Shipyard Plate Puller

The assembly line revolutionized labor and production in early 20th-century America, and its innovations of prefabricated parts and streamlined processes were applied to shipbuilding in World War I. This tool was used by shipyard workers to align pre-punched holes in standardized hull plates before riveting them together with steam-powered hydraulic riveting guns. Riveting was an exhausting task, but essential for ensuring the overall strength of these mass-produced freighters.
Beginning in 1918, the U.S. federal government initiated many programs designed to boost morale among workers on the home front. A popular event at shipyards was a riveting competition. The first record was set at the Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company, where a riveting gang drove 658 rivets in eight hours. As reports of this spread across the country, other shipyards tried for their own records and newspapers began offering cash prizes. The record climbed to 2,919 rivets in nine hours, but the United States Shipping Board soon realized that these publicity stunts were wearing out the riveting gangs. The board halted the contests, but began publishing a ranking system of each shipyard’s daily riveting totals to continue the friendly (and productive) rivalries.
Object Name
plate puller
date made
first rivetting competitions
hosted rivetting competitions
Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company
regulated rivetting gangs and competitions
United States Shipping Board
Physical Description
steel (overall material)
brass (overall material)
overall: 20 in x 5 1/4 in; x 50.8 cm x 13.335 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water exhibit
World War I
The Emergence of Modern America
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Walter Davis
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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