John’s P.E. Church. The eight foreman of the different departments at the shipyard acted as pallbearers. Interment was private at Evergreen Cemetery.

Philadelphia Inquirer

October 27, 1898

Official Historical Souvenir: Philadelphia, Its Founding and Development,
1683 to 1908,
Including the Complete Program of the Two Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration of the Founding of the City Government,
October Fourth to Tenth

by William W. Matos (comp.), 
(Philadelphia, PA: Joseph & Sefton, 1908)

Prominent among the shipbuilding concerns of the United States is that of John H. Dialogue and Son, located at Camden.  N.J.

John H. Dialogue, the founder of the works, was born in Philadelphia, May 13, 1828, and started a small shop at Second Street and Bridge Avenue, Camden, where he did repair work for the Camden and Amboy Railroad and the Camden and Philadelphia and West Jersey Ferry Companies.  The business grew rapidly and when in 1856 Mr. Dialogue commenced the construction of Corliss engines under a special license from the inventor he found larger works necessary, and two years later erected the present large establishment at Kaighn's Point.

In 1870 the name of the concern was changed to the River Iron Works, with Dialogue and Wood as proprietors, and the iron shipbuilding business was engaged in with constantly increasing success.  During the ensuing twenty-five years every conceivable form of river, coast and ocean-going steamer was built, and several contracts were executed for the government.

The vessels built by the firm are to be found in every part of the United States and many foreign countries.

The shipyards at Kaighn's Point cover an area of thirty-four acres, with a frontage on the Delaware River of two thousand feet, and a water depth of twenty-eight feet, making an admirable location for the business.

The plant, which is equipped with every modern appliance, gives employment, in seasons, of from two hundred to eight hundred men.

John H. Dialogue, founder of the firm, after an eventful life, in which he took active part in the civic and political history of his adopted city, died Sunday, October 3, 1898, and the business descended to his son, who had been made a partner in the firm upon the retirement of Mr. Wood, when the title of the firm was changed from the River Iron Works to John H. Dialogue & Son.  Mr. Dialogue, Jr., present owner of the works, received a practical education with his father, and since his proprietorship has materially advanced the operations of this large industry.

Camden Courier-Post June 1939
Is Zat So!


John H. Dialogue-Shipbuilding Pioneer on the Delaware River by

SKELETONS OF STEEL ARE ALL THAT REMAIN OF Camden's shipbuilding industry, at one time a center of American maritime ingenuity, innovation, and design. A moving force in this industrial revolution on the Delaware River was John H. Dialogue, who was born in Philadelphia on May 13', 1828. His father, Adam, had invented and manufactured the riv­eted leather fire hose found in pictures of horsedrawn firewagons racing through city streets. By the age of twelve young Dialogue was an orphan living with his uncle, a machinist. After graduating from Central High School in 1846 he was apprenticed to his uncle and became a self-taught draftsman in his spare time.

A forty-eight-year career on the Delaware River commenced in 1850 as Dialogue, at just twenty-two years of age, began his first enterprise at Second Street and Bridge Avenue in Camden. Here, at the southern terminus of the thriving Camden and Amboy Rail­road Company, he employed approximately 100 men in the repair of locomotives and Delaware River ferry boats. The company prospered and in 1859 moved to the thirty-four-acre riverfront site at Kaighn's Point that would house the Dialogue works until its demise. I While marine and railroad repair work continued as the company's mainstay, Dialogue entered the vanguard of industrial innovation via a licensing agreement to manufacture the Corliss stationary steam engine. George Corliss, a largely self-taught engineer, had patented two important innovations-a special engine governor and a new valve design, both of which greatly in­creased a steam engine's efficiency. His most famous creation was the huge engine that powered the machinery displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. Its flywheel was thirty feet in diameter.

In 1870 the Dialogue works expanded in size and employed over 100 men and boys. This advertisement appeared in the New York Daily Graphic in 1875. [NJHS] 

In 1862 Dialogue became associated with the newly formed National Armor and Shipbuilding Company, also in Camden. The first vessel built by National was the thirty-five-ton Lookout which, after a 1942 diesel engine installation, was still operating in 1973.5 National's history is obscure but the company failed within two years of its founding. The firm of Wilcox and Whiting took over their works with Dialogue possibly continuing as a subcontractor. As no records attribute ship launchings to the Dialogue works during the period from 1865 to 1870, the yard presumably con­tinued to rely on general repair and engine building. This ap­proach may well have reflected a sound business judgment as the immediate post-Civil War shipbuilding industry was buffeted by inflation and experienced an almost complete lack of military or­ders. During this lean period other yards went so far afield as to produce paper-making machinery and railroad cars to ride out the shipbuilding doldrums."

In 1870 the Dialogue works expanded in size and importance when Randolph Wood combined his adjoining land with Dia­logue's and became a partner in the firm of Wood, Dialogue and Co. (The various names used by the Dialogue yard are a source of confusion. The 1870 Camden County Census of Industry listed "Wood and Dialogue" as the owners but gave "National Iron Works and Shipbuilding Company" as the name of the business. See fig­ure 1 for a reconstruction of the various names used.) As of June 1870 the partners employed 100 "males above 16 years" and 15 "children and youth." Their business capital was given as $200,000 but under the heading "Production" the census stated, "In operation only a few weeks. Cannot give a correct estimate.',5 The first iron vessel launched by Wood and Dialogue was probably the cutter Colfax for the United States Revenue Cutter Service.' (The United States Revenue Cutter Service and the United States Life­saving Service were combined to form the United States Coast Guard in 1915.) This was followed by the forty-eight-ton iron tu'g Frank G. Fowler and the icebreaker City Ice Boat No.3 for the city of Philadelphia. In 1874 they built one of the first compound­engine tugboats, the George W. Childs. The compound engine was a more compact and economical design than previous engine types and this early marine installation preceded those of many larger, more established yards. Another first of a sort was the March 14, 1876, delivery of the venerated, and neglected, USS Constitution from the League Island Navy Yard. After years of on-again, off­again repairs Wood and Dialogue was selected to restore "Old Ironsides" for exhibit at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. There is no record of the exact work performed in Camden. In any event the ship missed the Centennial, remaining in Camden until December 31, 1876, and was placed back in active commission a month later.7 

City Ice Boat Number 3, built in 1875 by Wood, Dialogue and Company, served as an icebreaker on the Delaware River until it sank in 1905. This engraving appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1877. [NJHS]

A few years after the partnership's formation, Wood's suicide in April 1874 left Dialogue in sole control of the company, although Wood's widow retained ownership of her husband's portion of the shipyard real estate. Business was further complicated by a serious fire in 1877. If past performance is any measure it may be inferred that Dialogue surmounted the setback with his usual aplomb. The yard's founder apparently decided to concentrate on the building of tugboats rather than larger commercial and military vessels, while the general repair business continued as before. Perhaps Dialogue felt this an ideal niche, preferring to remain on the sidelines as Philadelphia's William Cramp and Chester's John Roach fought for the large vessel orders.

Specialization, whether intended or not, bore fruit as the yard's reputation for first-class tugboats spread throughout the industry. Dialogue-built tugs, or "towboats" as they were popularly known (the term "towboat" deriving from their early use in towing sailing vessels and canal boats), did yeoman service in major United States and South American ports. From about 1880 onwards the proportion of iron-hulled versus steel-hulled vessels rapidly reversed with the Dialogue works completing its own conversion to the latter by about 1890. The year 1890 also saw the Dialogue firm included in an area fire insurance survey undertaken by E. Hexamer & Son of Philadelphia. It noted the employment of "500 men and a few boys" in the manufacture of "Ship Building, Engines and Boilers, Machinery in general." By the time of the survey twenty-eight year-old John H. Dialogue, Jr. had become his father's partner after serving apprenticeships in nearly every department of the yard. The firm was now renamed for the last time as John H. Dialogue & Son.

The senior Dialogue passed away on October 23, 1898, at age seventy. During his forty-year Camden residence he had served three terms on the board of education, presided over the Camden City Council, and been elected president of the New Jersey Electoral College. His obituary was front-page news in the Camden Daily Courier. Eight foremen of the shipyard's various departments served as his pallbearers. 8

Dialogue's son subsequently assumed proprietorship of the yard and under his supervision fifty-three ships, mostly tugs, were launched. Anxious creditors forced the younger Dialogue into bankruptcy in late 1913. An auctioneer's brochure describing the yard's real estate and equipment ran fifty pages and is a unique record of the variety of tools and machinery that a modern yard required.9 The property's buyer was the Reading Railroad which, through hidden buyers, obtained the real estate for little more than half its appraised value. In short order the yard's buildings were demolished to make way for an extension of the Reading's Camden terminal. The shipbuilding business has traditionally been one of boom and bust cycles, a relatively modest capital return, and an uncertain future. Perhaps these factors, combined with the absence of the man who had begun the enterprise, caused his son to lose the mettle that had carried the yard through its first thirty-eight years.

Click on Image to Enlarge

The River Iron Works, one of several names used to describe Dialogue's firm, manufactured boilers and steam engines in addition to ships. Below is a detail from a map in the 1877 City Atlas of Camden, New Jersey. [NjHS]  

Dialogue found employment as a consulting engineer for one of the yard's old customers, the Luckenbach Steamship Company of New York City, and oversaw the construction of ten of that company's vessels. to He died on April 19, 1924, bringing to an end the Dialogues' fifty-five-year association with the shipbuilding in­dustry of the Delaware River. In its years of active operation the Dialogue yard had pioneered in the adaptation of new materials and technology to shipbuilding-the first marine compound engine, the first steel-hulled steamer with twin screws and rudder posts, and the construction of one of the earliest of the federal government's all-iron ships. The firm's displaced work force took their skills to the six yards still operating on the Delaware River's New Jersey waterfront. Of these, the burgeoning New York Ship­building Company would become the shipbuilding equivalent of Henry Ford's River Rouge Works-a self-contained industrial em­pire of almost limitless capacity. It was also the last to die, existing at least in name through the 1970s.  


