Neafie & Levy Ship & Engine Building Company

The ship yard which built Alligator, Neafie & Levy (also known simply as "the Penn Works") was located in the Kensington District of Philadelphia (see 1861 map). Ulysses Grant Duffield wrote up a brief history of the yard in 1896, pages 4-9 of which are transcribed below. For an excellent overhead and three-dimensional image of the yard in 1885, see the drawing from the Map Collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia. A list of the many vessels built by the yard can be found here. (Note: both of these links will take you off this site.) Freedley's 1856 "United States Mercantile Guide" and Bishop's 1868 "History of American Manufactures" provide some additional information about the Penn Works.

[A Souvenir of]
The Neafie & Levy Ship and Engine Building Company (Penn Works)

Published by Ulysses Grant Duffield, New York (Franklin Printing Co., Philadelphia, 1896)
pp. 4-9

Philadelphia, the site which was chosen in pursuance of instructions given by William Penn, the founder, to his Commissioners, as a healthful spot “where the largest ships may ride,” has from its earliest days been a most important centre of the maritime interest, and has been recognized for many years as one of the great manufacturing centres of the world, and some of the industries here are conducted upon a gigantic scale. Among these, none is of larger importance and more widely known than ship-building; and to-day the city holds marked prominence in the ship-building industry, with yards turning out vessels that represent the most improved ideas of maritime architecture and marine engines of the highest type.

There are some of the older builders yet living who can remember when vessels were constructed solely of wood, which material has now been almost entirely superseded by iron or steel, necessitating of course an entirely different class of work. That this city has maintained its supremacy in this line, is du e to the sagacity and ability of a few ship-builders.

Especially is this true of THE NEAFIE & LEVY SHIP AND ENGINE BUILDING COMPANY, whose vast plant at Beach and Palmer Streets, on the Delaware River, is known throughout the world as the “PENN WORKS.”

Mr. Jacob G. Neafie, the founder of this extensive and successful plant, was born on Christmas day, 1815, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, his parents being John G. and Margaret (Garrabrant) Neafie, and although he has passed his eightieth mile-stone of life, he is hale and hearty, and time has brought him to a ripe experience; and no man in this or any foreign country possesses a more thorough and exhaustive knowledge of the business.

While he was quite young his family removed from New Jersey to New York City, where his father died in 1834. His education was obtained at a common school in New York. In 1831, when sixteen years of age, he left school and commenced to learn the trade of blacksmith and machinist. At an early age he showed marked mechanical ideas, which, as he grew older, developed themselves in the making of models and patterns. This circumstance was the means of determining the special direction for his talents, and of inducing him to select Philadelphia as his future field of labor.

In 1832, while he was on a holiday visit at Barnegat, on the New Jersey coast, the steamboat “Norfolk,” owned by Thomas Holloway, marine engineer of Philadelphia, put into the inlet at that place. The owner of the boat was himself on board; and while there some of the models made by Jacob G. Neafie were shown to him. He was attracted by the ingenuity and talent which they displayed, and offered the young machinist a position in his engine works in Philadelphia.

The offer was accepted, and he left with his new employer aboard the “Norfolk,” which then completed her voyage to New York, and in due course of time returned to Philadelphia. His indentures were made out, and he commenced his apprenticeship. His great aptitude for the trade enabled him to master its details very rapidly, and within a short time he became foreman of the establishment.

He served with his employer until attaining his majority in December, 1836. He then left his employment, and for two years worked as a journeyman in other machine shops.

In 1838 he started in business on his own account, by renting a workshop on the corner of Germantown Road and Second Street, Philadelphia. Here he brought into his business that indomitable perseverance which ahs characterized him throughout his entire business life, taking any kind of mechanical work which he could get, and continued steadily on until his business had so increased as to require larger accommodations.

When the business was first organized, there were but a few wooden sheds on the premises; their facilities for work, in the way of machinery and tools were very limited. Step by step, however, these works have increased in size and productions until the present time; and now this establishment is properly and deservedly ranked among the leading Iron Works of Philadelphia.

A large business has been established by this Company in propeller wheels for steamships; they being the proprietors of the patent-right for the “Curved Propeller,” which has attained so much deserved popularity; and the demand for their styles of wheels has been so great from the Canadas and the great lakes, that they found it necessary to connect themselves with several of the most prominent and extensive establishments on those inland seas.

