Bath Iron Works (Bath)
Bath Iron Works first opened up as an iron foundry back in 1826. Though today it is better known as a shipyard, when it was first incorporated by Civil War General Thomas W. Hyde, the business primarily produced iron hardware for ships, which were still being made with wood at that time. However, Hyde soon decided to expand into shipbuilding, and the company received its first contracts for iron gunboats in 1890. A contract for a steel ship followed two years later.
The company continued to grow and by 1895, it was among the most successful shipbuilding companies in the northeast. During the century since that time, the business continued to receive contracts to build ships. They have signed over 425 contracts, 250 of which came from the US military. A total of 160 private yachts and commercial vessels have been created during this time as well. The shipyard still continues to be incredibly successful, and holds contracts with the U.S. Navy.
World War I brought a great deal of business to the Iron Works, which employed around 2,000 people during the conflict. However, business dropped so sharply after the war and into the Great Depression that the company was forced to close. After some time, however, the facilities were purchased and reopened by Pete Newell, and by the 1930s, when other shipyards and foundries were shutting down for lack of work, Bath Iron Works survived. During World War II, the company built 82 ships for the U.S. Navy, only eight of which did not survive the war.
Once again facing a slump after the ramped-up production during war, Newell’s son led the company into the manufacture of other products like turbine casings, machinery for molding pulp, water pumps, and other items necessary for ship maintenance. Bath Iron Works still makes these items in its factory near the Kennebec River and is currently the largest employer in the state of Maine.
The high temperatures required to manipulate metal pose serious dangers to foundry workers, who need to be protected from burns and fires. Unfortunately, the material of choice for protective clothing and insulation alike was asbestos, a mineral now known to be extremely hazardous to the health of those who work with it. Though Bath Iron Works no longer uses asbestos-containing materials in its factory or shipyard, many former employees are still suffering the health consequences of having been exposed to it decades ago.