Name   Dates Primary Business 
John H. Dialogue 1850-62

Railroad repairs, manufacture of Corliss stationary steam engines under license. 

John H. Dialogue 1862-64

Associated with short-lived National Iron Armor and Shipbuilding Co., subsequently a subcontractor to their successors, Wilcox & Whiting. 

John H. Dialogue  1865-70 

Activities unclear. Presumably general marine and railroad repair work and engine manufacture continued.

River Iron Works 1


Partnership with Randolph Wood, expansion of the yard, design and building of ships becomes main focus. 

John H. Dialogue Shipyard 1875(?)-85(?)

Shipbuilding, boiler and steam engine manufacture

 John H. Dialogue & Son 2 1885(?)-1914 Shipbuilding, boiler and steam engine manufacture

1- The firm name was listed as "National Iron & Shipbuilding Company" in the 1870 Camden County Census, but this name seems never to have been used. During the partnership's duration the company is also referred to as "Wood, Dialogue & Co." and "Dialogue, Wood & Co."

2- The date of the name change to include John H. Dialogue, Jr., is presumed.

In 1885 the younger Dialogue, at twenty-three years of age is assumed to have completed his shipyard apprenticeship and become a principal of the firm.

While the exact accuracy of this date sequence cannot be verified, it rep­resents the most complete listing of validated names and dates available. The published obituary of John H. Dialogue, Sr., the Scientific American supplement of 1945 Iron and Steel Hull Vessels of the United States 1825-1906, by John Harrison Morrison, and the article "Two Hundred Years of Naval Shipbuilding in the Delaware Valley," by Robert S. Egan, Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Spring Meeting Papers, June 2-5, 1976, state dates that conflict with the above listing. It is felt that as the History of Camden County, published in 1886 in Camden, was a contemporary work, its dates for Dialogue's early history are most likely to be correct.


1- George Prowell, History of Camden County (Camden, N.]., 1886),383.

2- A. Storer, A Simple History of the Steam Engine (London, 1969), 111-12.

3- Robert S. Egan, "Two Hundred Years of Naval Shipbuilding in the Dela­ware Valley," Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, Spring Meeting Papers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 2-5, 1976, 1-22.

4- David B. Tyler, The American Clyde (New York, 1958),26-27.

5- Census Office, County of Camden, Products of Industry for Year Ending June 1, 1870, 1.

6- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Washington, D.C., 1959), 2: 141. Colfax was loaned to the U.S. Navy for World War I and was returned to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1919.

7- Log of correspondence between League Island Navy Yard and Navy De­partment, correspondence entry for December 31, 1876, "Completed by agreement at R. Wood & Dialogue," Office of Naval Records and Library, National Archives and Records Service.

8- Philadelphia Inquirer, October 27, 1898 .. 9Valuable Ship Building Plant of John H. Dialogue, an auction brochure of the Samuel T. Freeman & Company, pages 46 and 49, listed a total of 146 hull models in two lots. This figure might represent an estimate of the Dialogue ship­yard's total output.

10- Dialogue had constructed several steamships for Luckenbach in his own yard, among them the 3,905-ton Lewis Luckenbach, the largest vessel launched at the Dialogue works. nj

Click on Images to Enlarge

USRC Colfax; no caption; date/photographer unknown. Colfax  commissioned in 1871, was a 140-foot, 250-ton, side paddlewheel steamer.  She was built with a composite hull (iron frames planked with wood) by Dialogue and Wood of Camden, NJ.  

She spent her career in the waters of the southeast coast, from Baltimore to Savannah.  She enforced quarantine restrictions at Fort Monroe in 1893, operated with the USS Vesuvius, the Navy's unique dynamite gun cruiser, in April, 1897, assisted the disabled cutter Morrill in 1898, and hosted President William McKinley in 1899 and was decommissioned in September of that year.  She was then used as a station ship in the Coast Guard Depot at Curtis Bay, MD until she was sold in 1924 to Mr. Charles A. Jording of Baltimore, MD, for $1,440.0.

