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The Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Once of The Largest Steel Producers in the World, Now Lies in Ruins

Petar Djajkovski

During its golden era, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation was the second largest steel producer and the worlds biggest shipbuilder, constructing everything from railroad freight cars to battleships and offshore oil rigs.

The company was founded in 1857 as the Saucona Iron Company and changed its name three or four times until 1899 when it became the Bethlehem Steel Company and later the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Their main production in the early days was feeding the skyscraper industry of America, making standardized frames for the tall buildings that were on the rise at the time.

Bethlehem Steel Works, a watercolor by Joseph Pennell, depicting Bethlehem Iron Company in May 1881.

Bethlehem Steel Works, a watercolor by Joseph Pennell, depicting Bethlehem Iron Company in May 1881.

 

Construction of two warships: HMS Calder as USS Formoe (DE-58) and USS Foss on the right.

Construction of two warships: HMS Calder as USS Formoe (DE-58) and USS Foss on the right.

6″, 10″, 12″, and 14″ naval guns being assembled at a Bethlehem Steel facility.

6″, 10″, 12″, and 14″ naval guns being assembled at a Bethlehem Steel facility.

Back in the last days of the 19th century, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation constructed the largest steam-powered hammer in the world, weighing in at 125 tons. However, this was to be replaced by a larger 14,000-ton force hydraulic forging press several years later. With this, the factory became a real leader in the American steel industry and a serious competitor worldwide.

The Bethlehem Steel plant, photographed circa 1896 by William H. Rau.

The Bethlehem Steel plant, photographed circa 1896 by William H. Rau.

 

The Sparrows Point Industrial Complex, one of Bethlehem’s primary steelmaking and shipbuilding plants. Author: Jeff Kubina CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sparrows Point Industrial Complex, one of Bethlehem’s primary steelmaking and shipbuilding plants. Author: Jeff Kubina CC BY-SA 2.0

 

One of the few buildings that have been preserved. Author: CyberXRef CC BY-SA 3.0

One of the few buildings that have been preserved. Author: CyberXRef CC BY-SA 3.0

By the middle of the next century, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation produced around 23 million tons of steel per year. This massive growth in production was a result of the destroyed plants in Germany and Japan after the Second World War.

This hyper production lasted around 20-30 years until the facilities around the world were rebuilt. In the 1970s, it became much cheaper to import steel than to produce it. Thus began the decline of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s profits.

Blast furnace A at the flagship plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2009. Author: PollyKanter CC BY-SA 3.0 

Blast furnace A at the flagship plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 2009. Author: PollyKanter CC BY-SA 3.0 

 

The site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, shortly before it’s demolition before the Casino construction underwent.Author: Jschnalzer CC BY 2.5

The site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant, shortly before it’s demolition before the Casino construction underwent.Author: Jschnalzer CC BY 2.5

Competitive mills and lower prices led to bankruptcy in 2001 and the company was sold. In 2007, the property was bought by a developer that had plans to build a casino. Some of the former facilities were destroyed to make a place for the casino’s construction. At that point, an ironic twist occurred. The casino developers had trouble finding steel, around 16,000 tons, in order to build it.

Demolition of part of the original facility in Bethlehem in 2007.Author:  Urbanarcheology CC BY 2.5

Demolition of part of the original facility in Bethlehem in 2007.Author:  Urbanarcheology CC BY 2.5

 

The Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks, the former Bethlehem Steel site, is being prepared for a show.Author: Lbeaumont CC BY-SA 3.0 

The Levitt Pavilion at SteelStacks, the former Bethlehem Steel site, is being prepared for a show.Author: Lbeaumont CC BY-SA 3.0 

The rusting ruins of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation are still one of the most impressive industrial sites in America. Today, the remains of the factory facilities are used by contemporary artists. The outdoor areas host music venues, leaving the five blast furnaces to rust and serve as a great backdrop for the concerts.