Federal Shipbuilding was operational from its founding in 1917 until 1949. It was a subsidiary of United States Steel and was based in Kearny, New Jersey, on the bank of the Hackensack River. The facility made steels ships for ocean travel, including military vessels.
The founding of United States Steel in 1901 marked the largest business initiative ever undertaken. Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Charles Schwab were all involved in the launch of this company, which is based in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. United States Steel expanded its operations to include shipbuilding under the leaderships of James Farrell, Sr., who became president of the corporation in 1910. In launching Federal Shipbuilding, he correctly assessed the potential to profit off of the rapidly expanding economy related to ocean travel.
The original site for Federal Shipbuilding consisted of 60 acres on the Newark Bay and was later developed to include 160 acres. The war lent urgency to this project and construction was quickly completed. The first charge of the Federal Shipyard was to assist with war efforts in World War I. During World War I, the shipyard produced thirty boats, including cargo vessels. Rail lines were quickly added to existing routes to enable access to the new facility. Federal Shipbuilding was part of a vast network of ports and shipbuilding facilities along the New York and New Jersey coastlines.
Federal Shipbuilding established itself as one of the nation’s five leading shipbuilders in the years before World War II. In 1940, the Shipbuilders Workers Union launched a famous strike against the company, although the federal government quickly sent in mediators to resolve the dispute, which ended without United Steel making concessions to the union. In 1941, the US Navy assumed control of Federal Shipbuilding during another labor dispute. Ownership was later returned to United States Steel in 1942. Federal Shipyard built Somers, Benham, Gearing, and destroyer class ships, as well as cruisers and merchant ships. Ships built there include the USS Atlanta, the USS Kearny, the USS Waller, the USS English and the USS Gyatt. For a period lasting from 1930 until shortly after World War II, Federal Shipbuilding was the second leading producer of destroyers in the country.
The River Terminal Development complex now occupies the site that once housed Federal Shipbuilding. While some of the original buildings on the site are still present, their condition has deteriorated significantly.
During its years of operations, Federal Shipbuilding was a site of asbestos exposure. Asbestos was used commonly in the shipbuilding industry until 1989, when its use in the United States was largely banned by the Environmental Protection Agency. Asbestos exposure can, over time, lead to the development of respiratory conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. A rare form of asbestos cancer, mesothelioma affects the mesothelium, a membrane lining the body’s internal organs. It most commonly affects the chest wall in the form of pleural pleural mesothelioma, but can also affect the abdominal lining, or even the lining of the heart.
In most cases,workers exposed to asbestos on the job have sued the asbestos manufacturer’s that withheld information about the risks of exposure.. United States Steel, the owner of Federal Shipbuilding, has been sued thousands of times by former employees for damages related to asbestos exposure. In a 2004 report, United States Steel reported that it was a defendant in 3,700 cases related to asbestos exposure, involving 14,300 plaintiffs. Among these, approximately 200 plaintiffs were directly affected by malignant mesothelioma. In 2001 alone, United States Steel settled 11,166 claims related to asbestos exposure.