The New York Central 13, later known as the Hay-De, a tugboat docked in Staten Island, N.Y., was in imminent danger of being sunk as a reef. Hay-De starred, along with Bruce Willis, in the final scene of the 1991 movie "Billy Bathgate." The boat was built as New York Central 13 in 1887 by the John H. Dialogue Ship Building Works of Camden, NJ for the New York Central Railroad, which pushed barges that carried boxcars across New York Harbor. When she was built, this was the main way that cargo and merchandise was moved in and around the city, but with the advent of containerized truck service and the digging of the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels, barges and the tugs that pushed them were phased out.      Its riveted iron hull is one of about a half-dozen surviving Dialogue hulls. The boat's engine was dieselized in the 1950s and still works. Although the boat floats without leaking, the midsection of the deck house was removed in 1980. As a Dialogue-built boat with a riveted hull in decent condition, old New York Central 13 has a lot going for it, not the least of which is the robust tugboat construction that keeps it floating after 115 years.  After a long and productive career, she was days away from being sunk as an artificial reef before being saved by her current owner in August, 2002. She is being restored at Piers 62 & 63, North River (West 23rd Street) in New York NY.

NY Central No. 32 pushing a carfloat and boxcars on the Hudson River
1957 photo by Al Holz - from "New York Harbor Railroads In Color" by Thomas R. Flagg

The Susan Elizabeth was launched in 1886 as the C. C. Clark. She served under various names until 2002, when she went, under her own power to her present home at the National Tugboat Museum in Kingston NY.

USS Princeton 1898
In Harbor at Suez Egypt circa 13 feb 1899/ Dressed with flags, a Turkish flag at mainmast. A Duth Holland-class cruiser in background
USS Princeton in Manila Bay, about 1903

USS PRINCETON PG-13 a 1103-ton Annapolis class gunboat, was built at Camden, New Jersey. Commissioned in May 1898, she briefly served in the Caribbean area during the closing weeks of the Spanish-American War. In 1899, she was transferred to the Pacific, where she spent the rest of her Navy career. Her active service was spent in Asiatic waters, on the U.S. Pacific coast, off Central America and as a station ship at Tutuila, Samoa. Princeton was decommissioned in April 1919 and sold the following November.

The third USS Princeton was a composite gunboat in the United States Navy.

Princeton, a 1103-ton Annapolis class gunboat, was laid down in May 1896 by J. H. Dialogue and Son, Camden, New Jersey; launched 3 June 1897; sponsored by Miss Margeretta Updike; and commissioned 27 May 1898 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Commander C. H. West in command.

After acceptance trials 7–25 July 1898 off Delaware Bay, Princeton got underway for Key West where she joined the North Atlantic Fleet 27 July at the beginning of the Spanish-American War. She was immediately sent (2 August) to patrol the area from the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula to Livingston, Guatemala. After completing this mission 13 August, she returned to Key West and the Dry Tortugas and remained on this station until departing 11 January 1899 for New York.

Princeton sailed for the Pacific in early 1899 She passed through the Straits of Gibraltar 2 February and the Suez Canal 13–17 February, joining the Asiatic Fleet 16 April at Cavite, Philippines . Princeton cruised throughout the Philippines 4–15 May with Petrel, distributing the proclamation of peace with Spain. Later, she carried Senator Albert J. Beveridge on a tour of the newly acquired Philippine Territory.

In late May, Princeton commenced blockading the Lingayen Gulf ports of St. Vincent and Musa and extended the blockade to the entire Gulf 18–26 June. During the various local disturbances on Luzon, she landed troops at San Fabian 2–7 November, transported cavalrymen from Vigan to Lingayen, conveyed dispatches, received surrendered arms and carried stores to the Marines at Subic Bay. Princeton took formal possession of the Babuyan and the Batan Islands 10–13 January 1900 and continued to patrol off Luzon 10 February. Princeton was later station ship at Iloilo and Cebu 5 March-21 June.

At the time of the Boxer Rebellion, Princeton cruised in Chinese waters (26 June–29 November) between Hong Kong and Woosung where she received a draft of men from Buffalo on 9 August.

She returned 4 December to operations in the Philippine-American War, principally in the Sulu Archipelago, and remained on duty there until 20 July 1902. Princeton was stationed at Cavite beginning 23 July and called at Uraga, Japan (9 October–18 December). While at Cavite, she participated in large-scale maneuvers off the Philippines (29 December–3 February 1903). Afterwards, Princeton acted as a survey ship. (13 February–5 April) at Malabug Bay, Zamboanga and Dumanquilas Bay until she departed 13 April for California. Princeton decommissioned 12 June 1903 at Mare Island Navy Yard.

Princeton recommissioned 12 May 1905 at Mare Island Navy Yard and was attached to the Pacific Squadron. She left 4 June for duty as station ship at Panama City, where she remained until 24 October. On 2 December 1905, Princeton returned to Mare Island Navy Yard and began cruising off the Pacific coast from San Diego, California to Esquimalt, British Columbia. She escorted Rear Admiral C. J. Train’s remains from Vancouver to Seattle (22–24 August), assisted Boston (6–9 December) which was aground off Bellingham, Washington, and accompanied California 10–22 September on her sea trials off Washington. Princeton remained on station off the West coast until directed to rejoin the Pacific Squadron 3 January 1907 at Magdalena Bay, Mexico.

