The Story of Ira Bushey & Sons.

Ira S. Bushey

Ira S. Bushey and Sons, for three generations was a nationally significant business located in Brooklyn’s Red Hook.  Moreover, the tanker MARY A. Whalen, homeship of PortSide NewYork was built for Ira S. Bushey.

Ira S. Bushey was born in 1862.  He grew up in Oswego, New York, his family having relocated there from  Quebec, Canada.   Bushey’s first paid job was driving mules pulling barges on the Erie Canal.

Bushey moved on to other jobs including a stint out West and then in 1895 he moved back to the East Coast and started a wooden boat repair shop in Jersey City -  in keeping with the mariner tradition of his family.    Adept at his trade, his business grew quickly.  Bushey briefly moved his business to Staten Island and then finally to Brooklyn. 

Ira Bushey and his wife had 4 sons - Francis (b. 1888), Raymond (b. 1891) Ira Jr. (b. 1897) and William (b. 1899). They also had one daughter, who, at the time of Ira's death, was known by her married name, Ella M. Fox. 

In 1903, when Bushey’s oldest son, Francis, turned 15, he incorporated his business as Ira Bushey & Sons.  In 1907, he took over the Downing & Lawrence Shipyard at the foot of Court Street, on the Gowanus Canal in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  This space would be the headquarters of Ira Bushey & Sons for three generations, until they closed  in the late 1970s. 

Upon acquiring the shipyard on Court Street Bushey expanded his business from just  repair to boat building.

The company focused on making barges, railroad flats and scows ( a type of flat-bottomed barge) and by 1919 they had built and launched 254.   A year later Ira Bushey and Sons completed a 15,000 ton drydock on their Red Hook property that was able to lift a ship out of the water in just 18 minutes.

Although Ira Bushey's initial business philosophy was not to compete with clients, the company entered into the transportation business in 1924. In partnership with a fellow named Bullock they formed the Brooklyn and Buffalo Navigation Company (B&B) which barged cargo down the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Brooklyn.

Brooklyn: Court Street - Bryant Street

In 1925, Ira Bushey diversified again. Seeing a business opportunity in the increasing demand for fuel oil, he formed a partnership with Spenser, Toner, and Bushey to form the Spentonbush Fuel Transport Service.  (The company name is a merger of the founder’s names.) The first tankers were crude, just steel tanks mounted on the decks of scows. The same year Ira S. Bushey died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 63, leaving his business to his sons.  His daughter got the family house and other assets.  

Bushey/Gowanus Bay in the 1970s

In 1931 the company formed the Patchogue Oil Terminals, to capture yet another aspect of the oil business. Oil storage tanks were erected next to their Red Hook, Brooklyn home and also in Patchogue Long Island.

The company now was profiting in three aspects of the oil business:

  • Ira S. Bushey and Sons shipyard built and maintained a fleet of oil tankers
  • Spentonbush ran a fleet of tankers that transported and sold fuel.  
  • Patchogue Oil Terminals stored oil and distributed products on land.

These were not the only companies that Bushey controlled but they were early key ones in their success in the oil business.   PortSide NewYork's tanker the Mary A. Whalen - originally christened the S.T. Kiddoo in 1938 - was built for Spentonbush.

During the period of WWII the shipyard made many tugs for the US Navy, Coast Guard and Army.  After the war Bushey continued to paint their ships grey.

Frank Bushey, in 1953,  became the third and final generation to run the company. By this time the shipyard was just making tankers and tugs for their affiliated companies, such as the acquired Red Star towing company.

In 1966 Ira Bushey and Sons built their last vessel: the tug BOSTON. Unlike earlier ships it had an automated engineer room, requiring only one engineer to be assigned to the vessel instead of three. Frank Bushey was often at loggerheads with the unions and, according to Charles T O'Malley in his book Low Bridges and High Water on the New York State Barge Canal, Frank blamed union rules for ending production, particularly the costs of labor and rules forbidding members to cross trade lines.

On June 24, 1977, Ira Bushey and Sons sold the company to Amerada Hess. The oil terminal and storage tanks at the foot of Court Street, were likely what Hess was  most interested in. Inheritance tax, says O'Malley, was the reason Frank Bushey gave for why the company did not continue on to a fourth generation. 

