Our Company History

Over a Century of Experience

Founded in Illinois in 1890, GLDD has a long history with Chicago’s shore infrastructure and river lock system. The company now operates on every domestic coastline and throughout many inland U.S. waterways, and has operated in several foreign markets, throughout the Middle East, Latin America, and other regions around the globe. In addition, GLDD has a fleet of smaller vessels that specialize in dredging challenging shallow water environments, such as lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and inland channels.

Since its founding, GLDD has been a leader in the building and maintenance of the nation’s navigation system, the protection of shorelines, the restoration of sensitive habitats, and the creation of critical aquatic infrastructure. We are committed to delivering innovative and high-quality workmanship to our clients while executing every project with a focus on safety and environmental protection and enhancement.

The Beginning


Founded in 1890, as the partnership of William A. Lydon & Fred C. Drews’, Lydon & Drews’ first project was the 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, moving 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 Expedition in 1892, as well as the foundations for what is currently Navy Pier.


In 1905, the company changed its name to Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company. The company’s fleet 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 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.

Early Years


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, GLDD 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.

The Expansion


In 1986, 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 was performed by the company. In 1990, following up on its successful project to create the harbor at Jebel Ali in Dubai, GLDD launched a renewed international marketing effort by establishing a dredging division in the Middle East.


In 1993, the overseas marketing program was awarded reclamation and harbor infrastructure projects in Doha, Qatar, followed by other successful projects in Europe, Africa, Mexico, and South America. The company also performed excavation and reclamation for the construction of the Øresund Fixed Link—the bridge/island/tunnel system that joins Denmark and Sweden.

Recent Years


In 2000, GLDD successfully completed a myriad of high-profile dredging projects with work finishing up on such contracts as the Oresund Fixed Link in Denmark, the Suez Canal in Egypt, and the expansion of two California terminals, Pier 400 in Los Angeles Harbor and Pier J in the Port of Long Beach.


Over the next five years, GLDD 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, the dredging of Umm Qasr Port in Iraq, and reclamation work at Khalifa bin Salman in Bahrain.


More recently, GLDD has constructed new land masses for the resort cities of Diyar al Muharraq and Durrat al Bahrain, among many other large-scale 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.