Princeton proceeded to Corinto, Nicaragua, arriving 17 March for the purpose of protecting American interests there. She transported troops from Ampala, Honduras, to La Unión, (12 April) and brought General Bonilla back to Salina Cruz, Mexico (13 April). She returned to San Diego 30 May and decommissioned 3 July 1907 at Bremerton, Wash.

Princeton recommissioned 5 November 1909 at Bremerton and sailed 28 November for Central America for duty with the Nicaraguan Expeditionary Squadron. From 20 December until 21 March 1911 she showed the flag in this area, operating between San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, and La Unión, El Salvador. She returned to Puget Sound Navy Yard 20 June 1911 for repairs and alterations. From late 1911 until 1915 she was used as a station ship at Tutuila, American Samoa.

Returning to San Francisco 18 September 1915, Princeton decommissioned and was laid up until 20 February 1917 when she proceeded to Puget Sound for repairs. She commissioned in ordinary there 16 January 1918 for use as a training ship at Seattle from 9 May 1918 to 25 April 1919 when she decommissioned.

Princeton was struck from the Navy List 23 June 1919 and sold to Farrell, Kane and Stratton, Seattle, Washington, 13 November 1919.


An ocean-going tug, the John H. Dialogue and Son Company built Hercules in 1907. When completed, Hercules towed her sister ship, the Goliah, through the Strait of Magellan to San Francisco. Both vessels were oil-burners; Goliath carried fuel, water and supplies for her sister. After a long career ending in 1962, she avoided the scrap yard, but languished until the California State Park Foundation acquired her for the San Francisco Maritime State Historic Park, in 1975. The National Park Service took over the task of her restoration in 1977. Today, after a thirty-year lay-up, she is operable again, and regularly steams San Francisco Bay with a highly-trained volunteer crew.

A fireboat built for the Fire Department of the City of New York's Marine Division, the William L. Strong was  built at the  Dialogue shipyard in 1898. 100' long with a 24' beam, she drew 12'. The William L. Strong could put 6500 gallons of water per minute on a fire. Built with a steel hull, the Strong was coal-fired with a single screw engine. She was stationed at Grand Street and the East River as Engine 66 for 50 years, until being removed from service in May of 1948.

No Picture Available

The Elise Anne Connors is a canal tug built in 1881. The Connors has an iron hull, a Length of 76'6', a beam of 18', and a draft of 7'6". She can be seen at the  North River Tugboat Museum in Kingston NY.

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The first Barnegat (SP-1232) was built in 1898 by Dialogue as Luckenbach No 1. Purchased by the Navy in 1917, she was delivered on 12 October 1917; and commissioned the same day, Lieutenant Junior Grade P. Farley, USNR, in command.

With a crew of 40 and armed with a 3" gun, Barnegat sailed in convoy from Philadelphia on 20 December 1917  and arrived at Brest, France, 23 April 1918. She was assigned to Division 9, Patrol Force, and carried out patrol and towing operations in the vicinity of Brest until departing for the United States late in September 1919. Sailing in October she arrived at Norfolk 28 November 1919 and was assigned to the 5th Naval District until transferred to the 4th Naval District 26 January 1920. She remained on duty there until 20 August 1920 when she was decommissioned and transferred to the War Department. 

The USS Nahant SP-1250, a harbor tug built in 1913 by the Dialogue shipyard as Luckenback No. 4 was acquired by the Navy from Luckenback Steamship Co., Inc., New York City 1 December 1917 and commissioned 12 December 1917. Operating in the 3rd Naval District and armed with a 3" gun and two machine guns, Nahant performed towing tasks in New York Harbor during her Naval career. Decommissioning early in 1920, Nahant was transferred to the City of New York and served the Police Department as Service No. 2 and as John F. Harlan. Returned to the Navy in 1928, Nahant was struck from the Naval Register 27 September 1928 and sold to Joseph O'Boyle of New York 24 December 1928. Her fate is unknown.

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The Underwriter was an iron-hulled screw tug completed in 1881 at Camden, N.J., by John H. Dialogue and rebuilt in 1908. She was taken over by the Navy at the Naval Station New Orleans, La. on 1 July 1918 and was commissioned there on 9 August 1918, Boatswain Joseph W. Elfert, USNRF, in command. She was renamed the USS Adirondack in the fall of 1920, and served with distinction until March 1, 1922. She was sold June 6, 1922 and struck from the Navy list that same day.

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The USS Chickasaw II was a tug, built in 1882 by John H. Dialogue of Camden NJ, as Hercules. She was purchased by the Navy 25 June 1898 and was placed in commission briefly for service during the Spanish- American War operating from Port Royal and Charleston, S.C.

Decommissioned 26 August 1898, Chickasaw was placed in ordinary for repairs, then in April 1900 was ordered to New York Navy Yard for use as a harbor tug and tender for the receiving ship Vermont. From 1908 she served as a harbor tug at Newport and remained there until 1913 when she returned to New York and was sold. 