This trade was secured by Jacob G. Neafie while on a pleasure tour though the Western States.

The plant, which covers an area of about ten acres, with a water frontage of about 500 feet, has a marine railway capable of receiving and moving a ship of 500 tons burthen; shears and tackling that will raise 100 tons; a machine-shop three and one-half stories high, and 165 feet long by 60 feet wide; a boiler-shop 180 feet by 60 feet; a blacksmith-shop 130 feet by 40 feet; an erecting-shop 80 feet by 70 feet, and a foundry 150 feet by 60 feet; all of these departments being fully equipped and provided with the best tools, and all the facilities necessary for constructing marine engines, high and low pressure, heavy and light forgings, and all sizes of iron and steel vessels.

The vessels built by this company are of the highest merit in construction, sailing qualities, and attractive models, including some of the largest passenger and freight steamships.  Among those constructed by them for the merchant service may be named the iron steamships “Oriental,” “Havana,” “General Scott,” etc., and many others that have added to the glory and efficiency of the American marine.

The marine engines built by them are of first-class workmanship, and of every required capacity. During the Mexican war they built the engines for several Government vessels which took part in that contest.

Previous to 1860 they had constructed the engines for the steam sloop-of-war “Lancaster” and gunboat “Pawnee,” as well as many others too numerous to name in this sketch. During the war of the Rebellion the works were taxed to their utmost capacity, over 800 men being constantly employed; and they constructed the engines for about 120 Government vessels, some of which were the largest in the service; and their facilities for producing the engines of the highest type is indisputable. . .

During the whole period of their existence, the Company have accumulated a vast stock of patterns, which are all carefully preserved in an immense fie-proof building, so that whenever required to furnish duplicates the model can be readily ascertained.

Since the establishment of the Company in 1844, down to the present time (1896), there have been constructed at their yards over 1,300 complete engines, and about 300 iron and steel vessels, consisting of Steamships for passenger and freight service, Yachts, Ferry-boats, Barges, Tug-boats, etc.



United States Mercantile Guide: Leading Pursuits & Leading Men

Edwin T. Freedley, ed. (Edward Young, Philadelphia, 1856)

pp. 294-295


2. MARINE ENGINES.-The manufacture of engines for large sea-going vessels is one of immense responsibility. The loss of the steamship "San Francisco," in the winter of 1853-4, in consequence of several difficulties, the chief of which were due to the failure of her air-pump, is yet fresh in the minds of all; and the great risk of the Collins steamer "Atlantic," in consequence of breaking her shaft a few seasons before, produced perhaps nearly as deep an impression. It has been found im­practicable to fit a large sea-going vessel with a complete set of sails and rigging when propelled by steam. One power or the other must be sacrificed. Either the engines must be applied to a small screw propeller under the stern, to be used but seldom, or the masts and sails must be curtailed, and the chief dependence placed on the powerful engines and paddle-wheels. The latter plan is adopted in all swift American steam­ships; and inn case of breakage, or other inefficiency in the middle of the ocean, the ship is rendered nearly helpless, and the fate of her crew and passengers at once become the sport of circumstances.

The comparative availability and superiority of paddle-wheels and screw propellers in navigation is a question which has excited a good deal of interest, but with which we have nothing to do. Where great speed is the point of first importance, the former have the preference; but in all other respects the screw propellers with the recent improve­ments have many advantages, and are rapidly acquiring popularity.

In the construction of marine engines for driving screw propellers, it is the aim of the best makers to build them so as to occupy the smallest possible space, compatible with a due degree of strength and efficient action, and a free access to the several parts for adjustment and repairs, and so that a large amount of duty may be obtained from an engine of comparatively small size and light weight.


The firm that have built a larger number of propeller engines than any other in the United States, and put them in successful operation, are REANEY, NEAFIE & Co., proprietors of the "Penn Steam Engine and Boiler Works," Philadelphia. For the last twelve years they have made this subject almost their entire study, and, with an experience derived from having built over two hundred engines of this class, may be not inaptly called ""the propeller builders." It would be tedious to name a fractional part of the vessels constructed by this firm; but among them the "Pampero," whose staunchness deserved a better service than her late Cuban expedition, the "Granite State," "Martin White," " Mount Vernon," the "Baltimore," "J. K. Hammitt," and others, some of them now in the Crimea, are more worthy monuments to the fame of their eminent builders than any written testimonial.

