Some of the better-known ships built by Fairfield's include:
The company began as Randolph & Elliot building engines and machinery in the Tradeston district of Glasgow. It started shipbuilding as Randolph, Elder and Company at Govan Old Shipyard in 1860 (partners Charles Randolph and John Elder). The first ship was built in 1861 as No 14. The firm moved to a new yard at Fairfield Farm in 1868.
The firm of John Elder and Company was established in 1870; and it became the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in 1886, owned by Sir William Pearce. John Elder died in 1869.
John Carmichael was manager of the Fairfield yard in 1894. He had been born in Govan in 1858, and he had entered Fairfield as an apprentice in 1973. When his apprenticeship was completed seven years later, Sir William appointed him as head draughtsman, and later he was promoted to assistant manager.
Alexander Cleghorn was the Fairfield manager in 1909.
In 1919 the company became part of the Northumberland Shipbuilding Group, the largest in the world at the time.
The Fairfield West Yard was added in 1920s but closed after ten years due to severe recession and was demolished in 1934. Fairfield was taken over by Lithgows Ltd of Port Glasgow in 1935. The Fairfield West yard was used by the United States Army in 1944 to build four landing craft.
The engine building operation merged with David Rowan & Company to form Fairfield Rowan Ltd in 1963. The company was placed in receivership in 1965 but reconstituted as Fairfield (Glasgow) Ltd, with the chairman being Ian Stewart of Thermotank. Fairfield Rowan closed in 1966.
The following year Fairfields and the other major yards of the Upper Clyde - Alexander Stephen and Sons, Charles Connell and Company, Yarrow Shipbuilders Limited and John Brown and Company - were merged to form Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS). UCS collapsed amid much controversy in 1971, when a strike and work-in received national press attention. As part of the recovery deal, Fairfields was formed into Govan Shipbuilders which was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders. On the breakup of British Shipbuilders under denationalisation, the former Fairfields yards were sold to the Kværner group, as Kværner (Govan). In 1999 the yard passed to BAE Systems via the incorporation of Marconi Marine from GEC-Marconi. It is now part of BAE Systems Naval Ships.
In total the company built almost 700 ships.