Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company's operations span the period between 1890 and the present day, and have helped shape community environments and transportation infrastructure around the world, including America's largest port cities. Great Lakes has played a major role in creating shorelines and waterways through both its dredging and construction activities. Through this effort, Great Lakes has grown to be America's largest dredging contractor and a major international competitor.
Founded in 1890 as the partnership of William A. Lydon and Fred C. Drews, Lydon & Drews' first project was construction of an offshore tunnel to extend the water intake at Chicago Avenue to a new water crib farther from the shore. The company experienced tremendous expansion in the 1890s, expanding from its Chicago base to open satellite operations in the major cities on the Great Lakes. Projects at the time included the shoreline structures for Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1892, as well as the foundations for what later came to be known as Navy Pier.
In 1905, the company changed its name to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. The company's fleet had expanded to include thirteen dredges and ten tugboats. Projects involving dredging, pile-driving, construction of foundations, bridges, breakwaters and lighthouses were completed in Chicago, and throughout the Great Lakes. By 1920, Great Lakes was operating in Albany, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and other east coast locations. Accordingly, an Atlantic Division office was established in the Whitehall Building in downtown Manhattan.
Between 1900 and 1950, the company completed a number of significant projects, including:
- A massive water intake for U.S. Steel's then new Gary (Indiana) works.
- Construction of the Sabin Lock at Sault Ste. Marie.
- Straightening a section of the South Branch of the Chicago River.
- Shoreline reclamation in Chicago for the sites of Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Soldier Field, Northerly Island (built to house the 1933 World's Fair, later the site of Meigs Field) and the Field Museum, as well as landfill for Lincoln Park, Jackson Park, Grant Park and Chicago's nine-mile shoreline.
- Construction of the foundations and approaches to Chicago's Michigan Avenue Bridge, the Outer Drive Bridge on Lake Shore Drive, and sections of the lower level of Wacker Drive.
During World War II, Great Lakes was awarded the coveted Navy E-Flag for its work building the large MacArthur Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, a facility named by the Corps of Engineers as the most reliable lock on the Great Lakes.
After the war, the company participated in extensive oil-related dredging in the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to numerous bridge and other marine construction projects around the country. In the 1970s, the Corps of Engineers' fleet was reduced to a size considered necessary for emergencies and national defense. A robust private dredging sector took its place. Great Lakes' president at the time, John A. Downs, was instrumental in promoting legislation that ultimately mandated the reduction of the Corps fleet. At the same time, the company expanded its operations internationally, venturing into the Middle East, South America, and Africa. Also during this period, beach nourishment was added to the company's operational repertoire.
In 1979, the company's stock was traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company was bought in 1985 by Itel Corp., and in 1991 was purchased by the Blackstone Investment Group. Seven years later Blackstone sold the company to Vectura Holding Company, LLC, a CitiCorp venture capital subsidiary. In 2004, the company's ownership transferred to Madison Dearborn Partners, a Chicago-based private capital firm, and late in 2006, the company was purchased by Aldabra Acquisitions Corp., at which time GLDD stock was offered to the public on the NASDAQ Exchange.
The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (the so-called "Deep Ports" legislation) improved U.S. transportation infrastructure by deepening major U.S. ports, much of which work was performed by the company. Following up on its successful project to create the harbor at Jebel Ali in Dubai, in 1990 Great Lakes launched a renewed international marketing effort by establishing a division in the Middle East.
In 1993, the overseas marketing program resulted in the award of a significant reclamation and harbor infrastructure projects in the Doha, Qatar, followed by other successful projects in Europe, Africa, Mexico, and South America. The company performed excavation and reclamation for construction of the Øresund Fixed Link, the bridge/island/tunnel system that joins Denmark and Sweden.
In mid-1996, the domestic dredging market began to improve due to increased demand for beach nourishment and for deferred maintenance of harbors and waterways. The next year the Corps released maintenance dredging projects for New York and New Jersey that had been on hold pending decisions on disposal of dredged materials, and the company won contracts for construction of Pier 400 in Los Angeles, deepening work in Boston Harbor, and Port work in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In 1998, Great Lakes acquired the dredge Texas. After undergoing extensive upgrading, she now is one of the most powerful cutter suction dredges in the world. In subsequent years, the company has outfitted all of its large-class cutter suction dredges with combination idler/spud carriage barges, significantly enhancing their performance profiles.
Since 1998, the industry has continued to benefit from the resurgence in Deep Port work. In 1999, Great Lakes designed and constructed the dredge New York, one of the world's largest backhoe dredges. The New York has enhanced the company's ability to compete for and execute Deep Port projects. As 2001 drew to a close, construction of the 5,000-m3 trailing suction hopper dredge, the Liberty Island, further enhanced the company's capacities.
In 2003, the company completed construction of a coastal protection system at the Keta Lagoon in Ghana, port construction and reclamation projects in Bahrain, and has completed port deepening projects in Oakland, Calif.; Brunswick, Ga.; New York, N.Y.; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Providence, R.I.
Also in 2003, Great Lakes was the first contractor to go to work after the preliminary hostilities in Iraq, performing needed harbor maintenance work at the Port of Umm Qasr to enable the entry of humanitarian cargo. The company has also completed extensive dredging for the deepening of San Juan Harbor in Puerto Rico. More recently, GLDD has constructed new land masses for a shipping terminal, the resort city of Durrat al Bahrain, and other development projects in Bahrain. When the need for emergency dredging services arose in response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Great Lakes was prominent among those answering the call.