Although the Pacific Northwest has a rich maritime history dating back to the 1700s, it wasn’t until 1916 that William H. Todd arranged for the merger of three two East Coast shipbuilders (Robins Drydock and Tietjen & Long) and Seattle Construction & Drydock Company to form the region’s first major shipbuilding operation. Eventually, Todd Pacific Shipyards would operate shipyards in locations on the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well as abroad.
Like other industries, Todd Pacific Shipyards were subject to “boom and bust” cycles. During the relative prosperity of the 1920s, the Todd Corporation issued a number of industry publications, including The Keel, the Todd Daily Maritime and The Bridge.
The company managed to survive on repair orders during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Mobilizing for World War II made the Todd Corporation prosperous once more; between the start of hostilities in December 1941 and the final Japanese surrender in August 1945, the company’s five regional shipyards built, converted and performed repairs on 23,450 vessels of all sizes and types; aggregate tonnage during the war was measured at over 117 million.
The company also began to diversify during this period. Britain’s Royal Navy commissioned the Todd Corporation’s London division to develop the Todd Insecticidal Fog Applicator (TIFA) in response to tropical diseases faced by service personnel in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. By the late 1940’s, the TIFA was manufactured at all Todd facilities, and is still used by over 2,000 communities throughout the world. Since 1973, TIFA has been a separate company.
Business for Todd fell off during the post-war period. As the U.S. Navy began outsourcing to civilian contractors during the 1950s, Todd benefited from conversion and repair orders. In the 1960s and 70s, the company was also involved in the U.S. space program, and received orders as a result of the Merchant-Marine Act of 1970 and the Patrol Flight Program of 1972). Inflationary pressures and low returns on investments caused significant problems starting in 1975 however as the ship building industry declined. This led to the closure of several operations during the 1980s, including the San Pedro yard near Los Angeles.
Todd Pacific Today
Since 1990, Todd Pacific has focused on its Seattle operations. The company’s current clients include the U.S. Army, the Maritime Administration, Military Sealift Command and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The company provides 800 high-wage jobs to the Seattle community, and recognizes 11 different labor unions.
The heavy use of asbestos in shipbuilding dates back to a 1934 tragedy in which a passenger liner, the Morro Castle, caught fire at sea, killing nearly one-fifth of those aboard. Because of this, the maritime industry – encouraged by asbestos manufacturers – lobbied the U.S. Congress to pass legislation requiring use of the fire-proof material. As a result, the federal government became the largest buyer of asbestos, which was subsequently used on virtually every shipboard component.
Workers employed prior to 1980 whose tasks required them to go below decks for any length of time are at the highest risk for developing asbestos-related illnesses, such as asbestosis or one of the several deadly forms of the asbestos cancer, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma.