North Carolina Shipbuilding Co.
The North Carolina Shipbuilding company was an expansion shipyard established in accordance with the United States Maritime Commission's emergency shipbuilding program. This program was established prior to the U.S.'s entrance into the war in early 1940. The company's history began as the U.S. Maritime Commission saw a clear need for a larger class of merchant ships, due to both prior British commitment and reinforcement of its own fleet in the event that the United Kingdom fell. Through the program, the government funded existing shipyards to establish other satellite yards. Thus, the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company established the North Carolina Shipbuilding Co. in Wilmington, NC.
Shipbuilding got underway at the Wilmington site in late May of 1941, based upon the company's first awarded contract, which was an order for 25 Liberty class ships. Increasing tensions increased the initial contract from 25 to 37 ships, with the outbreak of war leading to an additional 53 Liberty vessel being ordered. At the peak of building, the Wilmington yard was delivering an average of eleven vessels per month in the summer of 1943. The yard would eventually receive contracts for larger vessels, requiring additional infrastructure for their construction demands. This was accomplished by purchasing more land and creating more dry dock capacity in the areas surrounding the original yard on the East Bank of the Cape Fear River.
The yard would go on to produce nearly 250 vessels of varying size, meeting every deadline and collectively winning every Maritime Commission award bestowed upon shipbuilding firms. The workforce was largely responsible for the successful operations at the Wilmington site. The Newport News executives marveled at the efficiency of these workers in an industry they were largely unfamiliar with. Unfortunately, shipyards are highly dangerous places and shipbuilding is therefore a risky occupation. The worker's safety depends on the knowledge of their craft and its intricacies. Some dangerous situations in shipyards were more obvious than others. But among the more subtle dangers was the exposure to toxic substances used in shipbuilding and repair.
Among the more common materials used during shipbuilding of this era was asbestos. Asbestos was used in nearly every naval vessel of the era, including those built at the North Carolina Shipbuilding Co. Asbestos has been conclusively linked to a number of particularly serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. The asbestos was used mainly in an insulation capacity around piping and boilers, but could be found nearly anywhere in a ship construction. Those who built or repaired ships are more likely at risk than those who simply served aboard these vessels. If you or a loved one believe they may have been exposed to asbestos, it is important that you/they contact a doctor immediately.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.