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Bath Iron Works | Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Bath Iron Works - Bath, Maine

Established in 1884 by Tom Hyde, the once small foundry started out with a simple business model making castings. Tom Hyde's famous name (he was also known as General Hyde), coupled with new technologies such as windlass, helped Bath Iron Works (BIW) to quickly blossom. The Sewall's provided capital for the company, and by January of 1885, $100,000 had been raised to help the company get on its feet. Soon the company purchased Goss Marine Iron Works, and the new facilities were next known as the South Division. The North Division comprised the old foundry and windlass plant. The new division developed into a steel shipbuilding plant, which allowed BIW to now take on the building of all types of vessels. General Hyde's cousin, Charles E. Hyde joined the company, eventually building the first triple-expansion marine engine used in the U.S. Until the steam turbine was invented, this kind of engine was the standard type of steam engine in utilized America.

Launched in 1890, the wooden steamer Cottage City was the first ship built by Bath Iron Work's construction crew. It was mainly used for passenger and freight service between Portland, Maine, and New York City. The company's next ship emerged in 1891 and bore the name Manhattan. Bath Iron Works built the first steel vessels in Maine. Despite the positive outlook for this flourishing business, a fire destroyed almost all of Bath Iron Works in 1894, and General Hyde called in every helping hand he knew to rebuild his shipyard.

Throughout the late 1800's, Bath Iron Works had been focused on the construction of private yachts until changes in its technological capabilities allowed it to construct its first and only battleship "Georgia" for the Navy. While scientific and technological advances all but halted Bath Iron Work's construction of wooden ships, the company did become known as the leading specialist in destroyer ships. Throughout the early twentieth century, the company built destroyers that ranged from 700-1000 tons. Later, in an attempt to earn larger naval contracts, Bath Iron Works drew up plans for the "Liberty" design destroyers. Used by numerous other shipyards to create countless destroyers for WWI, these ships were often referred to as "tin cans" and 'four-pipers".

Employee count and demand dropped off dramatically after the war, and not even a single ship came out of bath in 1922. In 1925, Bath Iron Works was sold at public auction, after shutting down business completely in the months prior. The company's equipment was allotted to different buyers and Bath Iron Works was left an empty shell.

Bath Iron Works did find new life again, when in 1927, the business returned to its original bread and butter, yacht making, with William S. (Pete) Newell at the company's helm. Yachts once again grew vital business for Bath Iron Works, and the coast guard soon requested 165-ft patrol cutters to support the rumrunners blockade in the late years of prohibition. Soon the Navy had projects for the company as well. The first of these projects was the USS Dewey, which the Navy asked BIW to construct in 1931. The Drayton and Lamson became BIW's next two destroyers in 1936 and soon the company became an industry favorite once again.

Bath spent some of the following years building trawlers for the Maine fishing industry, eventually learning to use steel pipes instead of scaffolding to save money, time, and human lives. In the next several years, besides fishing boats, BIW began winning huge Naval contracts for destroyers after a congressional mandate took many aged ships off the water. The rush didn't last long, and business once again fell off following WWII.

Bath went through countless management changes and business ups and downs in the next several decades, and today, the company continues to produce all varieties of vessels. With 10,500 employees in 1995, Bath is the largest private employer in Maine. At present the yard is busy with the naval contract of 21 Arliegh Burke Class destroyers (DDG 51).

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari

1 Eskew, Garnett Laidlaw. Cradle of Ships: A History of Bath Iron Works. Van Rees Press: New York. 1985.