Consolidated Steel Shipyards Wilmington

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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 Wilmington plant was built in 1941 on ninety-five acres of mudflats. The yard originally possessed four ship ways. The ways were increased to eight because plant capacity had to meet increased demand. Though the Wilmington yard closed shortly after World War II due to a lack of contracts, at the height of production 12,000 skilled workers were employed every day. More than 160 ships were fabricated between 1941 and 1944. The shipyard launched one of the first Liberty cargo ships, the SS Alcoa Polaris, on September 27, 1941.

After the war, Consolidated Steel bought the Western Pipe and Steel Company, and both soon merged with the Columbia Steel Company under the banner of the Consolidated Western Steel Corporation. The former chairperson of Consolidated Steel became the chair of the new corporation, which was a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. U.S. Steel still exists today, and is the world’s tenth largest producer of the metal and the largest within the United States.

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.

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