The doors to the steel mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were closed for the last time in 1995, ending 140 years of steelmaking in the city. Although no longer in its spiritual home, Bethlehem Steel continues to produce steel, but its main production facility is now in Burns Harbor, Indiana. The company has had its ups and downs, being involved in supplying steel for the construction of many iconic railroads, bridges and buildings across the United States and pioneering the production of steel beams used to build skyscrapers.

The first steel produced in Bethlehem was at the Saucona Iron Company, opened in 1857. Four years later, the company changed its name to the Bethlehem Iron Company, and in 1863 began mass production of iron railway rails, used in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Over the next forty years, steel supply contracts were arranged with the U.S. Navy, and when Charles M. Schwab became president in 1904, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation not only had a huge plant south of Bethlehem, it but also hardware in Cuba and shipyards on both US coasts.

In 1908, the company began the production of wide-flange structural section steel, leading to a revolution in construction; those sections are used in the new phenomenon of skyscraper construction. Five years later, Bethlehem Steel acquired the Fore Shipbuilding Company in Quincy, Massachusetts. become one of the largest shipbuilders in the country.

World War I provided Bethlehem Steel with a great opportunity to expand. At the beginning of the conflict, the company had an annual production capacity of 1.1 million tons and employed 15,600 workers. In 1925, after supplying armor, ships, artillery, guns and ammunition for the US and allied forces during and immediately after the war, annual production increased to 8.5 million tons and the workforce of the company increased to 60,000.

In the early 1930s, Bethlehem Steel continued to grow through acquisitions, buying steel companies on the Pacific coast, as well as McClintic-Marshall Corp., a major building and bridge construction company. This was the golden age for American construction and Bethlehem Steel was responsible for such iconic buildings as: the Golden Gate Bridge, the US Supreme Court, Rockefeller Plaza, Waldorf-Astoria and the George Washington Bridge.

During World War II, Bethlehem Steel devoted its entire output to military hardware, employing nearly 300,000 workers, of whom 180,000 were directly involved in shipbuilding. After the war, the company returned to producing steel for US domestic projects, as well as for the military, and continued to prosper.

In the 1960s, imported steel to the US reached record levels, but Bethlehem still produced steel in-house for such iconic structures as Madison Square Garden, the Newport Bridge, and the second Delaware Memorial Bridge. In 1973 Bethlehem Steel reported revenue of $207 million, producing record levels of 23.7 million tons of crude steel and 16.3 million tons of finished steel. The company continued to prosper, but by the early 1980s imported steel was having more of an impact, forcing a radical restructuring of Bethlehem Steel, resulting in the workforce being cut in half for five years in the mid-1980s. of the 1980s. Consolidation continued for the next ten years, and reluctantly, the production facility in Bethlehem, where it all began, closed in 1995.

Today, Belén has recovered from the loss of its steel mill and is experiencing an economic and cultural renaissance. Bethlehem hotels once used by those with business in the steel mill are now being reinvented as tourist and conference centers. Steel may be long gone in Bethlehem, but the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens is alive and well.

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