Birely, Hillman & Streaker was a prominent Philadelphian shipbuilding firm through the latter part of the 19th century. The shipyard specialized in the manufacturer of large wooden paddle steamers and wooden steamboats for the domestic American market.
The company had its origins in two earlier Philadelphian shipyards, Birely & Sons (founded by John Birely) and Hillman & Streaker, both of which were established in the 1840s during the "golden age" of American wooden shipbuilding. In this period, Birely & Sons was Philadelphia's busiest shipyard, building seven modern screw steamers between 1849 and 1853 (including the SS Lewis, a transatlantic steamer built for the Boston & Liverpool Line).
Following the American Civil War however, the shipbuilding industry experienced a severe slump. All Philadelphian shipbuilders engaged exclusively in the manufacture of wooden vessels were forced out of the industry, with the exception of Birely & Sons and Hillman & Streaker, which survived by pooling resources and merging in 1866 to become Birely, Hillman & Streaker. The new company's shipyard was located at the foot of Montgomery Avenue, Philadelphia.
In the following decades, the company mainly targeted the American domestic market, aided by government policies which protected domestic shipping routes to the end of the century. The company built both oceangoing ships for coastal trade as well as riverboats and ferries for inland transport. For example, it built the steamers Goldsboro and Delaware for the Clyde Line's North-South trade in the 1880s, as well as the side-wheeler City of Richmond for Clyde's steamboat line connecting Richmond and Norfolk. In lean times, the company would also occasionally take on military contracts, such as when it built the Haitian gunboats St. Michel and 1804 in 1875.
By 1880, Birely, Hillman & Streaker had net assets of $85,000, a workforce of 150 with annual wage costs of $66,412, raw materials costs of $67,756 and an annual output of $176,000. The company was able to keep asset costs so low because it remained a specialized wooden shipbuilder, contracting out all its engine requirements—with their much larger capital investment—to local manufacturers of marine steam engines. In its early years, the main providers of engines for the company were the firms of I. P. Morris and Neafie & Levy, but after the 1870s, the company relied almost exclusively on engines built by Neafie & Levy, while Neafie & Levy returned the favour by subcontracting large wooden hulls from Birely for its own shipbuilding contracts. After 1871, Birely, Hillman & Streaker was the only Philadelphia shipbuilder to continue outsourcing its ship engines.
In 1888, Charles Hillman and his three sons Bart, Josiah and Jonathan bought out the other two partners, Jacob Birely and David Streaker, and the firm became known as the Charles Hillman Ship & Engine Building Company, or just Hillman & Sons. The Hillmans had recognized the need for the firm to make the move to iron shipbuilding, and they quickly set up a plant for the manufacture of tugboat engines, which commenced production in 1889. By 1893 the company was ready to launch its first iron steamer, the Anthony B. Groves, for the Baltimore and Philadelphia Steamboat Company.
Unfortunately, delays in the construction of a torpedo boat for the US Navy, the , bankrupted the new company in 1899. Hillman & Sons thus became an early victim of the "naval contract syndrome" that would drive many other venerable American shipbuilders to the wall in coming years. The Hillman shipyard was subsequently acquired by William Cramp & Sons in 1900.