The Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston created scores of notable ships in its time. Established in 1800, the shipyard, now known as the Boston Naval Yard, is one of the oldest ship building facilities in the United States. War times were most profitable for shipyards and the Charlestown Navy Yard was no exception, providing much-needed jobs during these times.
In the early years, few ships were built at Charlestown, though it enjoyed steady growth. But during the Civil War, the Charlestown Navy Yard quickly made a name for itself as one of the best Navy yards by building more ships faster than other shipyards. Activity at the shipyard slowed after the Civil War, but by the beginning of the 1900’s, ships were being built out of steel instead of wood and new military action in the form of the Spanish-American War and World War I once again ramped up demand at the shipyard.
Another slowdown at the shipyard followed World War I, but by the time the United States had entered World War II, the shipyard had dedicated itself full-time to the war effort and was producing some of the most massive and strongest ships in the country. At one point, the shipyard employed 50,000 employees working around the clock. Work slowed again when the shipyard turned to modernizing vessels with electronics equipment after the end of World War II. The Korean and Vietnam Wars did not bring much work to Charlestown since the fighting was so far removed from Boston. In 1974, the shipyard was closed.
Unfortunately, the rich history of the Charlestown Navy Yard includes asbestos exposure for its workers. As was common with shipyards and other facilities of the time, asbestos was frequently used in ship building because of its durability and ability to withstand extreme temperatures. Its dangers were mostly unknown until the 1980’s. As a result, workers were exposed to asbestos and may be at risk for mesothelioma — cancer of the lung area which is caused solely by asbestos exposure. There is no cure for mesothelioma, though it is easier to treat if caught early. Because the disease can develop up to forty years after exposure to asbestos, former workers of the Charlestown Navy Yard should be aware of the risks and may want to consult with their physicians.