Housed in Quonset-style buildings in North End, a Superior-based manufacturer has played a role in the nation's defense for a century and a half.

"We have been a proud supplier to the United States Navy for 150 years," said Kent Phillips, president of Superior-Lidgerwood-Mundy.

And new legislation to be introduced in Washington, D.C., is designed to keep it that way into the future.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., toured the manufacturing facility Tuesday before announcing plans to introduce a bill that would give American companies preference when it comes to ships ordered by the federal government.

"I'm proud to be here to announce my impending introduction of my Made in American Shipbuilding Act," Baldwin said.

The bill would give preference to American materials - steel, iron and aluminum - products and workers when the federal government orders or repairs ships.

"I believe that if we're going to have strong national security and a strong industrial base, that if we're going to meet any challenge, we need to have a strong Buy American policy," Baldwin said. "Right now, across the defense department and multiple federal agencies, there's a hodge-podge, a patchwork quilt, of Buy American policies, if any at all. Some of them last year-to-year, and it's uncertain whether they will be there in the future. Others are nonexistent."

The Made in America Shipbuilding Act would apply to all federal agencies that buy and use ships.

"I just truly believe that when we are using taxpayer dollars, we should be using American steel, American iron, American aluminum and American workers," Baldwin said.

Baldwin chose Superior-Lidgerwood-Mundy as the launching place for the legislation because of its long history supplying the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard with capstans, hoists and winches used on ships.

"When I was first elected to the United States Senate, I was struck by how many components on our ships come from overseas. As a big manufacturing state as we are in Wisconsin, in a state that's really proud of its work ethic, it's really frustrating to see U.S. tax dollars going overseas and threatening high quality businesses here and across the United States. In Wisconsin, there are a tremendous number of manufacturers who contribute vitally to our defense effort and to other government agencies. We ought to have Buy American policies, especially when using tax dollars, when it's about our national security.

"This is an attempt to gather all these policies together and make a commitment to our shipbuilding partners."

Baldwin said it is vital to keep America's industrial base strong so when there is an urgent need, the industrial base is available. After all, in a global market, she said the standards met may not be the same as those available in America, and with shifting alliances around the world, it could leave the nation vulnerable when its need is greatest.

Phillips said the company meets high standards for its products.

They are standards Baldwin said she is concerned may not be met when components are coming from foreign countries, which could result in additional costs and downtime for ships.

But it isn't just the U.S. Navy, which does have Buy American standards. She said the legislation would cover other government agencies that utilize ships, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of the Interior, which don't have the same requirements, she said.

"I've been fighting for Buy American policies for a long, long time," Baldwin said. "I find too often we're fighting it ship-by-ship. We're talking about the industry as a whole ... I think it makes sense that the sectors of our manufacturing base are prepared to meet our defense needs for shipbuilding. You do that by supporting them."

Phillips said the legislation is vital to small companies like Superior-Lidgerwood Mundy, which employs about 50 people with specialized skills. He said legislation like this increases the company's opportunity to provide its products and thrive.

"We want to keep our workers working and we want to design work with very specific requirements. There's a need for it in the United States today," Phillips said.

"If we're beholden to a company (in a country) where we're at odds, that's not helpful," Baldwin said.

"We almost reached a tipping point where small companies like ours couldn't survive," Phillips said of the business established in New York in 1873, and later merged with two other similar businesses. The company was established in Superior in 1895.

"This is clearly a commonsense thing that everyone would want to support," Phillips said.