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USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)

Constructed on the shores of Virginia in the mid-1960s, the USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) was a Benjamin Franklin-class fleet ballistic missile submarine that served the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1993. She was the second Navy ship named after George Washington Carver (1865 – 1943), an African-American researcher and inventor most famous for his innovations with the peanut.


The nuclear-powered USS George Washington Carver measured 425 feet in length and displaced 8,250 long tons submerged. The vessel’s construction commenced on August 24, 1964, when her keel was laid down at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Newport News, Virginia. She was launched the following year, on August 14, 1954, sponsored by the celebrated singer Miss Marian Anderson.

The George Washington Carver was commissioned on June 15, 1966 with Captain R. D. Donavan in command of the Blue Crew and Lt. Commander Carl J. Lidel in command of the Gold Crew. (The ship was manned by the two crews, which alternated their time on board.) At her commissioning, the Carver was outfitted with 16 ballistic missile tubes, each containing one Polaris ballistic missile; however, she would later be upgraded to fire Poseidon missiles.

Naval History

The USS George Washington Carver’s primary task was conducting deterrent patrols – that is, monitoring the movements of enemy vessels, namely those belonging to the Soviet Union. The submarine embarked on her first strategic deterrent patrol on December 12, 1966, shortly after firing her first test missiles in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship’s Gold Crew launched three additional Polaris test missiles in October 1967 as part of its first Strategic Operational Test.

The Carver received a refueling overhaul in 1972, and at the same time was converted to carry Poseidon missiles. The new missiles were tested in May 1973, when the Blue Crew launched a test Poseidon off Cape Canaveral, Florida. The following August, the Carver embarked again on her deterrent patrols. Additional overhauls were completed in 1977 and 1982, and in 1986 the Carver proceeded to Holy Loch, Scotland, where she operated with the National Nuclear Deterrent Force.

In June 1991, after completing 73 strategic deterrent patrols, the George Washington Carver was re-designated as an attack submarine and given the hull number SSN-656. Her ballistic missile tubes were deactivated and filled with cement. Two years later, on March 18, 1993, the Carver was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register. She was scrapped via the Navy’s Ship and Submarine Recycling Program, and ceased to exist on March 12, 1994. She had served for 27 years.

Asbestos Risk on the USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)

Asbestos, a naturally occurring substance mined in North America and Africa, was widely used aboard the USS George Washington Carver and other submarines of her day. Today, it is known that asbestos can cause cancer and other ailments, and the United States government has issued firm restrictions on where and how the mineral may be used. But for much of the 1900s, there were virtually no restrictions in place. In fact, from the 1920s to the 1970s, the U.S. Navy ordered shipyards to use asbestos in its vessels, thinking it would protect sailors from the threat of fire.

The long, fibrous crystals found in asbestos were used largely for their fireproofing ability in insulation and other products placed throughout the ships: in engine and boiler rooms, navigation rooms and mess halls. In fact, asbestos was present in more than 300 materials used in the construction and repair of Navy submarines.

When asbestos products are intact, they are generally not harmful; the danger appears when the products age, or when they are cut, filed, or torn. When this occurs, they emit a fine dust laden with tiny asbestos crystals. When inhaled or swallowed, these shard-like fragments can become embedded in a person’s lungs or abdomen, planting the seed for illnesses that, years later, come to drastically alter a person’s life for the worse. Sadly, this is exactly what is happening to numerous Navy veterans, shipyard workers and others who were exposed to asbestos throughout their careers.

One of the diseases caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a relatively rare type of cancer that strikes the lining of a person’s lungs, abdominal cavity or heart. On average, 2,000 to 3,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year – oftentimes to individuals who worked in the military, shipbuilding, construction and other high-risk occupations.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656) – History

Wikipedia – USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)

NavSource – USS George Washington Carver (SSBN-656)