Shipyard Plate Puller

Shipyard Plate Puller

Usage conditions apply
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
Other Terms
Plate Puller, Davis; plate puller; Maritime
date made
first riveting competitions
hosted riveting competitions
Baltimore Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company
regulated riveting 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
Credit Line
Gift of Walter Davis
World War I
The Emergence of Modern America
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
Nominate this object for photography.   

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.


Add a comment about this object