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US Steel seems to tear down its newer plants. Or maybe they never upgraded this 1950s plant. Actually, after reading some of the comments, it sounds like it was a threat to the Pittsburgh area plants and the USS honchos could not tolerate that. And they had troubles with their EAF.
Robert Hedden posted
Philadelphia Electric print ad from 1952 touting the opening of Fairless Works in Falls Twp., Bucks County.
James Torgeson shared
When the USS Fairless Works was new! Fairless was the second to last integrated plant built in the US. Philadelphia Electric commissioned a series of these paintings that covered the various major industries it served.
Bubba Dubs posted
A ocean going, bulk transport ship arrives with iron ore, at US Steel’s Fairless Works.
Bill Price: Nancy, Patricia, and Hazel blast furnaces.
Richard Allison: I never could understand why Fairless was closed. Lots of time USS lacks logic. With having a sea port for raw materials and in the middle of the largest market area in the US, if Fairless was losing money, efforts should have been made to adapt to the market and overcome problems, either by matching product to the area or invested in fixing anything broken. Over the years, USS has always took the easy way out and closed facilities rather than fixing them. In the past, their strategic plan was to win the race to the bottom. Their current CEO David Burritt is a little improvement on investing in EAFs but putting good money into bad money at ET is continuing the race to the bottom. In 1901 USS was the largest corporation and in the 1990s USS lost it's title as the largest steel company in the US. Now they are not the largest of anything.
Bill Price: Richard Allison Fairless did enlarge the capacity of their 9 open hearth furnaces and they did add 2 electric furnaces which became too expensive to operate. They were counting on a nuclear power plant being built on Burlington Island resulting on lower electrical charges but that never happened. They pushed the open hearth furnaces to lower the heat time but that was doing damage to the fire brick causing more maintenance and down time. They got it down to about 6 hours.
[My goodness, open hearth furnaces were obsolete. They should have been replaced with BOP. Did they ever have a continuous caster?]
Nathan Gower: Richard, coming from the inside of the beast, they’re making the right investments but part of me wonders whether they have done so timely enough. The mentality that they put into place where they simply bought everything wasn’t exactly working well for them. They still need to figure out a way to make steel cheaper to be competitive. Acquiring Big River was a good move in the right direction. If they can actually get the continuous caster off the ground at ET, they will be in much better shape. It will likely kill Irvin Works in the process but the best strategy they have currently is to figure out ways to cut costs while finding new ways to implement the blast furnaces to either compete with eaf or at least make products where eaf can’t compete.
[And they are just now added a continuous caster to Edgar Thomson two decades into the 21st Century? Or is it a new, improved caster? Richard mentions a "thin caster" below.]
Nick Hlavaty: Richard Allison Since the 1950s, Gary Works has been the flagship of the company. And it's located near the auto industry, and it's closer to limestone and ore than Fairless. USS Gary has always been more modern and a bigger producer. There are probably other important reasons, but the ones I've listed are not lacking logic.
Nathan Gower: Nick, the only reason the mon valley works has survived financially is because of Clairton Coke works. And Allegheny county is trying to crack down hard on the pollution they create so that’s an uphill battle. As a company, there seems like there has been some attempts to modernize the operations but they sincerely need to display to investors that they can join the 21st century and catch up with the competition and they haven’t really made an concerted effort to display that.
Richard Allison: Nathan Gower My problem with investing at ET is the old, antique blast furnaces making hot metal for the BOF and thin caster. I know those furnaces but I haven't been there in a long time. I will tell everyone that works on a blast furnace but every blast furnace manager tells his crews that their blast furnaces are the most efficient or makes the cheapest iron. ETs furnaces are not only old but small. One big furnace feeding the continuous casting/rolling would be much less cost on making slabs and an EAF shop would make slabs even cheaper. That is my point is a great technology like continuous thin casting and continuous rolling is like investing good money into those two blast furnaces, bad money.
