The forgotten past of abandoned steel mills

Abandoned steel mills are a reminder of our lost industrial past. What were once giant hubs of production, generating construction steel to build the cities around us, now stand eerily still. These are the stories behind some of the largest steel mills in the world that are now shells of their former selves.

Weirton Steel Mill

In the US there’s a region called The Rust Belt, which spans the Midwest including New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and further east to Illinois. It refers to any area affected by deindustrialisation or economic loss, urban decay or population decline due to the shrinking of the industrial sector.  There’s a tonne of abandoned steel mills across this region, but here’s a closer look at the Weirton Steel Mill in Weirton, West Virginia. Once owned by the Weirton Steel Corporation, this steel mill was once the largest private employers in the state with 14,000 employees in its peak – in fact, Weirton was known as the steel capital of America. When the mill went under, it was a punch in the gut to the Weirton community.

The Weirton Steel Mill was demolished late last year and in its place is a blank canvas. The mayor of the town hopes whatever is built there will bring new life to the town and more jobs with it.

Qingquan Steel Plant

Qingquan steel mill

Image source – Getty Images

Similar to the US, China also once had a thriving steel belt. One of those places was in Tangshan, approximately 200km east of Beijing. The Qingquan Steel Plant was one of many steel mills in the province of Hebei once responsible for a quarter of the country’s steel output. But more recently, both private and state-owned mills have close down or gone bankrupt. Qingquan shut down as recently as 2014. China now faces the problem of dealing with polluted steel sites that not only harm the soil and water but pose a health risk to locals.

Lithgow Blast Furnace

Lithgow Blast Furnace

It’s rare to see an old steel mill become a heritage site, but it’s totally the case for the Lithgow Blast Furnace. Constructed between 1906 – 1907, the NSW-based blast furnace marks the beginning of the iron and steel industry in Australia. During WWII, the furnace saw considerable expansion in operations, and although they were soon to be challenged by the new BHP plant opening in Newcastle, they continued to flourish thanks to their Small Arms factory. The Lithgow location was short lived, however, with the decision to move their operations to Port Kembla, where there were more resources.

The site is now owned by the Lithgow City Council and was opened to the public in 1988 as The Lithgow Blast Furnace Park.

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