Bethlehem Steel, based in the Pennsylvania town of the same name, was perhaps the epitome of U.S. industrial power: just prior to its height during the 1950s, the company owned fifteen shipbuilding facilities. Located from Massachusetts to the San Francisco Bay, these shipyards turned out 1,121 vessels during the Second World War. At the time, Bethlehem Steel employed 300,000 workers throughout the country.
Bethlehem steel went bankrupt in 2001; its assets were sold to the International Steel Group in 2003, which was subsequently merged with Netherlands-based Mittal Steel Group.
Major Shipbuilding Operations
The Fore River Shipyard was founded in East Braintree, Massachusetts in 1884, moving to Quincy in 1901. The facility was acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1913. Several dozen large ships were built at this facility, including six aircraft carriers, six full-sized battleships, ten destroyers and three submarines as well as a number of civilian vessels. Bethlehem Steel sold the shipyard to defense contractor General Dynamics in 1964, which operated it as its Quincy Shipbuilding Division. The yard was closed in 1986. Purchased by a local auto dealer in 2004, the yard is today home of the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum, and is still used as a port for commuter ferries to Boston.
Bethlehem Shipbuilding was located in Sparrows Point, Maryland. Operated as Bethship, Inc., it was the last of the Bethlehem Steel Shipyards after the 1980s. In 1998, the facility was sold to Veritas Capital, Inc. for $16 million, and renamed Baltimore Marine Industries, Inc. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and was subsequently purchased by Barletta-Willis, LLC. The company currently operates as North American Ship Recycling.
Bethship Inc. was ordered to pay a criminal fine by a Texas court in 1995 after pleading guilty to illegal dumping of toxic wastes into the Sabine Neches Waterway by its Port Arthur facility. In addition, the company paid $1 million to the Southeast Texas Coastal Trust Fund.
Bethlehem Steel acquired San Francisco’s Union Iron and Brass Works in 1906 and United Engineering Works in 1917; these became known as the San Francisco and Alameda Shipyards respectively. Until the Second World War, these were the only major shipbuilding facilities on the West Coast. Afterwards, the Alameda Shipyard became a repair facility; it closed in the 1970s. Corporate successors to the Bethlehem Steel San Francisco Shipyard were San Francisco Drydock, Inc., and United States Marine Repair (USMR), which assumed control in 1997.
USMR was a company held by the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm that invests heavily in aerospace and defense industries, and whose members include several prominent former leaders of the U.S., U.K., Phillipines and Saudi Arabia. The USMR facility was in turn sold to BAE Systems, a British aerospace and defense company which runs the facility today as San Francisco Ship Repair.
The men and women who worked at these facilities prior to 1980 may not have been provided with adequate protective equipment in the closed environments below decks. People who worked any of these facilities as machinists, millwrights, welders, metal casters, and machine operators during that time run the highest risk ofasbestos exposure and the related diseases that it can cause; including asbestosis, a scaring of the lungs, pleural plaques, and a number of forms of asbestos cancer, including lung cancer and mesothelioma (A cancer of the protecting lining of the organs, including the lungs, heart, and stomach).