While many of its early ventures were naval contracts for the First World War, the naval glory years for the ADDSCO were not truly until WWII, when the United States Maritime Commission designated the facility as one of the original nine emergency shipyards that would focus solely on naval warship production. Production demands were so high that during WWII, ADDSCO established itself as Alabama’s single largest employer. While initially equipped to fill naval demands for Liberty destroyers, losses on the open seas eventually necessitated a shift in production to tanker vessels. Between 1941 and 1942, the shipyard managed to produce 20 Liberty destroyers. Between 1943 and 1945, the facility built an astounding 90 tanker ships. ADDSCO, while one of the largest employers in the Deep South at the time, also became one of the largest employers of African Americans during this time. In the late 1980s the yard was temporarily closed as it underwent an ownership change. Today the yard is owned by Atlantic Marine.
Shipyards were important pieces of the war effort both in Europe as well as in the South Pacific. The nature of a truly trans-global war necessitated naval supremacy and these shipyards answered the call just as the brave men and women at the front lines risked their lives every day. Unfortunately, many of the men and women who worked in these shipyards were subjected to dangerous work conditions. However, they forged on with their labor, recognizing the importance of their tasks and feeling confident they could handle the adversity they may face. It is a sad fact that during this time many of these workers were exposed to toxic substances while doing their jobs. Perhaps more unfortunate is the fact that many of them did not even know of the harmful effects posed by these dangerous substances especially that of asbestos.
Asbestos was used in a number of capacities in the shipbuilding and ship repair process. Because it possessed insulation qualities, asbestos was well suited for covering pipes and electrical fixtures, in addition to traditional installations of walls and hull coverings. Asbestos was banned in the late 1970s because a conclusive link between exposure and respiratory illness became evident. Among the more serious illnesses caused by asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive disease also known as asbestos cancer. For those who worked with asbestos materials or any insulation materials within shipyards, it is important that you watch your health closely, as adverse respiratory symptoms may be indicative of asbestos exposure. For those who were exposed, support is available both financially and medically.