The company moved to the Barns o' Clyde (later re-named Clydebank) near the village of Dalmuir in 1871. The location at the confluence of the River Clyde, with the tributary River Cart at Newshot Isle, allowed very large ships to be launched. Despite severe financial difficulties the company developed a reputation based on engineering quality and innovation.
In the early 1900s, the company innovated marine engineering technology through the development of the Brown-Curtis turbine, which had been originally developed and patented by the U.S. company International Curtis Marine Turbine Co. The performance of these engines impressed the Royal Navy which, as a consequence, placed orders for many of its major warships with John Brown.
John Brown and Company, a Sheffield steel-maker took over the yard in 1899, and it became one of the leading shipbuilding yards in the world. Many notable warships and liners were built here including:
The end of World War I, and the subsequent famine of naval orders hit British shipbuilding extremely hard, and John Brown only just survived. Two great ships saved the yard, they were the giant Cunard White Star Liners:
The immediate post war period saw a severe reduction in warship orders which was balanced by a prolonged boom in merchant shipbuilding to replace tonnage lost during the war. By the end of the 1950s, however, the rise of other shipbuilding nations in Europe, Korea and Japan, newly recapitalised and highly productive, using new methods such as Modular design, made many British yards, which had continued to use outmoded working practices and largely obsolete equipment, uncompetitive. At Clydebank, the management pursued a strategy of tendering for a series of break-even contracts, most notably the Kungsholm liner, in the hope of weathering the storm and maintaining production in anticipation of a new high-profile contract from Cunard for a new liner, but due to rising costs and inflationary pressures, the company suffered major and unsustainable losses as a result. By the mid 1960s, John Brown & Co's management, warned that its shipyard was uneconomic and potentially faced closure.
The last passenger liner order eventually came from Cunard with RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, but the yard had since merged into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, which collapsed amidst much controversy in 1971. The last true ship to be built at the yard, the bulk grain carrier, Alisa, was completed in 1972. The Clydebank facility continued to operate under various owners until 2001, constructing oil platforms in support of the North Sea oil fields. The commercially successful John Brown Engineering division of the company was acquired by Trafalgar House. In 1996 it was purchased by Kvaerner. It later was split, with Kvaerner retaining some assets, and Yukos obtaining John Brown Hydrocarbons and Davy Process Technology, both in based in London. John Brown Hydrocarbons was sold to CB&I in 2003. The business was renamed CB&I John Brown, and later CB&I UK Limited.