Bethlehem Steel: Making Landmarks

While Bethlehem Steel may no longer exist, the effect that it’s had on the country can still be felt today.

Bethlehem Steel: Making Landmarks
Photo by yasin hm / Unsplash

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The history of Bethlehem Steel is as long as it is fascinating. While the company may no longer exist today, the effect that it’s had on the country can still be felt today. In this article, we’ll talk about the history of the company, their involvement in the construction of several important American landmarks, and reflect on the company’s continued legacy.

Early Beginnings

The company that became famous under the name of Bethlehem Steel Corporation wasn’t even their first, second, or even their third name! The company was founded in 1856 under the original name of Saucona Iron Company. They were almost immediately thrashed by the 1857 national financial crisis, which almost killed the company before it could even finish the initial organizing. Fortunately, the company weathered the storm and moved their headquarters to Bethlehem, changing their name to Bethlehem Rolling Mill and Iron Company. Once settled in, they quickly became one of the most successful iron manufacturers in the nation.

By the end of the century, the company was enjoying massive financial success. They could have easily stayed in that business, but the company believed that it could actually become even more profitable. To that end, a new entity known as Bethlehem Steel Company was created to house operations under. Within a short few years, Bethlehem Iron was closed and all properties were folded into Bethlehem Steel.

The company would finally arrive at the name that people know today in 1903, when after a brief turmoil with the wider United States Shipbuilding Company, the company was renamed Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The name would remain unchanged for the rest of the company’s history.

Major Creations

For the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the world’s first Ferris Wheel received one of its most crucial components, the axle for the wheel itself, from Bethlehem Steel Corporation. This was possibly the first time the average citizen would have seen the company’s work. Speaking of Ferris Wheels, it also supplied the steel used to build the world famous Wonder Wheel in Coney Island. The most famous thing built using their steel, however, was none other than the World Trade Center.

Other recognizable landmarks built using their steel include the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, Madison Square Garden, the Rockefeller Center, the Hoover Dam, and parts of the Empire State Building. If you’re in a major city in America, there’s a good chance that something important there was built using their steel.

Decline and Bankruptcy

The company enjoyed incredible success for the better part of over a century, but all good things eventually come to an end. By the 1970s, they were beginning to face serious competition from smaller and more agile competitors that could undercut their prices without much room for retaliation. By 1982, the writing was on the wall. The company reported a net loss of $1.5 billion dollars. They never fully recovered, eventually cutting back on many of their operations and selling off non-essential assets. The next decade and a half continued a continuous slow decline until finally ceasing operations entirely and declaring bankruptcy in 2001. The company would dissolve completely in 2003, ending the story of one of the most iconic manufacturers in American history.

Legacy

The most important landmark related to the company is actually the company’s original steel plant. Producing steel for 120 years, it finally closed in 1995, seemingly leaving a hugely iconic landmark for the surrounding community to slowly wither away. That was until four years later in 1999, when the city, the area school district, and the county leadership all came together to establish a special district on the property that stipulated that any future tax dollars brought in from any business on the premises would go straight into helping maintain and revitalize the structure.

Today, the site serves as a community center for all kinds of events for the community to enjoy. People from all over come to see concerts, art festivals, educational programming, and more.

Conclusion

Even if the company is now defunct, the mark it left on not just its local community but the whole country and still clearly be felt even today. Thanks to the help of the community, it doesn’t look like they will be forgotten any time soon.

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