Nathan Gower: Richard, I can absolutely agree. The only mitigation tactic to make a blast furnace worthwhile to keep in operation is to make chemistries that an eaf is not able to replicate. That was my point. The mon valley is still the low cost producer for USS but it’s not nearly cheap enough to make it continuously viable without cornering a market in which an eaf is not able to compete.
Richard Allison: Nathan Gower If ET is the low cost producer for USS, then they are in BIG trouble. Gary should be the lowest. Shutting down their coke plant was costly and putting most of their eggs in one basket at Clairton was another mistake. Allegheny County has lost interest in USS and in the future, Clairton is going to be costly to operate with new restrictions coming. USS has shrunk in the Pittsburgh area to the point that they are not as important as in the past. I think a worth while project would to put an EAF at Granite City and shut down those two old furnaces. I know they are not low cost. Granite City is small enough a EAF could serve the finishing mills and make it a very viable plant. I think there is plenty of room at Fairfield Works in Alabama for another major project that would serve the automotive market. Alabama is second in the US for auto production after Michigan.
Nathan Gower: Richard, don’t get me wrong. It’s an uphill battle for the mon valley works but I still think it’s a viable option despite them putting a lot of their eggs in the Big River Steel basket. Granted, I work on those old blast furnaces so I’ve got a vested interest in them continuing to operate.
Brian Olson: Richard Allison The nationalization of US Steel's iron ore properties in Venezuela in 1974 probably was a factor. I'm sure iron ore costs shot up when that happened. Not having a Q-BOP or BOP was the main reason Fairless closed and Mon Valley stayed open. The east coast is not the best market for steel in the United States, the Midwest is.
James Torgeson: Brian Olson Yes, the nationalizations and political instabilities caused skyrocketing ore costs and unreliable supplies for Fairless, Sparrows Point and the Bethlehem home plant.
Richard Allison: Brian Olson USS was the last major steel company anywhere that had lots of modern open hearths (by open hearth standards) and they were in very good shape because USS had invested so much money in them. USS was reluctant to invest in BOFs and Q-BOPs because they had so much invested in their open hearths. Even with USS finally relenting to converting to BOFs in the 1970s, they were still pouring ingots and still using blooming mills in the early 1980s when the Europeans, Japanese and the last of the US steel companies were using continuous casting. USS was really struggling in the 1970s and 80s and slashing facilities instead of modernizing. I have always questioned the way USS operates but then Bethlehem, Youngstown Sheet and Tube and etc are all gone....
Richard Allison: James Torgeson My logic is that ET has continued being inland and profitable as per USS but sending ore a little further to the Bethlehem plants is not much further. Sparrow's Point is a catastrophe in which was not a lost cause but it was bled dry. Ore could have been gotten from Brazil and ore could have also come from Nova Scotia or the Great Lakes. I stood on the casthouse of L Furnace when it was built and was in awe of the magnitude of this furnace. I wish I still had my helmet sticker there but never I thought it would have disappeared in only 30 years. I never made it to Madline No.7 at now CC but did go to the former USS Gary 13 and now 14 and the USS Fairfield No. 8, the most modern furnaces in the US and L Furnace and No.8 did not survive even though all built in the late 1970s. Old furnaces seemed still go on with 120 or so blast furnaces in the 1980s to around 16 or 17 running today. I guess finances do not always follow logic in the steel industry today or in the past.
James Torgeson: Richard Allison For example, when the Bethlehem Plant was getting ore from Liberia, the rail journey from Philly cost more than the sailing across the Atlantic. Similarly, Bethlehem is substantially farther away from Lake Erie than ET. As pointed out above, ET has an advantage in that it is close to Clairton.
James Torgeson: Looks like a Navios bulker. USS created that line to bring ore to Fairless and the ore docks in Philly.
Fred Stairs: The Ship is built like a laker not an ocean freighter.
James Torgeson: Fred Stairs Standard configuration for an ocean-going bulk carrier at that time.
Bill Price: Fred Stairs I believe most of our iron ore came from Brazil or Venezuela. We also got Canadian ore which was a much finer in size. We also got iron ore pellets by ship.
