Initially called Cleveland Shipbuilding, the American Ship Building Company began operations in 1888. It manufactured and assembled large scale seafaring vessels. Many of these crafts are still in operation today. Its notable accomplishments include manufacture of the largest military and private vessels ever assembled in the great lakes. The company is also responsible for many of the sailing ships used throughout World War I and II.
These milestones earned the American Shipbuilding Company substantial recognition. As one of the most reputable ship building companies in the great lakes area, operations were poised to quickly expand. At its pinnacle, this organization had facilities in both Cleveland and Lorain, Ohio. They are credited with the manufacture of private ore transportation vessels as well as military equipment. Over its lifespan, American Shipbuilding acquired functional control of the delta and Toledo Shipbuilding companies. This move ushered in the production of coal burning ships on a large scale.
As with many facilities that predate World War II, safety and health standards had to change with the times. Workers at the American Shipbuilding Company were routinely exposed to carcinogenic materials, such as asbestos. Inhalation of such materials on the job site is, today, understood to be one of the leading causes of mesothelioma. This type of exposure was commonplace prior to medical understanding of carcinogenic effects. As modern medicine came into being, the workplace began to change. Shipyards, like the American Shipbuilding Company, were compelled to change standard operating procedures and comply with occupational health and safety standards. While such re-tooling is usually prompt, the process is expensive and time consuming. It represents a substantial cost to any company. Such costs can often delay or even permanently stall elements of health compliance. This translates directly to risk for employees.
In the end, the American Shipbuilding Company and its employees contributed significantly to America’s wartime presence. They also improved commerce and transportation throughout the great lakes. Much of the modern fleet in that area still bears their seal. This production, however, occurred in a time where workplace health was not fully understood. As with many shipbuilding personnel who worked in that era, employees of American Shipbuilding Company are at heightened risk for health issues.