The Babcock & Wilcox Company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, was known for many years as a producer of high-quality boilers. Their high-performance boilers were used to power the first subway in New York City. The heating surfaces of their boilers were larger than those that their competition was manufacturing at that time, and they also offered better safety and an improvement of the water circulation system. The United States’ first electrical generating station also used Babcock & Wilcox boilers because of their featured designs.
Babcock & Wilcox first began to develop and produce the water-cooled furnaces and extra-large boilers in the 1920s in response to the growing demand for these appliances. They were also one of the first to use crushed coal for fuel in their operations. In 1935 they introduced the black liquor recovery boiler, and as they continued to make progress, the package boiler was offered in the 1940s. In l937, the company’s innovation led to the development of a coal-fired and very efficient boiler they named the Universal Pressure Boiler.
When industrialization began worldwide in other countries, Babcock & Wilcox followed the trend of the day. The expansion around the world included Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, India, Egypt and China. When other countries progressed beyond steam boilers, Babcock & Wilcox produced heat exchangers that were nuclear powered. Today, Babcock & Wilcox are still in business operations as part of McDermott International.
A natural mineral, asbestos was used in many different kinds of production and manufacturing operations. One of the reasons it was so commonly used is its resistance to fire and heat. Babcock & Wilcox widely used asbestos in their refractory products and boilers beginning toward the latter part of the nineteenth century. Asbestos use was encouraged at the time to protect workers who labored near extreme temperatures with some of the equipment they handled. For almost all the boilers, the use of asbestos was part of normal procedure. After the dangers to workers became known around 1970, the company phased out asbestos use.
Because Babcock & Wilcox produced boilers that were efficient performers, coupled with their unique features, they were in great demand in ships, refineries, manufacturing companies and power plants. Unfortunately, this meant that many workers were exposed to the dangers of asbestos and were at risk for developing mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer.