Steel Chains to Brain Waves

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CHARLESTOWN NAVY YARD was established in 1800, one of the original six naval yards created by the young country’s navy. At that time, when overseas commerce was the backbone of the nation’s economy, the United States saw naval power as essential to becoming a prosperous, sustainable nation.

In addition to building new ships, the Navy Yard economized by adapting older ships to new technology. In the yard’s first half-century, that meant transitioning
to steam power. Sailing ships began to be replaced by steam-powered ships in the 1840s, and the Navy Yard built its first steamship in 1850, although the ships still used sails as backup power for many years. This transition also
required the construction of new buildings in the Navy Yard such as a coal plant to house fuel.

The stories of Charlestown Navy Yard in the 174 years ofits operation are as varied as the work that was performed there. Hundreds of thousands of people – both Navy and civilian, in skilled and unskilled positions – worked at the Navy Yard. They included the immigrants who lent boatbuilding expertise, women who proved their skill in traditionally male roles during World War II, and workers who promoted labor rights, even inspiring a supportive visit from then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. As a manufacturing facility that survived through much of the turmoil of the maritime industries, the Navy Yard finally ceased operation in 1974.

Massachusetts General Hospital began leasing space in the Navy Yard in 1986 beginning with Building 149. Today, MGH has offices and laboratories in several buildings in the Navy Yard, and other Partners organizations are also represented throughout the historic area. Most of the departments that work here also have facilities on MGH’s main campus.

The groups here include:

  • Anesthesia
  • Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging
  • Cancer Center
  • Dermatology
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • Medical Services
  • Neurology
  • Neuroscience and Imaging
  • Neuroscience and Imaging
  • Pathology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Radiation Oncology
  • Research Management
  • Surgery
  • The Wellman Center for Photomedicine