The Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporations was at one time was the largest shipbuilding company in the world. During World War I and World War II, shipbuilding was at its peak in the United States, and the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation played a major role in U.S. Navy ship production. In that era, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation employed over 180,000 shipyard workers who produced more than 1,000 Naval ships, surpassing any other shipyard in the nation. Unfortunately, many former Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard workers were exposed to asbestos, causing them to suffer severe and fatal diseases including Mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

History of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation

The Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation was founded in 1857 and based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation entered the era of the World Wars as the largest and most prominent shipbuilding company in the world, playing a pivotal role in the production of ships for the U.S. Navy. Although the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation worked predominantly in the shipbuilding industry, it also was responsible for producing the rails of the first railroad.

Post World Wars

The Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation also manufactured railroad freight cars and structures used to construct sky scrapers. At one point, the Pennsylvania Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation became the largest provider of steel in the U.S.  In the 1950s, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation produced more than 23 million tons of steel each year.

However, by the 1970s and 80s, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation lost an enormous amount of business that negatively impacted its market share in the United States.Steel companies overseas were rebuilt with the newest technology due to the affects of the war. With new machinery and techniques, the foreign companies  produced steel at a quicker rate and lower cost. Consequently, steel became cheaper to import from overseas companies.

By 1982, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation had lost more than $1.5 billion dollars and was forced to shut down many of its production facilities and shipyards. Eventually, in 1995, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation stopped steel production at its main Pennsylvania plant. By then, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation also stopped manufacturing railroad cars and ships.

In 2001, the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation filed for bankruptcy. The remaining six Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation plants were bought by the International Steel Group. Despite the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation’s ultimate demise, it is remembered as one of the most significant steel companies and as a powerful symbol of American industry.

Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation & Asbestos

Many Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation shipyard workers are at a great risk of suffering serious health complications from exposure to asbestos. Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation workers who were employed before the 1980s at the shipyard were exposed to high levels of asbestos for a prolonged periods. 

For many years, asbestos was used in shipbuilding to insulate boilers, steam pipes, incinerators, and other forms of ship machinery. Asbestos was ideal for these uses because of its ability to resist corrosion and withstand high temperatures.  However, the health risks associated with asbestos were unknown until the 1970s, and no special precautions were taken at the shipyards, including the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation to prevent asbestos inhalation. For many years, ship builders, crews, and longshoreman at the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation were heavily exposed to asbestos dust inhalation in poorly ventilated areas.

The Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation workers are now experiencing the effects of long term asbestos exposure. While the US government now regulates asbestos in the shipyard industry, the health complications from previous asbestos exposure are surfacing. A medical study conducted at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine found that 86% of ship yard workers with 20 or more years of shipyard employment develop asbestos-related diseases, including Mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a cancer that is closely linked to previous exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a lethal cancer where malignant cells develop in the protective lining that covers most of the body’s internal organs, including the heart, stomach, and lungs. Authorities estimate that over 100,000 shipyard workers have died from asbestos-related diseases, including those who worked for the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation. The Bethlehem Steel Company has been successfully sued for exposing workers to asbestos, leading to health complications such as Mesothelioma. 

Asbestos Injuries at Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation Shipyards – Pennsylvania

If you or a loved worked for the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation Shipyards and developed an asbestos-related disease, you may be entitled to compensation. To arrange a free consultation with an experienced asbestos lawyer who can inform you of your rights and options, contact us today.

Published November 17, 2011 by