Fred Stairs: Probably coming in from Duluth.
James Torgeson: Fred Stairs More likely USS Orinoco in Venezuela.
Ronald Hill: 1977 I was in Taiwan promoting American industrial scientific equipment. As Editorial Director of a number of technical publications my travel was paid by the US Department of Commerce and I could speak with good knowledge of the US products in their factories and laboratories. While there I visited the industrial city of Kaosgeoing and technicians and engineers working in numerous chemical and petrochemical plants. While there I noticed a number of Americans at the same hotel. It seemed that they were there working on a new USS integrated steel mill. My assignment was the chemical industry so I did not learn any more about the new steel plant being built.
Will Jamison: Looks like a sinter plant on the lower right.
Jody Dibenedetto: Fairless was a dangerous place to work. I worked the cast houses there in 1998. My roommate Danny Itsky fell through the cast house floor and into an empty ladle. That's same weekend the GF of Iron Making had liquid iron dumped down his chest and another guy fell into the fly hole and onto a debris pile. Later that year a man was decapitated at the open hearth. I was glad to get out of that place in 1 piece.
Bubba Dubs: Jody Dibenedetto were all those deaths?
Jody Dibenedetto: My roommate died when he fell into the bottle. It was empty but red hot. USS was letting that mill run itself into the ground. There was no linings left inside the blast furnaces. They were constantly blowing holes in the stacks and filling the cast houses with coke. They finally shut the open hearth down in 1988 after that fatality. I think they shut the hot end down around 1990. I worked there in 1987 and 1988.
Richard Allison: I have seen USS run blast furnaces that were to eventually close into the ground. I have seen fire hoses on hot spots around the bosh, plates buckling on the stack and just letting everything go until they shut the furnace down or it took itself offline. One night I was working on No.8 BF at Fairfield Works and saw No.6 BF blow a huge hole in the bosh and it looked like a huge blow torch.
[There are several comments about bad accidents at other plants.]
Kris Rossmiller: Imagine if US Steel had the foresight to install BOF's instead of open hearths, and then followed that up with a caster. Could this have become a key plant for US Steel for years to come? Or was it too far east, too far from the auto industry to matter in the long run. I think it was too far east, and should never have been built. Those dollars should have gone into Conneaut, which would have led to the eventual closure of ET and Irvin. But we'll never know.
Bubba Dubs: Kris Rossmiller they specialized in both structural and plate at Homestead, so the auto sector didn’t really matter much to them.
Kris Rossmiller: Bubba Dubs I was referring to Fairless. Homestead was a goner as that market moved to mini mills.
Michael Maitland: Have read that this plant was built at the request of the Government/Military, just like the Geneva works in the west. Once the need passed, USS took over the plants and tried to find the markets. The east coast had a couple of auto and stamping plant, but they have been closed. (ex Framingham, Edison, Linden, Wilmington, Baltimore, Poughkeepsie to name a few main ones that come to mind) Not sure of the full history and markets, but this is what I have read or heard.
James Torgeson: Michael Maitland USS built Fairless on its own dime in the prosperous 1950s, both to take advantage of developing foreign ore sources and to compete with Sparrows Point. USS had the right of first refusal to buy Geneva, much like Ford did with Willow Run. Ford declined.
Bill Price: Besides the steel mill, our railroad also serviced National Can, American Can, American Wire, National Tube, and U S Steel Supply. We also delivered cars to Tube City.
Kris Rossmiller: Bubba Dubs I was referring to Fairless. Homestead was a goner as that market moved to mini mills.
Mark Mcdermott provided eleven images as comments on this post.
The best Steel Mill story ever lol...when Julie Newmar the future Catwoman...toured the Fairless Works site ...during Steel Mill Mark Days ( business promotion) ...that is her waiting at the Levittown train station ...just about to get picked up for the tour ( early 1960s)
This article first appeared on towns-and-nature.blogspot.com
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