James J. Hill, Eastern Shipbuilding Co., and New London Ship & Engine Co.
In 1915 William Alexander worked for part of the year as an engineer aboard railroad tycoon James J. Hill's steam yacht Wacouta, and also worked aboard Eben Babbish's steamship Gardner. Information about the latter has not been located.
On the other hand, James J. Hill of St. Paul, Minnesota, and his yacht were well known on the east coast, he having contracted with Groton's Eastern Shipbuilding Company to build what would be the largest steamships in the world. The Minnesota and Dakota, launched in 1903 and 1905 respectively, were intended for service between Seattle, the terminus of Hill's Great Northern Railway, and Shanghai, but the venture proved to be unsuccessful. Eastern Shipbuilding's financial problems may have been a result of this in part, and in 1910 it was taken over by the New London Ship & Engine Company.
As an expert in the operation and maintenance of marine steam engines, Mr. Alexander was most likely hired by Hill to carry out repairs and maintenance on the Wacouta's coal-fired propulsion system. The luxurious 243-foot yacht had been built in the late 1890s at Bath Iron Works for William A. Slater of Norwich, Connecticut, who sailed her around the world under her first name, Eleanor. Hill bought her in 1900, and the next year it was reported that the new owners were sailing the re-named yacht on a five-month trip to Bermuda and the Mediterranean with ten guests. Wacouta was homeported in New York City, flying the flag of the New York Yacht Club, and was often seen in Connecticut waters.
For several months in 1916 Mr. Alexander was employed by the New London Ship & Engine Company (successor to Eastern Shipbuilding) in erecting and testing the 220 hp Air Starting Standard Engines to be installed in a new fleet of fast submarine chasers ordered by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in reaction to the growing threat of German U-Boats off the eastern seaboard of the United States.