ORANGE — Orange had a long history of building ships prior to World War II. Levingston and Weaver shipyards had long been building wooden ships. Levingston was doing some steel shipbuilding. Weaver was still specializing in wooden construction. The newcomer on the river at Orange was the Consolidated Steel Corporation. Consolidated was formed when the Llewellyn Iron Works, Baker Iron Works, and Union Iron Works, all of Los Angeles, California, merged in 1929. War clouds were on the horizon and Consolidated was looking at other locations to spread out the corporation. Orange, Texas with river and rail service, coupled with a history of shipbuilding seemed to be a good choice.
Consolidated Western Steel Corporation bought 65 acres on a bend of the Sabine River at the foot of Front Street and established a fabrication plant. To become a ship building facility would be easy.
In 1940 Consolidated was awarded a Maritime Commission contract from the U. S. Navy. The Orange facility would build Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts. In 1941 the Wilmington, California shipyard operated by Consolidated was awarded a contract to build Liberty Ships. The Liberty Ships and the later Victory Ships would carry millions of tons of cargo during the war years.
The shipyards at Orange would expand to become the only shipyards in Texas to build warships and at its peak Consolidated alone would employ over 20,000 people. The first ship launched at Consolidated, the USS Aulick, (DD-569) ,would be launched on March 2,1942. The last wartime ship, the USS Carpenter, (DD-825), was launched on December 28, 1945.
The depression of the 1930s had been brutal to Orange. By 1940, businesses had closed, farms had been repossessed, and only about eight percent of the population had jobs. The future of Orange looked bleak until the efforts of U.S. Congressman Martin Dies and Vice President John Nance Garner used their political power to urge the Navy to award the contracts to Consolidated. Orange was to become prosperous almost overnight. The population would explode in a way no one would have imagined.