9/72. U.S. Steel Central Furnaces, Cleveland.

In 1965 there were 237 blast furnaces at 72 locations in the U.S. . This series will briefly introduce all of them.

Library of Congress, Photographer Jet Lowe

In 1965, the United States Steel Corp. was the largest steel producer in the world. In the U.S. it still operated 16 blast furnace sites. One of their lesser known plants was Central Furnaces in Cleveland, OH.
This plant was founded in 1881 by the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. and supplied iron to the Newburgh steel mill until it was closed in 1933.
After that, the Cuyahoga River plant became a pure ironworks, selling merchant pig iron and hot metal to foundries.
In the 1960ies, after the demolition of furnaces B & C and the rebuilding of blast furnace A in 1954 the mill operated two furnaces.
Blast furnace A now mostly supplied pig iron to the Ford Motor Company’s Cleveland
engine plant.
With no integrated steel production the Central Furnaces became what USS called a “marginal unit” and were shut down in 1978.
Famous German industrial photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher visited the plant in 1979, pictures 3, 92 and 159 in their book “Hochöfen” (Blast Furnaces) show the furnaces.

  • BF A: Ø 26’0” (7,92 m)
  • BF D: Ø 22’6” (6,85 m)



6/72 Bethlehem Steel Co. , Bethlehem Plant.

In 1965 there were 237 blast furnaces at 72 locations in the U.S. . This series will briefly introduce all of them.

Blast Furnaces B,C,D,E

Founded in 1857, Bethlehem Steel Co. was the second largest steel producer in North America after U.S. Steel in the 1960s.
The main plant was located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In 1965, a coking plant with 453 furnaces, 5 blast furnaces, 27 open-hearth furnaces and an electric steel plant were in operation there.

Long products, like bars and structurals, were produced in various rolling mills. The steel beams were famous.
There was also a large forge.

In December 1968 a BOF shop with two 270 t vessels was put into operation.
Iron and steel production in Bethlehem was shut down in November 1995, six years later Bethlehem Steel was bankrupt.

Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces, Bethlehem, 1965.
Blast furnace A: Hearth diameter 21’6″ (6.55 m)
Blast furnace B: Hearth diameter 28’9″ (8.76 m)
Blast furnace C: Hearth diameter 27’11” (8.50 m)
Blast furnace D: Hearth diameter 28’9″ (8.76 m)
Blast furnace E: Hearth diameter 24’0″ (7.31 m)



Socialist Experiments

Weirton Steel Hard Hat
In the heartlands of the USA, of all places, a social (some spoke of a socialist) experiment in the steel industry took place in 1984.
The workers of the Weirton steelworks in West Virginia took over 100 % of their mill from the National Steel Comp. .
It now was the only integrated steel mill in the western hemisphere that was employee owned.
The Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) was ment to save 8000 jobs in Weirton.
Although the mill initially became profitable again, the plan failed in the end.
In 2003 Weirton Steel went bankrupt and was sold to ISG for only $237 million in 2004.
With the exception of one cold rolling mill, owned by ArcelorMittal, the plant has been shut down and is currently being demolished.
I visited the site in 2004 and was allowed to take this hard hat with me as a reminder of the good old socialist times.
Weirton Steel

And the Wolf Finally Came

Almost 50 years ago, on 31 March 1970, a remarkable era ended largely unnoticed by the public.
After 69 years of unchallenged leadership as the world’s largest steel company, U.S. Steel out of Pittsburgh had been ousted from this position by the newly founded Nippon Steel Corp. of Japan.
Just two years later, the Soviet Union announced that in 1971 it had produced more steel than the U.S., the world’s largest producer at that time.
In the 1950s, the American steel industry still employed 700,000 of the best paid workers worldwide. Almost 90% of these jobs are lost today.
The global steel crisis that began in 1975 hit the U.S. harder than any other industrialized nation. Entire regions such as the Mahoning and the Monongahela Valleys were economically devastated.
The reasons for this decline, which is unique especially in its speed, were discussed by John P. Hoerr already in 1988 in his book “And the Wolf Finally Came”.
The best book on this subject I know.
In 1965, when the American empire of steel still seemed to be in order, there were 237 blast furnaces at 72 locations. A soon to be started series will introduce all of them.

8/72. Bethlehem Steel, Lackawanna

Image shows the Bethlehem Steel Mill in Lackawanna, NY south of Buffalo at the Lake Erie shoreline probably in the late 1960ies.
Foreground shows the 535 coke ovens along the dock, behind are the seven blast furnaces and (right hand side) the open hearth melt shop (35 furnaces).
The background is also attractive:
Right from the centre we can see National Steel’s Hanna Furnaces and far away in the middle Republic Steel’s Buffalo works.

Lackawanna was closed down in 1983.

  • BF A: Ø 21’3” (6,47 m)
  • BF B: Ø 21’3” (6,47 m)
  • BF C: Ø 28’0” (8,53 m)
  • BF F: Ø 26’0” (7,92 m)
  • BF G: Ø 27’0” (8,22 m)
  • BF H: Ø 29’0” (8,83 m)
  • BF J: Ø 29’11” (9,11 m)

7/72. United States Steel Corp., Gary Works.

Although I generally prefer old style intraurban steel mill sites to modern greenfield facilities Gary, Indiana in the 1960ies must have been the place to be for a steel mill photographer.

Here is the data sheet (1965):

Coke Plant:
497 Koppers ovens
385 Wilputte ovens

Sintering Plant:
5 Strands

Blast Furnaces:
No.1 Ø 6.24 m
No.2 Ø 6.24 m
No.3 Ø 6.24 m
No.4 Ø 8.61 m
No.5 Ø 6.24 m
No.6 Ø 8.53 m
No.7 Ø 8.53 m
No.8 Ø 8.07 m
No.9 Ø 7.01 m
No.10 Ø 8.22 m
No.11 Ø 7.62 m
No.12 Ø 7.62 m

Open Hearth Steel Plants:

24 x 150 t furnaces
14 x 167 t furnaces
6 x   184 t furnaces
4 x 190 t furnaces
2 x 300 t furnaces

Bessemer Plant:

3x 25 t converters

Rolling Mills:

3 x Blooming/Slabbing
1x Billet
1x Rail
1 x Plate
9 x Bar
2 x Strip


6x Steam hammers
3 Presses, 1000 t, 2000 t, 10000 t