185 years of innovation in marine engineering

Baars Shipbuilders

In period—1832—Kornelis Baars (1808) of Heinenoord married a Sliedrecht girl named Kornelia Visser (1811) who came from a long line of shipbuilders. Kornelis leased a site by the river where he began building wooden barges, tjalks and rowboats. These vessels were used for transportation, dredging and to carry wetland products. Kornelis soon made a name for himself as a shipbuilder. Four years later, he was able to purchase a plot of land and a share of a house and shed for 600 guilders. The couple had thirteen children, five of whom survived.

Arie (1843) and Kornelis (1848) were their two sons. Kornelis stayed on at his father’s shipyard. Arie took the plunge and started his own shipyard at the other end of the village in 1867. At a location known as the Zaai, along the sand bars of the River Merwede and the willow marshes, he levelled a site and established his own business. The same year he married Ariaantje Kortleve (1847). Together they had twelve children, and five of their sons became master shipbuilders.

New developments

The area was still prone to flooding, mainly because of the sand bars in the Merwede. Keen to prevent disaster, the villagers dredged the river. Sliedrecht native Adriaan Volker (1827–1903) played a key role in this process after inventing a method of raising mud from the river that was much faster than scooping it with a hand dredge. The bottom-dump scow which he invented was a vessel with a hatch in the bottom that could be opened to discharge mud quickly. Volker was also the first private contractor to purchase a steam-driven bucket dredger. With his friend and colleague Pieter Bos and others, he invented a self-loading suction dredger, which came to be called a suction hopper dredger. It was a great success.

No fewer than nineteen of these suction dredgers—built in the nearby villages of Kinderdijk and Alblasserdam—were deployed to excavate the Nieuwe Waterweg (New Waterway) between Rotterdam and the North Sea. Earlier attempts by British contractors using their own dredgers had failed. Arie Baars did not want to miss his chance. In 1889, realising that steel was easier to treat than wood, he applied for a permit from the local authorities to build steel vessels at his new shipyard, the present-day location of Baars BV. He got the permit and expanded his business to include a brick building and two forges. In 1906 he purchased land near the Zaai and together with his four sons Teunis (1872), Arie Azn (1875), Jan (1877) and Gerrit (1879) set up a partnership under the name ‘Scheepsbouwmaatschappij A. Baars & Zonen’. There was work in abundance. Large quantities of steel were shipped in to keep up with demand which was now international in scope.

Soaring steel prices

In 1916 their father retired and Teunis, Jan and Gerrit Baars established their public company Scheepsbouwwerf voorheen A. Baars en Zonen in a new location. In 1920 their brother Arie continued the business at the old location under the name of A. Baars Azn. Three years later, the three brothers’ new shipyard went bankrupt due to the soaring steel prices they were unable to pass on to a major customer for whom they were carrying out a large project. Arie Jr. managed to keep his head above water thanks, in great measure, to the wit and frugality of his wife Pleuntje Maria Nieuwendorp (1876). Arie also pursued innovation and insisted on delivering high quality and dependability. This attitude reflected his religious convictions, which were the cornerstone of his endeavours: to be satisfied and thankful for what you are given. Taking good care of his personnel was part of this. It happened from time to time that members of the Sliedrecht community who were barely able to make ends meet found an envelope of money in their letterbox from an anonymous sender.

A responsibility for each

Arie and Pleuntje had five sons and one daughter: Arie Jr. (1899), Jacob (1904), Kees (1906), Huib (1908), Jaans (1912) and Maaike (1913). Jacob became a notary. Arie, Kees, Jaans and Huib worked in their father’s company. Each one had his own responsibility.

Arie was the public face of the company and maintained external contacts, while Kees supervised the planning work.

Together with Jaans he oversaw the work and looked after the interests of the personnel. Jaans also managed the ship launches. Huib assumed responsibility for the operation of barges in 1921 when, in addition to the shipyard, the public company A. Baars Azn. Exploitatie van Baggermaterieel was founded. It marked the beginning of a new chapter…