In the 1880s, Collis P. Huntington created the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad to transfer coal from the Ohio River valley to Newport News, Virginia. In 1886, he built a shipyard to repair ships servicing this transportation hub. In 1891, Newport News Shipbuilding delivered its first ship, a tugboat named Dorothy. By 1897, NNS had built three warships for the U.S. Navy: USS Nashville, USS Wilmington, and USS Helena.
In 1906, the revolutionary HMS Dreadnought launched a great naval race worldwide. Between 1907 and 1923, Newport News built six of the Navy's total of 22 dreadnoughts -- USS Delaware, USS Texas, USS Pennsylvania, USS Mississippi, USS Maryland, and USS West Virginia -- and all but the first would still be in active service in World War II.
In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet on its round-the-world voyage. Seven of its 16 battleships were built by NNS. Between 1918 and 1920, NNS delivered 25 destroyers, and after World War I, NNS began building aircraft carriers. USS Ranger was delivered in 1934, and NNS went on to build USS Yorktown and USS Enterprise.
By 1940, the Navy had ordered seven more aircraft carriers and four cruisers. Still, the company swiftly filled requests for "Liberty ships" that were needed during the war. It founded an emergency yard on the banks of the Cape Fear River and launched its first Liberty ship before the end of 1941, building 239 in all. For its contributions during the war, the Navy awarded the company its "E" pennant for excellence in ship construction.
In the post-war years, NNS built the famous passenger liner SS United States, which set a transatlantic speed record that still stands today. In 1954, NNS, together with Westinghouse and the Navy, developed and built a prototype nuclear reactor for a carrier propulsion system. NNS designed the USS Enterprise in 1960. In 1959 NNS launched its first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Shark as well as the ballistic missile submarine USS Robert E. Lee.
In the 1970s, NNS launched two of the largest tankers ever built in the western hemisphere and also constructed three liquefied natural gas carriers -- at over 390,000 deadweight tons, the largest ever built in the United States. In the 1980s, NNS produced a variety of Navy products, including Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carriers and Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines. On November 7, 2001, NNS signed a merger agreement with Northrop Grumman, the combination creating a $4 billion shipyard.