Todds Brooklyn is one of the three original shipyards that were merged to form Todd Pacific Shipyards Corporation in 1916, and was actually the one at which founder William H. Todd was employed as a foreman boilermaker from 1895. Prior to 1916, it was known as the Robins Dry Dock & Repair Company. Significantly, Todd and his fellow employees joined forces to buy the company when takeover by a foreign corporation was imminent. At the time, Todd Shipyards was the largest such facility in the New York City area, covering 29 acres and employing three floating dry docks and two graving docks.
During the Second World War, Todds Brooklyn employed some 20,000 workers. Primarily, the facility performed conversions of civilian vessels to naval purposes and repair on damaged craft. Because of the nature of the national emergency, the Navy actually leased some of its own facilities to the company. These naval properties were purchased by the Todd Corporation in 1965, which operated the facility as New York Shipyards for the next eighteen years.
As Todds downsized in the 1980s, the corporation began to divest itself of many of its shipyards. The New York Shipyard was closed in 1983; according to a New York City Planning Dept. Environmental Impact Study document, the land was sold to a company called United States Dredging in 1985.
Today, most of the old Todds Brooklyn facilities are gone. A local shipbuilder and marine repair facility called H.W. Ramberg, Inc. is located at 37 Dwight Street and was in operation as of 1999; most of the Todd Brooklyn Division had been torn down by 2006 to make way for an Ikea store.
The danger of fire at sea was brought home to the U.S. in September of 1934 when a passenger liner, S.S. Morro Castle, caught fire off the coast of New Jersey. The tragedy cost 124 lives, nearly one-fifth of all those on board. As a result, the marine industry began lobbying the U.S. Congress for more stringent safety measures. Eventually, the federal government became the largest consumer of asbestos.
The asbestos industry had long known of the harmful effects of asbestos, such as the possibility of contracting asbestosis, a form of scarring in the lungs, or even one of several deadly forms of asbestos cancer, such as lung cancer or mesothelioma. In fact, the substance had been regulated in the U.K. since 1931. Little of this information was made available by the asbestos industry during the Senate hearings on the U.S.S. Morro disaster, however. It appears that later, the Roosevelt Administration was made aware of these concerns, but chose to withhold the information out of concerns over “disturbances in the labor element” in the face of a national emergency. By 1943, the federal government had issued safety guidelines recommending that shipyard workers wear respirators on the job. Nonetheless, these guidelines were not generally enforced until the 1970s.