The SS Thomas Heyward was a Liberty ship built at Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company, Mobile, Alabama, during World War II. She was named after Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence and of the Articles of Confederation as a delegate of South Carolina. The SS Thomas Heyward was laid down on 21 February 1942, under a Maritime Commission contract and launched on 31 May 1942. On 5 May 1946, the vessel hit an unswept floating mine off of Europe, and although damaged, she made it safely back to port for repairs. The ship was placed in the Mobile Reserve Fleet in 1949 but was reactivated in 1951 for duty during the Korean War. Work on or around naval vessels in the 20th century included exposure to asbestos, and the SS Thomas Heyward service personnel and workers were no exception. Once asbestos fibers make their way into the air, they may be easily inhaled and trapped into the lungs. This type of exposure carries a risk of developing cancer and other diseases.