Todd’s Los Angeles

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Formed from three extant companies in 1916, Todd Pacific Shipyards, Inc. is a Seattle-based company that at one point was among the largest shipbuilders in the world. In the United States, the Todd Corporation ran marine construction and maintenance facilities on the Atlantic seaboard and the Gulf Coast as well as the major Pacific seaports of Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Todd Los Angeles Division

If you have ever been to the original Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, chances are you have been aboard a ship constructed at the Todd’s Los Angeles Division (which was actually located in San Pedro). The riverboat Mark Twain, sections of the pirate ship, the square-rigger Columbus and the eight passenger submarines were all constructed at the Todd facility.

World War II was a boom time for the Todd Corporation, but with the demobilization that followed Japanese surrender in August of 1945, ship orders fell off dramatically. Todd Pacific Shipyards had been responsible for overseeing the operation of the U.S. Navy’s San Pedro since 1943; the company took ownership of the yard following the war.

In addition to the Disney projects (the park opened in 1954), the Todds Los Angeles Division undertook numerous refits, converting combat ships to civilian use. These included the conversion of marine landing ships (LSM) to self-contained oil drilling barges. Eventually, as the Navy began outsourcing its projects to private corporations in the late 1950s and 1960s, the refits went both ways; in 1958, Todd undertook the conversion of a Mariner-class cargo ship to a high-speed attack transport that was subsequently commissioned as the USS Paul Revere. The construction of a number of large tankers was also undertaken over the next two decades.

With the completed refit of a naval repair ship and the launching of three Zapata­ class tankers, the Todd Los Angeles Division’s management was confident of the company’s future. Plans were made for the installation of a 12,000 ton syncrolift, and a great deal of money was spent on promotion and marketing. However, increased outsourcing and foreign competition after 1980 took its toll; by 1985, the company ceased operation.

Asbestos In Shipbuilding

A shipboard fire on the open sea is the most dangerous situation faced by those in marine professions and sea-going travelers. It was one such fire in 1934 that led the U.S. government to encourage the use of asbestos in ship construction for over forty years, despite the fact that the British government had acknowledged its hazardous nature, such as the risk of contracting mesothelioma, a rare form of asbestos cancer, or asbestosis, a scaring of the lungs brought on by inhaling the fibers, and had passed strict regulations regarding its use.

By 1940, the federal government was made aware of asbestos hazards by the U.S. Navy’s chief officer in charge of preventive medicine. Evidence suggests that the Administration chose to deliberately withhold the information in the face of war preparations and impending hostilities, fearing labor unrest and unwilling or unable to finance the cost of protective gear. Although safety guidelines were eventually issued in 1943, these were not taken seriously until the 1970s.

In the end, it was the asbestos industry that bore the most liability; evidence was found in 1977 that clearly demonstrated a corporate conspiracy to suppress information regarding the health effects of asbestos.