The history of the Kennedy family in the engine business dates back to 1912 when William Patrick Kennedy introduced the otter trawl and the gasoline powered lugger to the seafood industry in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“In 1912, an odd smoke-belching craft chugged into Biloxi Harbor which was to change the course of the shrimping industry. W.P. Kennedy brought the power boat ‘Bernadino’ to town, rigged with a revolutionary kind of net known as the otter trawl. Kennedy asked local net-maker Henry Duggan to study the trawl until he could knit others and hired Johnnie Fountain to captain Biloxi’s first trawling expedition. On his first trip over the Deer Island bar, Captain Fountain caught forty barrels of shrimp with the new fangled rig.”
~ When Biloxi Was The Seafood Capital Of The World by David A. Sheffield and Darnell l. Nicovich.
W.P. Kennedy was the son of Patrick Kennedy, a pioneer citizen of Biloxi, who had immigrated from Gaulestown, County Kilkenny, Ireland and in 1892 established P. Kennedy & Company to engage in the shipping of raw oysters. At the height of production, twelve Biloxi canneries’ combined catch was 5,988,788 lbs of oysters and 4,424,000 lbs of shrimp and Biloxi had surpassed Baltimore’s production to become the seafood capital of the world.
In 1940 before America entered World War II, W.P. Kennedy’s son, William Patrick Kennedy, Jr. was co-owner of Kennedy Brothers Engine Company with his brother Frank that held the Caterpillar marine diesel and Lathrop gasoline engine Dealerships for the Gulf Coast area. At that time President Roosevelt agreed to furnish the British with wooden ships of various types; sub-chasers, sea-going tug boats and mine sweepers. W.P. Kennedy Jr. “Big Bill” secured a boat building contract with the Navy Bureau of Ships and formed Westergard Boat Works of Biloxi, Inc. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, work began around the clock and on April 30, 1942 the first of two wooden submarine chasers (also known as PT boats), the P.C. 650, was launched. These craft were powered by two GM Pancake 16-184A Electro-Motive Diesels and after the completion of the P.C’s the Navy awarded the yard a contract to build ten mine-sweepers of the B.Y.M.S. (British Yard Mine Sweeper) Class. They were to be used in the English Channel and they were powered by two GM 8-268A Diesels. Following the mine sweepers, four Navy Harbor Tug Boats were built. The YT’s were sea-going tugs powered by two 500 HP Enterprise engines and designed for fire-fighting in the Normandy invasion. Each tug was named after an American Indian Tribal Chief; Pesheway, Piomingo, Pitchlynn and Neokautah. After Navy contracts were completed, new private non-military boat building was continued until the shipyard was closed and “Big Bill” was awarded a Distributorship for General Motors GM Diesel Division for Mississippi, Alabama and western Florida. He founded Kennedy Marine Engine Company, Inc. and sold General Motors diesel marine engines and Packard marine gasoline engines. In 1949 he became a dealer for Lathrop gasoline engines, Onan marine gasoline engines, Palmer gasoline marine engines, Climax generator sets, Grey Marine and many other brands of boat equipment.
Upon entry into the trucking industry in 1965, GM Diesel was renamed Detroit Diesel and in 1980, Kennedy Marine Engine Company, Inc. became Kennedy Engine Company, Inc. The business moved from downtown Biloxi into a new 60,000 sq ft building facing Interstate 10. With the advent of tougher exhaust emissions laws, the 2-cycle engine was supplanted by the more environmentally-friendly four-cycle engine, but the legendary series of 2-cycle engines still holds an important place in the private marketplace and in military applications.
Today Kennedy Engine Company represents John Deere, Scania and FPT engines (Fiat Powertrain Technologies) in addition to the Detroit Diesel “classics,” and Kohler, Onan, Marathon, and Northern Lights generators. The company is still family owned and operated and continues to proudly serve the power needs of customers in the region and nation-wide.