Beyond Steel

After the war, the Bethlehem plant continued to prosper, although the number of employees gradually declined from its wartime peak. The remarkable growth of the American economy in the 1950s spurred the demand for steel for larger and more powerful cars, highways and bridges–especially for the new interstate system–, and suburban shopping centers. The halcyon days of the 1950s, however, ended abruptly with a sharp recession in 1958 followed by a long strike the next year.

The strike created an opportunity for foreign steel makers, who had finally recovered from wartime destruction, to make inroads into the American market. Even though the American steel industry was already experiencing relatively slow growth and declining profits, a number of important new technologies were developed in the post war era. Mini-mills, which re-melted scrap steel in electric furnaces, requiring much less investment and labor than traditional integrated mills, began to increase their share of the market. The basic oxygen furnace for making steel and continuous casting improved the efficiency of integrated mills. The Bethlehem plant installed a BOF in 1968, indicating that management was still willing to invest in the home plant. The year 1968 was also notable because that was the year that foreign steel imports surpassed Bethlehem's output. In the early 1970s the weakness of the American economy and the general decline in the world demand for steel led to the beginning of a wholesale restructuring of the world steel industry. The old Bethlehem plant, running for several miles, along a narrow strip of land along the Lehigh River, could not be adapted to allow it to compete in the new global steel industry. In 1995, iron and steel production became part of Lehigh Valley history, living only in the memories of the thousands of employees who had spent much of their lives working for "The Steel."

Bibliography

On the charcoal era see

Paul F. Paskoff. Industrial evolution : organization, structure, and growth of the Pennsylvania iron industry, 1750-1860. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Press, 1983.

On the anthracite era see

Craig Bartholomew and Lance Metz, The Anthracite Iron Industry of the Lehigh Valley. Easton, PA: Center for Canal History and Technology, 1988.

On Bethlehem Steel see

David Venditta, ed. Forging America: The Story of Bethlehem Steel. Bethlehem, PA.: The Morning Call, 2003.

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