Resources for Patients and their Families

Washington Navy Yard

Washington Navy Yard

Home to the Chief of Naval Operations, headquarters for the Naval Historical Center, and the Marine Corps Historical Center, the shipyard is the Navy's oldest shore establishment, operational since the early 1800's. Benjamin Stoddart, the first Secretary of the Navy, oversaw the construction of Washington Navy Yard between 1798, when the land was purchased, and 1809.

Located on the Anacostia River, Washington Navy Yard eventually would become the Navy's largest shipbuilding and shipfitting facility. Twenty-two vessels were constructed there from 70ft gunboats to the 246-foot steam frigate Minnesota.

The Washington Navy Yard proved to be a site of constant technological advances. During the war of 1812 Robert Fulton conducted research and testing on his clockwork torpedo at the Washington Yard. The yard was burned down during this war as a strategy to prevent the yards capture by the enemy, the yard never regained its critical standing as a shipbuilding facility and its focus shifted to technology. Soon the yard began manufacturing chain, anchors, and steam engines for war ships using one of the first steam engines in the country.

The Washington Navy Yard remained at the forefront of technological advances after the Civil War. The yard manufactured armament for the Great White Fleet and the World War I Navy, and, in 1886, it was named the manufacturing center for all ordinance in the Navy. The yard's notoriety for ordinance continued through WWII, and by then it was the largest naval ordinance plant in the world. The yard stretched over 126 acres, boasted 188 buildings, and employed 25,000 people at the height of its success. Weapons designed and built at the yard were used in every U.S. war until the 1960s. The yard underwent two name changes. In 1945 it was renamed to U.S. Naval Gun Factory and in 1949 to the Naval Weapons Plant. In July 1962, after most of the ordnance work was removed, the installation became the Washington Navy Yard Annex. In July 1964 it reverted to its traditional name of Washington Navy Yard. Production of rockets and guns continued at the Gun Factory until 1961 when it became an administrative center for naval activities in our nation's capital.

Today the yard serves as headquarters for the Washington Naval District and it houses a variety of support activities for the fleet and aviation communities. The yard has had historical and ceremonial significance through out the years as well, receiving the body of WWI's Unknown Soldier and acting as the ceremonial gateway to the nation's capital. In 1860, the first Japanese diplomatic mission was welcomed to the United States in an extraordinary procession at the yard. Charles A. Lindbergh returned to the Navy Yard in 1927 after his famous transatlantic flight, and in the 1930s, Britain's King George VI visited the yard during his Washington stay.

Many veterans stationed her as well as shipyard workers may have been exposed to asbestos, a fireproofing material that has causal links to mesothelioma. If you are a veteran exposed to asbestos here or at another shipyard you may be inclined to inquire about how mesothelioma affects veterans. If you have been diagnosed with this cancer we have compiled a mesothelioma treatment guide and a listing of top mesothelioma cancer clinics in the country that we hope you will find useful. There is even a page on medical support for veterans with mesothelioma that you can refer to. Please fill out the form to the right if you are interested in learning more about your legal rights as well.

Author: Linda Molinari

Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Linda Molinari


Coletta, Paolo E., Ed. United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases, Domestic. London: Greenwood Press, 1985. Ppgs. 181-187.

History of the Washington Navy Yard