Bethlehem Steel Shipyard
The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard was at one time the second largest producer of steel in the United States. Although it declared bankruptcy in 2001 when financial strain took over, it was once one of the biggest shipbuilding companies in the world, leaving behind a great legacy.
The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard dates back all the way to 1857 and first produced railway rails. However, over the years they became more diverse in the different items that were manufactured there.
During its reign, the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard was responsible for many inventions, including installing the first grey rolling mill as well as producing the first wide-flange structural shapes that were ever produced in the US. These shapes that were pioneered at the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard made up much of the modern day skyscraper. At one point, they were the biggest provider of steel to the construction industry in the US.
At the beginning of the 20th century, they began to expand by opening an iron mine in Cuba and several shipyards across the US. By 1913, the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard had earned the title of one of the world's biggest and most prominent ship builders.
The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard also played a pivotal role in both of the World Wars for the US armed forces. It produced over 1,000 ships, far more than any other provider at the time. During this time, it had an employee base around 300,000, making it one of the most lucrative times for this company. In the 1950's, it was producing 23 million tons of steel per year. During the 1960's, the company built the largest plant in its history, making the president of the company one of the wealthiest men in the United States.
The Bethlehem Steel Shipyard also manufactured railroad freight cars, and they were the first company to ever use aluminum in the production of freight cars, an important innovation.
During World War II, the steel industry in the US was incredibly prominent. However, many steel companies overseas were bombed during the war, forcing them to be rebuilt with the latest technology and making them much more cost effective with a quicker production rate. These plants used a variety of new techniques that plants in the US simply did not have access to at the time, including a technique called continuous casting which was not yet available in the US plants.
It was the cheaper prices in the foreign market that led to the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard's eventual demise. During the 1980's, steel became cheaper to import from foreign countries. This had a negative impact on this company's market share in the US. In 1982, the company lost over $1.5 billion and was forced to close down many of its different operation facilities. There continued to be shutdowns over the course of the 1980's and 1990's.
By 1995, new technologies forced them to shut down the production of steel at their main plant. In 1993, they stopped participating in the railroad car business and in 1997 stopped making ships as well. It was clear that it was only a matter of time until this company's days were over. By 2001, the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard had filed for bankruptcy. Their remaining six plants were purchased by The International Steel Group.
While the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard was one of the largest steel producers, many people blame the booming foreign market for its ultimate demise. However, it is also believed that there was a significant lack of desire to continuously renew and keep up with modern technology. Although cheap foreign imports certainly played a large part, there are a variety of reasons why the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard is no longer in operation. However, the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard leaves behind a great legacy as one of the most influential steel companies of our time, and will be remembered as such. Some of those who worked at Bethlehem Steel have been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to occupational asbestos exposure. Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to asbestos should consult the advice of their doctors.
Last modified: December 28, 2010.