The third Cherokee (No. 458) was built in 1891 by John H. Dialogue & Sons, Camden, N.J., as Edgar F. Luckenbach (later renamed Luckenbach No. 2); purchased by the Navy; delivered at New York 12 October 1917; and commissioned 5 December 1917.

Armed with a 3" gun and outfitted for distant service at New York and at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Cherokee cleared Newport, R.I., 24 February 1918 for Washington, D.C. On 26 February, in a heavy gale, she foundered about 12 miles off Fenwick Island Light Vessel, with t he loss of 30 of her crew. The tanker British Admiral rescued 12 survivors, two of whom died before the tanker reached port. The Cherokee, or "Gunboat Wreck," sits in 90' of water and is regularly visited by divers. To this day, artifacts are still occasionally recovered.

Pocomoke, a 293 gross ton steam tug, was built at Camden, New Jersey, in 1906. She subsequently was owned and operated by the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad Company. In 1918, as part of the World War I ship acquisition effort, Pocomoke was evaluated by the Navy and assigned the identification number 2265. However, she remained in civilian hands and had no Naval service.

Commissioned on December 4, 1890, the USS Armeria was a lighthouse tender built by the Dialogue shipyard. Lighthouse tenders operated under the various district offices under the overall direction of the Superintendent of Lighthouses. Analogous to the Coast Guard buoy tenders of today, these vessels were tasked to place, repair and move floating navigational aids, deliver fuel, supplies and materials, transport construction and repair personnel to different stations, and transport LHS officers on official business. They also performed police duties such as assisting in smuggling prevention and protection of government property.

Along with the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service was placed under the direction of the Navy by Executive Order as tensions with Spain increased and the clamor for war grew in the late 1890s.

Click here for a complete history of the USS Armeria.

Built in 1893 for the Treasury Department, the Hudson was the Revenue Service's first vessel to have a steel hull and triple-expansion plating. The Hudson was assigned to New York harbor before coming under naval direction for the Spanish-American War.   On 11 May 1898 the cutter Hudson, along with the Navy warships Winslow, Machias, and Wilmington, had pursued three Spanish gunboats into the bay of Cardenas, Cuba.  There, shore batteries fired on the U.S. vessels and disabled the Winslow, knocking out her steering and a boiler, thereby putting Winslow adrift.  The accurate Spanish fire wounded the Winslow's commanding officer and killed another officer and many of the crew. 

Hudson returned to service with the Treasury Department out of New York.  She continued with her traditional duties and was once again taken into the Navy for service during World War I beginning on 6 April 1917.  She continued her service with the Navy until returned to Treasury Department control on 28 August 1919.  She returned to service with the Coast Guard until she was decommissioned in 1935.

Probably photographed at New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1918. Note carved eagle on her foremast, just forward of the pilothouse. Such eagles were common decorations on contemporary tugs. 

The Asher J. Hudson was an iron-hulled, single-screw steam tug. Asher J. Hudson was completed in 1891 at Camden at the Dialogue shipyard. She was inspected in the 8th Naval District on 1 July 1918 and, on the 24th, was ordered taken over by the Navy. Acquired from the Alabama Coal Transport Co. of New Orleans LA, Asher J. Hudson, classified as SP-3104, was commissioned at the Naval Station, New Orleans, on 1 August 1918, Ens. Alva Carlton, USNRF, in command. Equipped as a minesweeper, she served the port of New Orleans and the Mississippi River headwaters through the end of World War I. Returned to civilian duty in 1921, Asher J. Hudson worked out of New Orleans, and later Port Arthur TX, until 1963.

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The fourth Inca, an iron tug, was built in 1879 by John H. Dialogue & Sons at Camden. She was acquired by the Navy 31 July 1918, and commissioned 2 August 1918. The tug was assigned to the 6th Naval District, and operated until after World War I ended at Parris Island Marine Barracks, S.C. She was stricken from the Navy List 1 February 1919
SP - 3219: t. 103; l. 101'; b. 20'; dr. 7'9"; s. 12 k.; a. none

The Ontario and the Western were built by Dialogue in 1908 and were operated by the Ontario and Western Railway. Pictured here, left to right, are Erie Railroad's Daniel Willard, O&W's Ontario, Lehigh Valley's Perth Amboy and Lackawanna's Scranton at Vineyard Haven, Matha's Vineyard due to ice.

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The steel tug Lackawanna was built in 1900 for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. Late in the evening of August 15, 1915 Lackawanna  was towing three barges from New York to Portland, Maine. While proceeding up Nantucket Sound toward Pollack Rip Channel she met the tug Triton with the barge Nanticoke in tow. The tugs cleared one another but for some reason Nanticoke swung out and collided with the eastbound vessel. Whether it was the result of wind or current cannot be said, but the barge tore open  Lackawanna's side. Mortally wounded the tug sank within minutes carrying two of her crewmen to their death.
Lackawanna's barges were anchored and later towed to Portland by the Triton.  

