The first two new shipyards established by the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1941 were the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation in Portland, Oregon, and Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, Incorporated in Baltimore, Maryland. To boost output, Bethlehem got a contract in February 1941 to build a shipyard at Fairfield, across Baltimore Harbor from Sparrows Point. The Fairfield Yard had the most employees of any Bethlehem shipyard - 44,625 in 1943 - and one of the finest construction records of the war.
Not all shipyards had the fabrication plant contiguous to the ways. The first few East Coast yards built for British merchant vessels (Todd-Bath) or Liberty ships (e.g., Bethlehem-Fairfield and North Carolina Ship) relied upon fabricating shops located some miles from the shipyard, so their shipbuilders had not envisioned how important ample pre-assembly areas could be.
The giant Bethlehem-Fairfield yard was built on the Baltimore Harbor, in the vicinity Bethlehem's existing naval yard and steel mill at Sparrow's Point. Such an old harbor did not have sufficient space on the waterfront to build both shipways and fabrication areas, so Bethlehem built its thirteen ways next to the water but located its fabricating plant about two miles away. At the fabricating plant, workers cut steel and assembled components by welding, making identical sections of up to ten tons each for ten ships at a time. Crane operators and riggers then moved those sections to outside work areas to be further welded into units of up to 25 tons. A system of cranes, locomotives, railroad cars, and locomotive cranes then transported the pre-assembled units the two miles to the yard, which was laid-out in order to efficiently receive and store the pre-assembled units before cranes moved them into position on the ways for erection of the hulls.
The first Liberty, the SS Patrick Henry, was built at Fairfield in 1941 and was ready for service in 244 days. The Maritime Commission declared 27 September 1941 as "Liberty Fleet Day" to celebrate the launching of the first ships in the new fleet. With President Roosevelt in attendance that day, Bethlehem-Fairfield at Baltimore launched the first one, the Patrick Henry. The publicity the celebration garnered led the "ugly ducklings" to claim a more noble name: Liberty ships.
Its workers would build 384 Liberty ships, ungainly but easily mass-produced cargo vessels. They were essentially a World War I design that didn't get into production then, but the government kept the plans ready. One Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.
The Maritime Commission was directed in mid-1942 to divert some of the yards building Liberty ships to the production of LSTs to meet the target of 300 vessels. The Maritime Commission objected, because interrupting work at shipyards designed for Liberty ships would interfere with the ability of the Commission to meet its mandate to supply cargo vessels for the war effort. Nevertheless, the Navy prevailed. The Maritime Commission therefore decided to give contracts for the 90 LSTs to two of its best shipbuilders, 45 each to the Bethlehem- Fairfield yard at Baltimore and Kaiser. Bethlehem temporarily devoted twelve of its sixteen Fairfield shipways to production of LSTs between August and December 1942.
HUD's Empowerment Zone program, in part, awards grants and offers business tax incentives to promote economic development in designated communities throughout the US. There is a concerted effort on the part of the Baltimore and federal agencies to redevelop brownfields and under-utilized industrial sites near Baltimore's harbor. The city's successful application for HUD's Empowerment Zone (EZ) program4 included a proposal to redevelop a 1,300-acre industrial area in South Baltimore known as Fairfield. Since 1996, the EZ managers have invested more than $10 million in infrastructure and aesthetic improvements to create the Fairfield Ecological Business Park, which offers brownfield and smart growth incentives for environmentally conscious businesses to locate in the development. By 2003 a total of over 60 businesses - including chemical manufacturers, trucking and oil terminals, and waste recyclers - operated in the park, many of whom have demonstrated their commitment to the location with considerable recent investments in their facilities.
The entire 1,300 acres is zoned M-3 with deep water port access, extensive CSX rail service and easy access to interstate highways. The central area of Fairfield, targeted by BDC for initial redevelopment, is approximately 400 acres, bounded on the north by the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, on the west by Shell Road, Chesapeake Avenue and Child Street, by the southern property lines of the Conoco, Sunoco and Chevron parcels, and on the east by the Patapsco River.
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