The modern shipbuilding industry has been defined in the last century by a small, relatively inconsequential Civil War naval battle between two ships. As the USS Monitory and Merrimack fired at each other relentlessly, enduring far more cannonballs than anyone previously could comprehend it became clear that day that ironclad ships were the battle weapons of the future. Since that time, the shipbuilding industry has almost been married to the steel and iron industry. Obviously, The Bethlehem Steel Shipyards of San Francisco were no exception. The shipyard actually grew out of another iron company in 1849, when Peter Donahue established the yard as a subsidiary of his Union Brass and Iron Works. As steel became the primary ship construction material, the yard was sold to Bethlehem in 1906.
San Francisco became an important site of early shipbuilding efforts for the first half of the twentieth century. The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard of San Francisco was immediately summoned to action by the United States Maritime Commission at the onset of WWI. In order to fill substantial naval demands, the shipyard also incorporated the Risdon Iron Works, a locomotive company to help secure transport of raw materials. Through this partnership, the yard became one of the major warship construction centers on the West Coast. By the time WWII broke out, the yard’s outdated infrastructure required a shift from construction to repair duties. While a few tankers and smaller passenger ships were built at this time at the San Francisco facility, other yards had proven to be more efficient in modern destroyed construction. Today, the yard has survived multiple ownership changes and closures of surrounding yards, operating currently as the San Francisco Drydock Company.
The labor performed at shipyards is difficult and skilled. Each day, shipyard workers, including those at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in San Francisco, worked in dangerous situations. In addition, many of them were exposed to a dangerous material that they had no knowledge of. Asbestos was used in all facets of vessel construction and repair. Asbestos had tremendous insulation qualities and was used to cover piping and other fixtures.
Those who worked around these materials may have been harmfully exposed to airborne asbestos fibers, which have been conclusively linked with mesothelioma. Those who worked around insulation materials both in construction and repair capacities are most at risk. If you think you may have been exposed seek the counsel of a physician or respiratory specialist. Support exists if you were wrongfully exposed.