The Mars was built in 1890. Built to haul coal laden barges the vessel was sold to a Philadelphia Company in 1920 and then again in 1936 to the Martin Marine Transportation Company, and ailed from Wilmington DE.

On September 13, 1942 Mars sank in collision with the coastal tanker Bidwell. The tanker sheared off the tug's bow and she quickly went down in 120 feet of water near Plymouth MA east of Manomet Point.

Above Left: The Mars
Below Left: Sonar imagery of the Mars wreck

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Challenge (No. 1015) was a tug built in 1889 by Dialogue at Camden. Originally named Defiance, she was commandeered by the Navy 13 June 1918; delivered 24 June, outfitted at Mare Island Navy Yard with two 3 pound guns, and commissioned 29 July 1918, Lieutenant M. J. Downes USNRF, in command. She was renamed Challenge 16 August 1918.

Challenge towed oil barges between California and Mexico until 31 May 1920, when she arrived at Bremerton, Wash., for duty under the 13th Naval District. She served as a harbor tug at Puget Sound Navy Yard until decommissioned 13 May 1922.

Recommissioned and reclassified AT-59 on 21 February 1925, Challenge resumed duty as a yard tug at Puget Sound. On 31 January 1936, she was reclassified YT 126; on 2 December 1940, decommissioned and placed "in service"; reclassified YTM-126 on 13 April 1944; and on 16 October 1946, transferred to the Maritime Commission.

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Tybee--a steam launch built for the United States Revenue Cutter Service by J. H. Dialogue and Son, of Camden, N.J., and completed late in 1895--was delivered to the Revenue Cutter Service on 19 November 1895. Three days later, she sailed for Savannah, Ga., where, after a voyage which touched at Baltimore, Md. ; Norfolk, Va.; Beaufort, N.C.; and Charleston, S.C., she arrived on 21 January 1896.

She conducted local operations at Savannah through the turn of the century and, on occasion, patrolled regattas staged in the Savannah area. After the United States entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Tybee was taken over by the Navy and served on local patrol duties out of Savannah for the duration of hostilities. She was returned to the Treasury Department on 28 August 1919.

Assigned to the gulf division on 11 October 1920, Tybee was subsequently assigned a permanent station at Savannah on 1 January 1923. She lost the name Tybee on 6 November of the same year and was classified and named AB--15. She alternated bases between Norfolk and Savannah for the remainder of her career. She was condemned on 23 June 1930 and sold to D. E. Little of Jacksonville, Fla., on 25 September 1930.

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Keshena (YN-37), formerly Raymond Card, was a tug launched in 1910.  She was acquired by the Navy 20 September 1940 from the Card Towing Line, New York; and placed in service 19 October 1940.  Keshena cleared Hampton Roads, Va., 30 October and arrived Guantanamo 9 November for service as a net tender.

She remained in the 10th Naval District operating out of Guantanamo throughout the war. She was reclassified YNT-5 on 8 April 1942, and subsequently YTM-731 on 4 August 1945.  Keshena was struck from the Navy List 28 August 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal on 12 February 1947. Not to be confused with the tug Keshena which sank off Cape Hatteras in 1942.

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Gwendoline Steers

Gwendoline Steers was a tugboat owned by the Steers Sand & Gravel Company of New York, NY (incorrectly spelled "Gwendolyn Steers" in some newspaper accounts). It sank in an ice storm in Long Island Sound approaching the mouth of Huntington Bay, New York on December 30, 1962 with the loss of the entire crew of nine.

The tug was laid in Camden, New Jersey, in 1888 as hull #287 by the John H. Dialogue Shipyard for the P. Dougherty & Sons Company (a Baltimore-based towing company), who christened her the Steam Tug Douglas H. Thomas. In September, 1889, the tug was purchased by the United States Navy for $30,000 and re-christened USS Triton and given a numerical number as well (Harbor Tug No. 10). The tug was assigned to the Washington Navy Yard where it spent 41 years working from 1889 to 1930.

On 17 July 1921, the Navy changed Triton's designation from "Harbor Tug No. 10" to (Yard Tug) "YT-10" in accordance with the new system of alphanumeric hull designations adopted that day. Triton YT-10 was decommissioned and removed from the Naval register on May 19, 1930.
The tug was sold by the Navy on September 15, 1930 to a New England interest, and the vessel appears on the Merchant Registry in 1932 as the "Melrose" of Boston, MA. 

In 1945, she was purchased by Steers Sand & Gravel and was renamed J. Rich Steers after the company's President. As the J. Rich Steers, she is believed to have been the flagship. In 1951, Steers renamed the tug Gwendoline Steers after acquiring a newer tug and naming it J. Rich Steers. The Gwendoline was used to transport barges of sand from the company's sand mining operations on Long Island, NY to various cement yards in the greater New York City metropolitan area. The company had a large waterfront sand mine in Northport.  

