Very Local History: The Shipbuilding Epoch


Very Local History: The Shipbuilding Epoch | Midmost Coast podcast episode 007 | an entertaining dose of history

[May Contain Adult Language]

Wilmington has a legacy of shipbuilding predating the well known era of the Liberty Ship, workhorse of World War II. Shipbuilding and wars have historically gone hand in hand, the area seeing a run up in production during the Civil War, at the end of World War I, and of course World War II.

Buckle up for a crash course in this now bygone local industry, as well as anecdotes that sound too crazy to be true. Did a sailor survive a blast by hanging onto a flying mattress? Did top military minds attempt to weaponize the camel in Texas? What is the dark secret of the SS Sapona?

Find out the answers to these questions and more in Midmost Coast’s first episode of season 2: The Shipbuilding Epoch.

Special Thanks To

In this show we use some clips from an interview with Marvin Shoemaker, giving first hand accounts of the shipyards during World War II. A special thank you to Debbie Shoemaker for allowing us to use the audio.

And an additional thank you to Wilmington Water Tours.

Show Summary

Germany: The Phantom Menace

  • Colonial shipbuilding
  • World War I
  • Goethals v Denman (aka metal ships v wooden ships)
  • George A. Fuller and the Carolina Shipbuilding Company
  • The incredible case for concrete ships
  • One Kaiser packs it in, one Kaiser just gets started

Attack of the Concrete Ships

  • The SS Cape Fear is launched and immediately sinks
  • The SS Monte Carlo becomes ship of lost souls
  • A ship full of delicious whiskey
  • The dastardly SS Sapona
  • Allen’s Pokemon Theory of Ship Weakness
  • “Shock Waves” zombie movie made based on the Sapona

Liberty! Liberty! Liberty!

  • The Liberty Shipyard
  • See the old yards by water
  • Liberty Shipyard didn’t make Liberty Ships
  • Liberty Ships were however made nearby later

World War II

  • U.S. and Japan’s collision course
  • Joseph P. Kennedy and the 1936 Maritime Commission
  • The ironically named Admiral Land
  • The ancient rivalry between Wilmington and Morehead City
  • Newport News Shipbuilding throws their weight around
  • Welding v rivets (aka Rosie the Welder)
  • Account of U-boats and the Cape Fear River
  • American gears and turbines were the envy of the world
  • The super secret turbine shop of mystery
  • The Victory Ships
  • The USS Mount Hood earns its name

Wrapping Up

  • The tale of the SS Richard D. Spaight and the magical flying mattress
  • Liberty Ships doing supply runs to Russia
  • The SS Richard P. Hobson
  • The Liberty Ships retire to the Brunswick River
  • The modern day landscape of the port

The Quiz With Real Stakes

  • Sean plays for a red novelty phone

Photos and Images

Past and Present View of Wilmington’s Port

Water Tour Pictures

Ruins of the old Liberty Shipyard

Ruins of the old Liberty Shipyard | Photo credit: Sean Gallagher



The present day Port of Wilmington

The present day Port of Wilmington | Photo credit: Sean Gallagher

See more photos on Facebook.



Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California

The Wilmington Shipyard: Welding a Fleet for Victory in World War II

(Disclosure: Midmost Coast can make a small commission for product links.)


“The Great War” is a Youtube channel that takes you back 100 years to revisit World War I.

Shock Waves is a horror zombie movie based on the SS Sapona.

Wilmington Water Tours departs out of downtown and will take you by the port.

Ship launch in 1918 at Liberty Shipyard

The Concrete Ships

The short life of the SS Cape Fear.

The concrete ship experiment: The Sapona.

The sordid tale of the SS Monte Carlo.

The Return of the Monte Carlo.

Lost Wilmington Ships during World War II

The SS Nathanael Greene, second ship launched.

The SS Virginia Dare was later beached in Tunisia.

The SS William Hooper was hit by an aerial torpedo.

The SS Daniel Morgan was lost on the Barents sea.

The SS Charles C. Pinkney was sunk by a U-boat.

The SS Jeremiah Van Rensselaer was also sunk by a U-boat.

The SS William Gaston was another U-boat casualty.

The SS James K. Polk was torpedoed and scrapped.

The SS Richard D. Spaight has some additional photos.

The SS Richard P. Hobson is still visible today.

2 Replies to “Very Local History: The Shipbuilding Epoch”

  1. I know more than I ever thought I wanted to know about shipbuilding!
    Thanks sharing Dad’s stories… he would have loved this podcast!
    Deb Shoemaker

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