Bethlehem Shipping Corporation in Hingham, Mass., was founded in 1913 by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and reached its peak of production during World War II, when the need for Naval ships was at a critical point. Encompassing 150 acres of land located near the harbor, the massive yard employed more than 24,000 people during the height of production, when it averaged about six new ships every month, making it one of the top producers of ships during World War II. This speed is especially astounding when compared to the yard’s prewar production schedule, which averaged one ship every 10 months.
During World War II, shipbuilders took special pride in completing destroyers and other warships in record time, and the workers at Hingham were no exception. In fact, the Hingham shipyard holds the world record for construction of a major war vessel in the shortest amount of time. During the war years, 116 Naval ships were built at Hingham, including 100 destroyers. The facility earned a coveted “E” award from the Navy, indicating the shipyard was one of a select few which had produced the greatest number of ships in the shortest amount of time. Among shipyards commissioned by the Navy, Bethlehem ranked number one among the top three shipyards in terms of production, followed by shipyards in Newport News, Va., and New York City.
Before closing its doors in 1986, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation built 227 ships, employing 30,000 men and women during the peak of its production years. Just before the dawn of the 21st century, the shipyard land was purchased, with the intent to develop the land for commercial and residential properties.
The men and women who worked at Bethlehem were known and admired for their speed and skill in building ships, both during and after World War II. But while working at the shipyard, those workers faced an occupational hazard that remained unknown until the mid 1970s: asbestos exposure. Asbestos was widely used in the manufacture of many of the components used in shipbuilding, including gaskets, coatings, boiler components, and electrical insulation. Workers in shipyards were frequently exposed to asbestos, inhaling the tiny particles which lodge in the lungs, causing mesothelioma and asbestosis, as well as other health problems. Symptoms of malignant mesothelioma may not show up for decades after exposure. If you worked in the Bethlehem shipyard, you should ask your health care professional about testing for asbestos-related health problems as mesothelioma navy cases are very prevalent.