"Old ironsides" - USS Constitution at the Dialogue Shipyard
A Most Fortunate Ship by Tyrone G. Martin


During October 1871, preliminary inactivation work was accomplished in the frigate: yards sent down. rigging taken ashore, remaining stores and equipage landed. In November, orders came to suspend all work in her and she was left in ordinary. Work of an unspecified nature was resumed in September of 1872, then suspended once more two months later.

There were many reasons behind these start-and-stop proceedings. Firstly, no . money had been specifically appropriated for the overhaul of Constitution., Secondly, there were the invariable few in the hierarchy who proposed that she be scrapped, and the greater number who shouted "No!" Thirdly, no future employment had been determined upon; without a reason for being, monies should not be spent. And finally, the Philadelphia Navy Yard was on the verge of transferring its entire operation to League Island, but how soon this was to be accomplished and when ship work should be stopped at the old site had not been determined.

In the spring of 1873, it was decided that Constitution was to be thoroughly repaired and restored insofar as possible to her original appearance for the pur­pose of being exhibited to the public during the year of Centennial (1876). In August, work resumed with the removal of the old joiner work below decks, and the preparation of plans for the "restoration." In December, final preparations were made to take her out of the water.

It was intended to take her up on the sectional dock on 5 January 1874, but several days of high northwest winds had denied them sufficient water for the operations. Two more attempts, on the 12th and 13th, had to be stopped because of mechanical failures in the dock machinery. A successful docking was achieved at last on the 27th. The dock was grounded that same day in position at the end of one of the building ways where the old frigate would be hauled ashore. This was done in a six-hour operation on 5 March.

Work on the ship was slow and sporadic. Gradually, she was taken down to her live oak skeleton, shorn of everything. The closeness of her frames, however, might have caused the casual observer to miss the fact that he was seeing a ship stripped of all her planking. By late May of 1875, she had only been planked up to the vicinity of her waterline. More and more of the Yard's equipment and labor force was going to League Island - making the transition from wood and canvas to iron and steam in the process - until Constitution remained the sole major project uncompleted. Finally, in December, she was ready to be returned to the water. On 30 December, she was moved back into the sectional dock. She lay there until 12 January, when conditions were right to refloat her. Naval Constructor Philip Hichborn did the honors. The old Navy Yard had been formally decommissioned five days earlier.

Recognizing that working on Constitution to completion would delay further the final transfer of the Navy Yard, a contract to complete her outfitting, spar­ring, and rigging had been put out to bid during the latter months of 1875. Winner was Wood, Dialogue and Company of Kaighn's Point, New Jersey. During March of 1876, the old frigate was moved to that company's "works." Exactly how long she lay with the contractor has not been ascertained. It is known that she received two additional sets of boat davits in the vicinity of the main shrouds. A small boiler, operating at 10-20 pounds pressure, was installed on the forward orlop to provide heat through the radiators first emplaced at Annapolis. Much of the forward magazine became a coal bin. Centennial celebrations came and went as the contractor dawdled through the work.

There were a considerable number of visual changes to the ship during the course of this restoration that should be mentioned. The Andrew Jackson figurehead was removed and ultimately relocated at the Naval Academy. It had been hoped to return Hull's billet head to the ship in keeping with the directive requiring a return to her youthful appearance, but the Boston Navy Yard reported it too rotten for further use. The contractor then attempted to get the Jackson figurehead back, but its new masters refused, and so he carved a simple scroll similar to that worn a century later. The new trail boards differed from those emplaced in 1858 only in the substitution of the shield for the "rose," in keeping with the patriotic theme of the Centennial. Gone forever were the three busts on the transom - if, in fact, they ever really were installed - and the decor simplified to one emphasizing the eagle and six stars which she has worn ever since.

At the end of 1876, the Navy found itself with an old sailing frigate of great sentimental value on which it recently had spent a considerable sum of money and for which it had no planned function. What to do? As an expedient, it was decided to re-commission her and use her as a barracks and school ship for apprentice boys right there in Philadelphia. Captain Henry A. Adams, Jr., was transferred from command of the receiving ship Potomac and did the honors on 13 January 1877. The ship was moored in the stream off the new Navy Yard at League Island. Recognizing that many boys in a restricted environment could be a problem, four brig cells were fitted to contain the obstreperous.

Lloyds Register of Shipping 1912-1913, Volume II Appendix
Dialogue-built ships then in use

Lloyds Register of Shipping 1924-1925, Volume II Appendix
Dialogue-built ships then in use


February 28, 1915

Charles S. Boyer
George M. Beringer
William J. Cooper
Charles M. Curry
John Dialogue Shipyard

Thanks to Harry Kyriakodis and Kenneth Kogan for their invaluable assistance in creating this page.