The firm of Reaney, Neafie & Co. is composed of Thomas Reaney, Jacob G. Neafie, and John P. Levy. The Messrs. Reaney and Neafie have each had a long and practical experience in machine shops, the latter having served his apprenticeship with Mr. Holloway, the first marine engine builder in Philadelphia; while Captain Levy, the financial partner, is a practical seaman and shipwright, possessing a familiar knowledge of the bulls, rigging, and engines of steamers. The result of this union is that the firm are prepared to build any description of steam vessel outright, and owners have but one contract to make, and that with a very responsible firm. In the construction of iron boats of all classes, both side-wheels and propellers, this firm do a large business, having at least two on their stocks at all times. They also make all kinds of engines and boilers, high and low pressure, heavy and light forgings, and iron and brass castings of all sizes and patterns. Having made it a rule to preserve all patterns, their stock at present is very large.

Messrs. Reaney, Neafie & Co. are also proprietors of the patent right for the "Curved propeller," which has almost entirely superseded all others; and the demand for their peculiar wheel has been so great from the Canadas and on the Lakes, that they have found it necessary to connect themselves with Messrs. Swartz, Sprague & Martin, of Buffalo, who have an extensive establishment for building engines of all kinds.


A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860

J. Leander Bishop, A.M., M.D. (Edward Young & Co., Philadelphia, 1868)

Vol. III, pp68-69


In the upper part of the city, at the foot of Palmer street, on the Delaware river, is a very extensive and notable establishment for building Steamers and Marine Engines, known as the


Penn Works-Neafie & Levy, Proprietors.


These works have been established about twenty years, and from a small beginning have grown to a magnitude that places them among the foremost establishments of the city. During the period of their existence as a firm, the proprietors of these works have constructed over four hundred marine engines, of various sizes, and have conse­quently accumulated a stock of patterns, and an amount of experience, that qualify them for executing any work of this description. Among the vessels whose engines were supplied from these works, may be mentioned the U. S. Frigate Lancaster, the Gunboats "Pawnee," "Pontiac," "Neshannock," "Liberty," "Electric Spark," "John Rice," "Thomas Scott," "Belle Vernon," and others. During the late re­bellion, the engines for about one hundred and twenty vessels, of all classes, were built here, some of them among the largest in the service.

The area of ground occupied by this establishment is about seven acres, and within these limits are the buildings, tools, and facilities necessary for constructing not only marine and stationary engines, high and low-pressure boilers, heavy and light forgings, but for build­ing all sizes of iron and wooden vessels. Having a front on the river of over four hundred feet ; docks in which twelve ships can ride abreast in safety ; a marine railway capable of bearing a ship of a thousand tons; shears and tackling that will lift a hundred tons; a machine shop one hundred and sixty-five by sixty feet, three and a half stories high; a boiler shop one hundred and eighty by sixty feet ; a blacksmiths' shop one hundred and thirty by forty feet; an erecting shop eighty by seventy feet ; a foundry one hundred and fifty by sixty feet-all equipped and provided with the best tools-their facilities are un­questionable. Or, if other evidence were wanting, it is presented in the iron ships " Oriental," of fifteen hundred tons ; the " Havana," twenty-two hundred tons ; the " General Scott," eleven hundred tons; the "Union," four hundred tons; and many others built here, that have added to the glory and efficiency of the American marine.

In one special but important branch of naval architecture, this firm have a pre-eminence amounting almost to a monopoly. Among the first, or probably the first, to engage in building Propellers, and owning the patent for the curved propeller wheel, more of this description of vessel have been built at the Penn Works than in any other in the country. It has been said that at least two propellers may be seen on their stocks at all times ; and on the western lakes, probably two hundred are performing valuable service.

Besides its advantages of location and equipment, the "Penn Works" has another, in the practical skill of its proprietors, Jacob G. Neafie and John P. Levy. Mr. Neafie served his apprenticeship in the ma­chine shop of Thomas Holloway, the first marine engine builder in Philadelphia, and thus, from boyhood, has been identified with the pursuit in which he is now engaged;. white Captain Levy has a thorough and practical knowledge of bulls, rigging, and outfit of steamers-a combination that completes the resources, both men­tal and material, necessary for constructing any vessel of wood or iron, and furnishing it with all machinery and equipments ready for sea.


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