Bethlehem Steel Mill’s Lasting Legacy

The Old Bethlehem Steel Mill has a rich, proud and varied history, being one of the United States’ most long-running steel mills and can boast several record-breaking achievements along the way. Originally constructed as the Saucona Iron Company in 1857, the first blast furnace went into operation at the start of 1863.

The first of its rolling mills, a machine shop and another blast furnace were quickly added in the following years, after the company secured prize contracts with the US Navy. The military effort was picking up pace with the advent of new munition and ship designs, including steam-driven warships with a fully steel hull. This long-term shipbuilding relationship with the US Navy started with the related Bethlehem Iron Company constructing a heavy-forging plant dedicated to making newly designed battleships and continued well into the first and second world wars.

On a more peaceful front, the company also secured a contract to make a giant axle. This might not sound impressive on its own merit, but it was to be the central pivot point of the world’s first ferris wheel. The incredible creation, featuring Bethlehem’s axle and the largest single piece of cast iron, wowed visitors to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and firmly put the company in the history books.

Ferris wheel

The company also profited by manufacturing steel railings for the country’s rapidly expanding rail network, in addition to special projects like the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the Hoover Dam.

Golden Gate Bridge

However, the forces of technological change continued to place pressure on the company. Mini-mills could churn out steel at a cheaper price than could be found elsewhere domestically, and foreign steel was entering the market at an even lower price point. Continued problems paying the pensions of its long-time workers exacerbated the company’s poor financial outlook, and in 2001 Bethlehem Steel was wound down.

On the site now is a casino, which ironically faced construction delays thanks to a worldwide steel shortage. However, many parts of the original facilities are still on site, and recently the National Museum of Industrial History announced it will be housed in several of the buildings.

A fan of industrial relics sought a look at the rusting, overgrown plant, and documented their experience and findings. They soon found themselves wandering around the steel plant, wandering the offices, hallways, storage rooms and of course the giant steel mills where many of the original machines were still sitting there. After all, giant furnaces aren’t exactly the kinds of things people can easily pack up and move somewhere else. Much of the giant machinery had succumbed to the rigours of exposure to the elements, with many key pieces brittle and rusting away. However, the blogger was able to take a plethora of photos showing how the ravages of time had taken their toll, resulting in a series of images that are simultaneously striking and otherworldly.

Abandoned mill

It’s going to be a while before ShapeCUT has been around for as long as the Bethlehem Steel Mill, but we’re just as passionate about the history of steel production as we are in its future. Contact ShapeCUT today to talk to us about the possibilities offered by our shaping and laser cutting services.

Image sources: raileast.com, goldengate.org, Abandoned America