IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY. Location has been Cleveland's potent metallurgical advantage since the mid-19th century, when its situation on Lake Erie at the convergence of numerous railroad lines made it an ideal meeting place for iron ore and coal. In 1858 an article in the
In 1860 just 374 men were working in 3 bar and sheet iron establishments in Cuyahoga County. Twenty years later, the primary iron and steel industry in Cleveland employed almost 3,000 (about 200 of these "children and youths") in 10 establishments. By 1900 that number had more than doubled; Cuyahoga County, which produced 968,801 tons of iron and steel in 1900, ranked fifth nationally (behind Allegheny County, PA, Cook County, IL, Mahoning County, OH, and Jefferson County, AL) in iron and steel production. The industry's foothold in Cleveland was assured with the discovery in 1844 of iron ore in the Lake Superior region of Michigan. Because the Lake Superior ore districts were geographically isolated, without coal or major markets nearby, iron ore could not be smelted to pig or bar iron and sold at a profit. The only profitable way to exploit the ore was to transport it in bulk to distant blast furnaces on the lower Great Lakes--to places like Cleveland, Chicago, and Ashtabula, OH. The opening of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal in 1855 marked the beginning of ore shipment in quantity, and the movement of this raw material is the same today as it was then: ore mined in the Lake Superior region is carried by rail to the shipping ports, then by ship to lower lake ports, where it is rehandled into railroad cars for the trip to the blast furnace.
The manufacture of iron products preceded the basic industry, with railroads providing the impetus for Cleveland's early forges and foundries. The
Another important 19th-century Cleveland steelmaker was
By 1884, according to the annual report of the Cleveland Board of Trade, there were 147 establishments in Cleveland devoted to the manufacture of iron and steel and their products. Representing a combined capital investment of $21.5 million and an average work force of 14,000, these businesses produced products having a total value of $25.2 million. In addition to 11 manufacturers of iron and steel products (the primary industry) employing 5,665 workers, these figures included 30 establishments producing hardware and tools (employing 2,292), 4 producing sewing machines (1,110), 48 producing boilers and machinery (1,333), 13 foundries (1,217), and 9 producing nuts, bolts, and other fasteners (960).
By 1880 the annual output of the Superior mines had risen to almost 2 million gross tons. Cleveland's strategic position as both a final destination and a transshipment point for iron ore underscored a vexing problem--how to unload it efficiently--that was solved by two Cleveland inventors. Until 1867 ore was unloaded entirely by hand labor. Between 1867 and 1880, portable steam engines were used to hoist tubs of ore out of the hold, but laborers still had the back-breaking job of filling the tubs by hand and wheeling the ore to the dock. In 1880
Signaling the growing dominance of large firms, in 1899 the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. was absorbed into the American Steel and Wire Co. of New Jersey, which was itself absorbed into J. P. Morgan's giant
Two new plants established in the early 20th century would provide the foundation for the modern steel industry. In 1909 ore merchant Dalliba, Corrigan & Co. began construction of 2 blast furnaces on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River that became the nucleus of one of the nation's important independent producers, the
Otis, meanwhile, greatly expanded its capacity with the construction in 1912 of a new Riverside Works on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. (The plant was immortalized in 1929 when Otis hired a young photographer,
The American steel industry historically has had a volatile relationship with labor, adopting from the beginning a staunch antiunion stance. In the 1880s the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. endured a series of violent strikes in response to wage cuts and recruited Polish and Czech immigrants to replace striking workers (see
Thanks to pent-up consumer demand, the industry enjoyed a long period of postwar prosperity. But by the early 1970s Cleveland's steelmakers, like those nationwide, grappled with the problems of inflation, record imports of foreign steel, increasingly stringent environmental regulations, lagging productivity, and rising labor costs. In 1979 U.S. Steel abandoned its historic Central Furnaces plant, established by the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. in 1881 for the production of pig iron. Five years later, the steel giant closed 6 plants, including its Cuyahoga Works in Cuyahoga Heights, after the United Steelworkers of America rejected concessions demanded by the company. The city's two remaining integrated producers, Republic and Jones & Laughlin (the latter a subsidiary of LTV following a 1968 takeover), faced difficult conditions in the early 1980s as economic recession and the decline of the domestic automobile industry caused steel demand to plummet. In June 1984 Jones & Laughlin merged with Republic to form the
With increased demand for its products, especially flat-rolled steel supplied to the automotive, appliance, and electrical equipment industries, LTV rebounded. Since 1984 the company has made more than $1.1 billion in new capital investments at its Cleveland Works. The centerpiece of its modernization efforts is a direct hot-charge complex, completed in 1993, which enables LTV to convert molten steel to a coil of hot-rolled steel in a continuous process. In 1994, with 2 integrated steel mills (at Cleveland and Indiana Harbor, IN), Cleveland's only remaining integrated producer ranked as the nation's 3rd-largest steelmaker and 2nd-largest producer of flat-rolled steel. Working at 99% capacity, the Cleveland Works in 1994 produced 4.8 million tons of raw steel. With 7,100 full-time employees, LTV was Cuyahoga County's 2nd-largest nongovernmental employer.
Exemplifying the massive changes that have swept the industry in recent years, M. A. Hanna, an old-line mineral resources company whose history is rooted in iron mining, has transformed itself into a company focused on rubber and plastics. In 1986, meanwhile, a new steel fabricating company bought the former Cuyahoga Works of U.S. Steel, along with rights to the historic "American Steel & Wire" name, and resumed production as a non-union shop. A unit of Birmingham Steel Corporation of Birmingham, Alabama, since 1992, American Steel & Wire makes rod and wire for sale to the fastener industry.
The iron and steel industry continues to be an economic mainstay of Greater Cleveland. In 1992, the primary metal industries in Cuyahoga County employed 14,690 while almost twice that number (27,978) were employed in the manufacture of fabricated metal products.
Carol Poh Miller
Paskoff, Paul F., ed., Iron and Steel in the Nineteenth Century, Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography. New York: Facts on File, 1989.
Pendry, William R. "A History of the Cleveland District of the American Steel and Wire Co." Cleveland: American Steel & Wire Co., 1937. Mimeographed.
Seely, Bruce E., ed., Iron and Steel in the Twentieth Century, Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography. New York: Facts on File, 1994.
Wellman, S. T. "The Early History of Open-Hearth Steel Manufacture in the U.S." Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 23 (1902): 78-98.