Bushey was a leader in innovative shipbuilding techniques, one of the reasons PortSide’s tanker Mary A Whalen has been deemed historically nationally significant.   Old timers in New York harbor still reminisce fondly about the company and their seaworthy boats. 

Like the Mary A Whalen (see U.S. vs Reliable Transfer), Ira Bushey and Son's is also remembered for an important Supreme Courte decision.  In Ira Bushey vs. USA (1968) the US Government was held liable for the conduct of a drunken sailor that damaged Bushey's drydock by opening flood gates.  Links to that story, and other Bushey ones are at the bottom of this essay.  

Today (2023),  the property at the end of Court Street, that was once Bushey and Sons, then the Hess oil company, is owned by a real estate developer who is building a commercial warehouse space called the Red Hook Logistics Center.  It promises, according to, a total of 171,000-square-feet of modern warehouse space and 61,000-square-feet of truck court area as well as direct waterway access.


Ira S. Bushey & Sons' was a shipbuilder and oil company based in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Remarkably, the companiy combined three different endeavors: a shipyard, a fuel terminal, and a fleet of vessels that moved fuel. Busheys built around 200…

Starting out as a caulker of wooden ships, Ira S. Bushey, by dint of hard work, was the owner of the biggest wooden ship construction yard in the country 1920 - located in Red Hook's Erie Basin. Ira S. Bushey was the first builder and… 

In 1920, the New York Tow Boat Exchange represented 34 independent tow boat companies. In their advertisement in the Port of New York Annual, the Exchange boasted that their fleet of 200 boats could handle anything "from the docking and shifting of a…

In 1955, the ESSO NEW YORK, became the first American super Tanker to navigate the Gowanus Creek Channel to deliver oil to the Patchogue Oil Terminal, a subsidiary of Ira S. Bushey & Sons, at the foot of Court Street. The dredging of the…

Jim Perkins recounts his experience of working on the TAMAROA, a Coast Guard cutter located in the Bushey Shipyard in Red Hook. "The TAMAROA was located at Bushey Shipyard in Brooklyn, in the nicer part of the wrong side of town. What a Godforsaken…

In Ira Bushey vs. USA (1968) the US Government was held liable for the conduct of a drunken sailor. After returning to the United States, a sailor on the Coast Guard cutter TAMAROA, then docked in a floating drydock in Bushey’s shipyard, turned…

Vane Line Bunkering (sometimes called Vane Brothers) at the foot of Red Hook’s Court Street in the Gowanus Bay, occupies part of the site of the former Ira S. Bushey & Sons facility. The property is owned by Buckeye who also owns and operates…


Court Street, from Bryant Street to Gowanus Canal, showing in the background the Ira S. Bushey and Sons boat building plant. October 8, 1937. P. L. Sperr. Note: Ira S. Bushey was more than a shipyard. They also were a fuel terminal. The fuel tanks…

Photograph of an able-bodied seaman working in snow flurries at Ira S. Bushey and Sons' old shipyard. The end of the line he is working on has been folded back and braided into itself to form a loop. He is inspecting and tightening that splice.…


The oil tanker MARY A. WHALEN was launched May 21, 1938.  The ship is PortSide NewYork's ambassador to the BLUEspace and site of our offices and many programs.   Why…




Clicking on any of the images here will take you to its story

Ira S. Bushey

"Ira S. Bushey", America's Maritime Progress by George Weiss. 1920

Ad: New York Tug Boat Exchange


Ira Bushey Vs. USA (1968)

Ira Bushey Vs. USA, 1968

How Ira Bushey Built up his Ship Building Plant, 1920

How Ira Bushey Built up his Ship Building Plant, 1920

Super Tanker at Ira S. Bushey's Gowanus Oil Terminal, 1955

Super Tanker at Ira S. Bushey's Gowanus Oil Terminal, 1955



Key Sources: 

O'Malley, Charles T. . Low bridges and high water on the New York State Barge Canal. Ellenton, Fla: Diamond Mohawk Pub. 1991 has a list of ships made at the Ira S. Bushey Shipyard. 

Weiss, George. America's Maritime Progress. Editor J. W. Leonard, New York Marine News Company, 1920 (

More information about Ira S. Bushey & Sons can be found on the Seafarers' Blog

Since the writing of this article, the South Street Seaport Museum has written about their " Ira S. Bushey & Sons Shipyard Collection" which includes photographs of the shipyard.

The Story of Ira Bushey & Sons.