The Consolidated Steel Corporation owes its name to its foundation in 1928 when the Union Iron Works consolidated with two smaller companies. Beginning in World War II, the company became an important manufacturer for the US naval war effort, constructing combat ships under contract. In 1940, the Maritime Commission contracted with the Consolidated Steel Corporation to provide combat vessels. For this, the company built two shipyards, one in Wilmington, California, and the other in Orange, Texas.
The Consolidated Steel Corporation’s larger plant was located in Orange, Texas, on the banks of the Sabine River with access to the Gulf of Mexico. This yard expanded as war demands grew. Over 250 vessels left Consolidated Steel Corporation’s docks between 1942 and 1945. These included destroyers, destroyer escorts, landing craft, and deck barges. The first ship launched from this facility was the destroyer USS Aulick on March 2, 1942.
The demand for workers at the Orange yard was difficult to meet. Untrained workers were encouraged to move to Orange where they were trained in the techniques and craftsmanship needed to build sturdy vessels able to withstand the trials of combat and still survive to fight another battle. Tent cities were erected in Orange to house the swelling ranks of workers and a special train was purchased to transport personnel from the nearest large city of Beaumont, which was sixty miles away. More than 32,000 people were needed to staff the Orange shipyard in order for the Consolidated Steel Corporation to meet its contractual obligations to aid the war effort.
Neither plant is currently in ship production but the legacy of the stateside war effort remains. Asbestos was commonly used in ship production during World War II to protect the vessel and its crew from fire damage. Asbestos exposure has been linked to mesothelioma, a cancer that originates in the lining of the lungs, and other lung ailments. Asbestos was once a popular fireproofing material, despite the fact that its dangers were not fully understood. It was procured from suppliers and often transported, via rail, to the plants. The asbestos supply chain exposed uncountable workers to its hazards.